NEW YORK THEATRE BALLET
February 27, 2017
New York Theatre Ballet is known for its revivals of rarely seen historical gems as well as presenting new works by emerging choreographers. This time, the 92 St. Y Harkness Dance Festival presented an evening of Antony Tudor along with the work of Martha Clarke, a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient and one-time student of Tudor’s.
The first half began with Tudor’s Soiree Musicale from 1938, which is still surprisingly fresh and the perfect opener. The infectious music by Rossini and the period costumes by Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan matched the series of dances (canzonetta, tirolese, bolero, tarantella), sometimes associated with 19th century ballets. Although the dancers seemed a bit tentative at first – one imagines the floor at the Y might make pointe work difficult – by the time the spunky Dawn Gierling and Steven Melendez danced the tarantella they were all joyful and at ease.
When one is used to seeing versions of "Romeo and Juliet" such as Cranko’s or MacMillan’s passionate, some might say overwrought pas de deux, Tudor’s version, to music by Frederick Delius, might seem a bit restrained. Yet the initially tentative manner, marked by small gestures and averted eyes, captured the innocence of the two young lovers (a reserved Elena Zahlman and unusually shy Steven Melendez), but also built a tension that released beautifully in a tender, very real moment, when Romeo playfully rested his head on Juliet’s lap, and she finally kissed him.
Tudor’s "Les Mains Gauches" premiered at Jacob’s Pillow in 1951, a small ballet “about a man’s and a woman’s fate.” It was strongly danced by Oguri, Joshua Andino-Nieto, and the commanding Amanda Trieber as the fate figure, who continually agitated the couple with her furious bourrees and sharp developpes a la seconde, eventually mirrored by Oguri, seemingly as a cry for help. When a mysterious rose and noose appear upstage from behind the curtain, we know that something will go wrong…
Fast-forward to the late twentieth-century with Clarkes’ eerie solo "Nocturne", to Mendelssohn, heart-wrenchingly danced by Guyon Auriau. A topless ballerina in a long Romantic tutu with a bag over her head, tied around her neck, created a slightly disturbing image, even as she protectively covered her breasts with an arm or a chunk of tulle. As she morphed into an amalgam of her lineage, the Dying Swan and the blinded Sylph, her fluttering hand behind her back movingly evoked her ancestors’ last moments. Denying us a glimpse of her beauty, both face and body, she is achingly poignant, and after a slow collapse to the floor, she wrestled and liberated herself from the tie around her neck, transforming it into a cane that helped her exit, with her back to us and hunched over with age, in the most incredibly dignified way.
Clarke’s "Gardens of Villandry" has a special place in my heart, as I saw it performed by my colleagues at the Joffrey Ballet over twenty years ago. I have never forgotten its masterful play of subtle glances, weight exchanges, explicitly civil nods and softly swirling interplay between two men and a woman, while their clearly tumultuous inner emotional tangle is suppressed, yet made visible. Clarke somehow channeled or certainly honored Tudor, through the beautifully choreographed gestures and relationships, with the woman’s real feelings remaining an enigma, as she seemed to favor each suitor at different times.
Melendez had a heart-breaking moment downstage left, when he slowly and patiently removed and wiped his glasses, after being left alone momentarily. Zahlman was appropriately dignified, pleased and knowing, while Andino-Nieto was handsome but became more vulnerable at times than his role might warrant. But why did Clarke change the ending, and give it an unexpected twist – a specificity – when it used to leave us with a maddening ambiguity about how it would all end, or continue? A choreographer’s prerogative, yes, but why?
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson