Sunday, January 11, 2015

On the APAP trail: Half Straddle and Ballez

Some members of The Ballez
(photo: Hedia Maron)

Now might not be the kindest season to hang around The Kitchen, that drab industrial box for the industry of experiment in far Chelsea. But Tina Satter's Obie-winning Half Straddle has set up shop there for the first time, and the chilly environs actually add a bit of vérité to the proceedings.

In Ancient Lives, which is kind of a movie-as-theater inspired by teen flicks from the 1980s but with a whiff of something decades, centuries and even aeons older, we find ourselves deep in the woods with a mesmerizing teacher, her three charges, a little witch and broadcast media equipment old and new. We know we're in the woods because that downstage chaise lounge, inexplicably covered, encrusted and taped by packing materials, has an owl statue perched atop, and there's an outsized badger (Chris Giarmo) playing Chris Giarmo's music live in the upper left corner of the space. And I swear there's a scent of pine--along with troubling power dynamics--drifting through the night air.

The aura of the artificial as well as the self-consciously awkward tickled me, everybody playacting in a production cobbled together as if by a magpie. My favorite bit--a time-warped set piece around the word "poppet"--shows Satter's players at their sharpest in vocal skills and timing.

Performed by Jess Barbagallo, Eliza Bent, Emily Davis, Julia Sirna-Frest, and Lucy Taylor with choreography by Elizabeth Dement, video by Ilan Bachrach, set by Andreea Mincic and lighting by Zack Tinkelman

Ancient Lives continues Wednesday-Saturday, January 14-17 with performances at 8PM. For information and tickets, click here.

The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), Manhattan


Oh, how I regret that Katy Pyle's Variations on Virtuosity, A Gala Performance with The Stars of The Ballez--presented by American Realness at Abrons Arts Center--will have come and gone after only two shows on a single weekend. Why do the best things in life last so briefly while we must endure the likes of social injustice and bad performance? A better question: How soon can someone bring The Ballez (and sexy) back?

The Ballez, we're told,
celebrates the virtuosity of complexly gendered people by choosing the grandiose container of ballet for its presentation. The company celebrates a lineage of dykes and post-modern performance by telling queer/dyke histories inside the framework of classical ballet narratives.
The 45-minute program, beautifully lit by designer Carrie Wood, sampled the Ballez repertoire, including a suite from The Firebird, A Ballez; the Dying Swan excerpt from Sleeping Beauty & the Beast; and the smoking 1993 Club Suite from that last piece. With the exception of the striking Dying Swan solo--attributed to Pyle and dancer Michael Helland after the Fokine choreography for Pavlova--the other works are the handiwork of Pyle and Jules Skloot in collaboration with their ensemble.

Contemporary ballet, by and large, makes my eyes glaze over. I just can't get into it much or much of it. But this isn't contemporary ballet. With the exception of the Club Suite duets, it's classical ballet for contemporary people living in a real world, and it has got my full attention. The Ballez doesn't satirize ballet; it rewrites the rules of who can dance and how they must present themselves. It appropriates technique, stories and characters for all the right reasons. It makes us look closely, in the interactions between and among dancers, to witness utmost care and delicacy of touch as well as power in the fluidity of physical and emotional roles. Dance lives here and will never flame out.

This troupe could sell out--I'm not talking about seats--and part of me would be very happy for Pyle and her collaborators. They have developed a thrilling sophistication in their teamwork and bring something a wider American audience needs to see.

Last chance: Tonight at 9pm. Click here to see if tickets remain available.

For information on other American Realness festival events at Abrons Arts Center and beyond, click here.

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street, Manhattan

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