July 11, 2015
Chamber ballet companies bring to light more intimate repertory is smaller performance spaces. They are also far more portable which makes them attractive touring companies. Ballet NY founded and directed by Judith Fugate and Medhi Bahiri is an example. Performing at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, the nicely tuned company presented four varied works by John Butler, Medhi Bahiri, William Forsythe, and Stanton Welch.
Sandwiched between Butler’s strong “Othello” and Welch’s “Orange” two duets spoke nearly the same choreographic language. “What Ever” a world première by Bahiri to a score by Samuel Barber referenced the neo-classical form. The two fine dancers Xiaoxiao Cao and Jesse Campbell struck strong, long extensions against plunging back arches while turning up an under tricky partnering. More surprising was Forsythe’s “Singerland Duet.” Unlike his off-kilter, hyper-extended vocabulary, this was a sedate, well-crafted piece. Not fully comfortable with each other, Katie Gibson and Brent Whitney nevertheless, navigated odd choreographic joints that combined modern dance moves and ballet with conviction.
In a whirl or orange, Welch’s “Orange” (2001) reminded me of a portrait I saw recently at the Frick Museum Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June painted in 1895. Luxuriously stretched out on a sofa, the beautiful young woman’s long, almond colored hair cascades down the sofa in a symphony of soft, curvaceous music. Welch’s piece has a similar effect, animating the company is a swirl of movement.
But the most gratifying piece of the evening was John Butler’s “Othello.” Created almost thirty years after Jose Limon choreographed the magnificent American classic “Moor’s Pavane” Butler’s “Othello” concentrates the action on Othello (a fine Giovanni Ravelo), his wife Desdemona (the excellent Coreen Danaher) and the villainous antagonist Iago (Brent Whitney). Strong diagonal lines demarcate the passionate attraction between Othello and Desdemona, and later the jealous rage. A repeating, tremolous hand gesture touches one cheek against the other. As the tragedy builds, this gesture becomes more and more lethal.
Butler reference’s Limon on several occasions, particularly when Iago--the menacing Whitney--leans over Othello, whispering his hateful lies about Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. One of the first to design dance for camera in the early days of broadcast television, Butler knows how to pare movements down to essential story telling blocks. The audience responded enthusiastically and its’ a delight to see this piece live through Ballet NY.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis