(photo: David Cooper)
You can tell, surely, from reading InfiniteBody, that I'm not much of a ballet person. Or, at least, I haven't been for a long while. When I first started writing for the venerable Tobi Tobias at Dance Magazine in the '70s, ballet formed part of my well-rounded diet. But I've gotten away from it and only lately have I considered going back with fresh eyes.
So, after catching the closing night of Joshua Beamish/MOVE: the company--the first course of The Joyce Theater's week-long Ballet Festival--I thought, "Hmmm. Maybe it's me." As in that break-up statement: "It's not about you. It's about me."
It might be me. There's an audience for this kind of contemporary ballet that pulls pointe work--here equated to women's work--and respectable extensions and port de bras and hetero pas de deux full of elaborate lifts out of the context of narrative spectacle, splashing these conventions across open space so we can savor tonal and textural qualities and choreographic cleverness. All of that throws me back on individual dancers, because I am looking for something more. Like, the core reason for each movement, the why of its connection to the next and the next, even in the midst of abstraction. And some kind of conviction. A sense of genuine soul. And when I don't get that, I go looking for particular dancers to fall in love with.
Beamish's world premiere featuring ten American Ballet Theatre dancers--set before a busily animated backdrop of geometric figures and rising/falling brick walls--carries the title Surface Properties, and yes to that title. Both the visual and musical aspects of this production grate, distract and mystify. More than that, they don't go anywhere...at least, once again, not for me. Although I enjoyed early moments when women sort of strutted en pointe with their carriage making me imagine shoulder pads or fur wraps where there was nothing of the kind. But those were moments, and they were early.
From Pierced (2012), Beamish himself danced a picturesque solo "Little Eye"--which I loved for his compact, precise technique and the suggested drama of its compressed imagery--and a comparatively sluggish bitter love duet performed by ABT dancers Luciana Paris and Sterling Baca.
Burrow (2015), a male-male pas de deux set to a Shostakovich piano quintet, made its US premiere and gave me a dancer to fall in love with. That would be ABT's spidery Jose Sebastian, completely right for the Art Nouveau stylings of this work, liberally flowing around the more stolid and grounding, there-when-you-need-him Matthew Dibble (from Twyla Tharp's troupe).
Stay (2015), a male-female pas de deux of solemn architecture, benefited greatly from a more open, equitable flow between, through and from Dimitri Kleioris and ABT's Stephanie Williams. Theirs was an expressive, believable partnership and won a well-deserved roar from the audience.
The Joyce Theater's Ballet Festival continues through August 16. For information on the full roster of companies and to purchase tickets, click here.
The Joyce Theater
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