Performing Arts: Dance
October 18, 2016
New York Theatre Ballet’s program, “Legends and Visionaries,” initially seems grammatically misleading. Choreographically there is but one legend amid three visionaries, yet a deeper reading of the program uncovers more. Music selections, such as Debussy’s, are inspired by myth. Claire van Kampen’s Piano Sonata is based on the traditional haiku. The terms exist in fluid directions, as looking to the past to push forward pervades the company’s season at St. Marks’ Church in-the-Bowery.

A wall of women in parallel pointe shoes opens the evening, still minus the wafting of Florence Klotz’s dresses. Jerome Robbins’ Antique Epigraphs certainly requires complete technical command, yet line-obscuring garments allow us to envelop motion. Movement is restrained, insisting on alternative uses of pointe shoes in two-dimensionality. Arabesque is a more yogic Warrior 3, and piqué turns are alternated en pointe and in demi pliés on flat. Progressive for ballet, when the all-female cast is not executing traditionally masculine vocabulary like saut de basques, they partner their own sex in sensitive weight sharing rather than the usual frilly handholds, demonstrating strength as part and whole.

Amanda Smith begins Antonia Franceschi’s She Holds Out Her Hand rolling out every joint. Her development precedes a jumping flurry in rapidly changing directions. Classical vocabulary compounds to invent movement, such as a sissone that spins like a tour jeté, in a constant energetic unraveling.

Pam Tanowitz injects steroids into Robbins’ resourceful pointework for Short Memory. Dancers establish obscenely wide fourth positions that boureé to close while turning. Footwork harkens to Dance Dance Revolution – steps strung so exactly it must be initiated from some outside stimulus. Men, like comic book heroes, pirouette to infinity on either side of a seated damsel. Situations are brief and forgotten, yet connect via physical extremity and exactitude.

Steven Melendez paired with Zhongjing Fang to create Song Before Spring to Philip Glass’ Etudes for Solo Piano. The ensemble, clad business casually, faces back, swaying through permeating jolts. Melendez solos on a diagonal, cycling movements with animalistic spontaneity that complements Glass’ additive process. He has a way of seeing that radiates emotion, leaving the body free to cleanly approach extremes. Women share giddy duets under male gaze, eagerly performing candidness. The music does not sequence as a typical classical suite does. Choreography, ascribing to mood over structure, loses focus to a circular ending mirroring the opening that visually wraps up neatly, but leaves dramatic action as unresolved as Glass’ cadences.

The program, accompanied live, has specific musical placements. Antique Epigraphs hides pianists Michael Scales and Zheng Ma and flautist Mira Magril behind us to leave ample room for Robbins’ ensemble patterning. Franceschi brings Scales upstage right, pairing with tie-dyed practice clothes to give a sense of class. Tanowitz recognizes musicians in shared performative space, sitting Scales profile upstage center, where idling dancers sit to watch. Such framing heightens Scales’ physicality in a score requiring forearms to slam and hands to strum. For Song Before Spring, Scales remains center, but faces front, remaining calm in a danced storm. Separately created pieces form a developing relationship between movement and sound in which visual proximity spawns a poetic.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

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