Saturday, October 20, 2012

American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony #9: Busy, Busy, Busy

American Ballet Theatre performs Alexei Ratmansky’s new work – Symphony #9.  Photo by Andrea Mohrin. 
If you went to American Ballet Theatre’s performance at City Center on Thursday night, it’s probably because you wanted to see Alexei Ratmansky’s much-touted new workSymphony #9.  Book-ended by two well-loved chestnuts—The Leaves Are Fading and Rodeo—it may cross your mind if Ratmansky’s ballet will exhibit the same staying power.

Alexei Ratmansky, American Ballet Theatre's artist in residence and former director of the Bolshoi Ballet, premieres the first movement, which will eventually premiere in the spring as a triad of one-act ballets all set to the music of Shostakovich.

Shostokovish’s composition, throbbing with manic ebullience, was written to celebrate the Red Army's liberation of Russia from the German Nazis.  Forget about the history. Ratmansky doesn’t care about the heady days following World War II. He just wants to make use of Symphony #9’s inherent brilliance and gaiety.

Featuring twenty-one dancers performing Ratmansky's frenetic, hectic choreography, the stage hums like a hive. Nuanced details, like intricate arm positions, and broad strokes, such as novel spatial configurations, materialize and disperse in record time. Matters aren’t helped by the costumes, designed by Keso Dekker. Composed of a blurry black-and-white fabric, the corps de ballet resembles a wavering optical illusion.

Ratmansky, a clever movement maker, twists classical ballet technique to include elements from jazz, folk, and modern dancing. It would be interesting, if you could actually see the dancing. Competing groups perform sequences cluttered with sharp, pointy movements while the principals zip through the melee. Occasionally, the stage clears, and you can focus. A short duet between Polina Seminova and Marcelo Gomes highlights Ratmansky's
choreographic virtuosity; it's too soon interrupted by other dancers careening to and fro.

Symphony #9 quickly overwhelms. Where should you look? Who should you look at? You answer the questions, and then ask them again.

Of the five principals, distinguished by added color in their costumes, Herman Cornejo, dancing solo, fares the best. His cheeky bravado and sparkling footwork, emphasized in a showy section where he performs countless entrechat sixes (a jump featuring three, quick crosses of the feet) enchants. While the rest of the cast, smiles resolutely painted on, try their best to keep up with Ratmansky's hamster wheel of a dance, Cornejo offers a breezy insouciance, which captures the frenzied exuberance of Shostakovich’s score.

Currently, Symphony #9 stands as a jauntily audacious mess. No doubt, Ratmansky will edit and rework sections before the entire ballet premieres in 2013. So withhold your final judgment.  You can revisit it then.

This review refers to the performance on Thursday, October 18th at 7:30PM at City Center.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Doug Varone and Dancers: Dancing With Feeling

Doug Varone and Dancers perform Boats Leaving, among other offerings, in observance of their 25th anniversary at The Joyce.  Photo by Lissa Gotwals.

Doug Varone and Dancers celebrate their silver anniversary with a one-week season at The Joyce. In today's artistic and economic climate, twenty-five years deserves a fete.

If you've never seen Varone's choreography, you're in for a treat. Eschewing tense virtuosity and conceptual minimalism, he embraces an exuberant, informal movement expression that borders on impertinence. His dancers seem like big kids at play: wheeling, gamboling, and skipping across the stage, they extend a sweeping ebullience that embraces you in a warm hug of generosity, which belies their dexterity. It's irresistible.

Two programs alternate; each features a piece from the nineties, one from the aughts, and a new work. Program B, premiering on Wednesday night, strives to maintain a balance between Varone's signature, freewheeling choreography and selections that vary in emotional texture.

The program opens with Boats Leaving, which premiered in 2006, set to the contemplative stylings of composer Arvo Part. Eight dancers begin standing, scattered around the stage, suggestive of driftwood strewn about a sandy shore. Uncoiling as a reel of snapshots from a projector, the dancers form arresting but simple formations, more like visual art than dance choreography. Ragged diagonals disperse and reform, a frayed ellipse dissolves; these vivid spatial shapes underscore the sense of a community in peril. While the narrative never quite solidifies—the bare emotion on the dancers' faces suggests some type of distress—it still yanks you emotionally.

Able to Leap Tall Buildings
, spotlighting Erin Owen and Alex Springer, operates as a quirky, cryptic duet to Julia Wolfe’s “Cruel Sister”.  Wolfe’s creepy composition, like the score from a bipolar horror movie, accompanies jerky, stunted movements that intersperse with forays into relaxed, liberated gestures. It’s sinuous puppetry, convulsive, but with rounded edges. The hazy white light, filling the black box of the stage, gives Owen and Springer a freakish glow. At the end, when Owen clamors over a standing Springer, and the lights abruptly vanish, you may be glad that your visit to their edgy, obsessive netherworld is complete.

Varone closes Program B with an early work, Rise, which debuted in 1993. Four couples—attired in gem shades of sapphire, violet, jade, and garnet—canvass the stage with swirling leaps, open-armed dives to the floor, and surging turns. It's a wild, effusive folk dance to John Adams' irrepressibly bouncy score. The piece is long; it soon becomes a blurry, kaleidoscopic wash of color, movement, and music. Look for Julia Burrer, lanky and bendable like a rubber doll, she will enthrall you with her unencumbered insouciance. You should hold your applause when the dancers crash to what appears to be a culmination; it's only a fake-out. Reemerging two-by-two, the dancers engage in a short movement reprise, before ending, dotted about the stage, standing with their eyes closed.

It's not every choreographer that can end the way he begins, three pieces later, with his dancers, upright, littered across the stage, emotionally reverent. The circle closes.

Varone manages the near choreographic impossibility of being true to his unique movement vocabulary while investigating ideas of substance. You only wish for one thing – to join in. It’s delightful watching, but doing looks like so much more fun. 

This review refers to the show seen on Wednesday, October 10th at 7:30PM.