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Coincidentally, New York audiences could see another work by Miller for another group of dancers during Ballet Hispanico’s second week. The group in question consists of 24 first-year students in Juilliard’s Dance Division. Miller’s Uwnrap These Flowers is rife with the images of danger and death you might expect from the opening music: selections from Osvaldo Golijov’s chamber opera, Ainadamar, which tells of the loves and death of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca; the initial sweet interlude is interrupted by crashes and electronically musicalized gunfire. The rest of the music (by Tim Hecker, Black Dice, Benoit Pioulard, and others) hints in other ways at the perils of living, as does Nicole Pearce’s masterful lighting.

Miller skillfully manipulates her very large, very talented cast. You begin to see a world going askew when, during a peaceful dance for several male pairs, one man starts to run, holding his sagging partner under the armpits; the supported man keeps leaping low to the ground. A woman (Gillian Abbott) is thrown into the waiting arms of a cluster of people, then into another cluster, and another. When she finally stands alone, men take turns falling at her feet. Dancers begin to collapse, just after those who could catch them walk away, and you wonder if the catchers will make it back in time. People are dragged. A woman (Lilja Ruriksdottir) is made to walk in air by the two men who’ve lifted her and move her feet. In the end, Abbott stands over a man’s fallen body (Joseph Chaikin), while Ruriksdottir, held up again, looks down on the scene like an impassive angel.

Details

Ballet Hispanico
Joyce Theater
December 1 through 13

Juilliard Dance
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
December 9 through 13

Each of the four premieres that make up the New Dances/Edition 2009 program features an entire Dance Division class, and it’s fascinating to see how the four choreographers handle their large casts. Handed 21 third-year students for his Megalopolis, Larry Keigwin breaks them into squads of varying sizes—twos, threes, fives, tens, etc. The principal music, Steve Reich’s Sextet—Six Marimbas, with its shifting, accumulating, overlapping patterns, engenders a variety of snappy little parades that enter the stage, cross it on various paths and disappear; usually three or more are visible at any time. They’re not doing fancy steps, but every foot pattern has a spunky energy, as well as a seductive edge that hints at fashion runways. The opening—a crisp, side-by-side duet for William Barry and Zachary Tang—also prepares us for an atmosphere of club-kid daring reined in by scrupulous form. In perfect synch, they wiggle their hips, corkscrew their torsos, crank their right arms.

There’s more than a hint of mischief under the precision and the slightly chill atmosphere created by Pearce’s standing white neon tubes that flank the stage and guard the back. Reich’s rippling percussion gives way for a while to excerpts from two pieces by M.I.A. And Fritz Masten’s trim, terrific, subtly diverse costumes look like what you might wear to an extraterrestrial rave. Several performers are in all-silver outfits; others stride and strut in silver-trimmed black. Twice—once at the very end—Barry crosses the stage carrying on wildly with a hand-held neon strip. Every now and then, one of the dancers gives us the eye. “Yes yells someone from the audience, almost before the lights go out. I’d agree.

French choreographer Fabien Prioville manages the large-cast issue by setting out a row of chairs at the rear and sides of the stage, and Aszure Barton makes use of a low, simulated corral fence along the back. In Prioville’s Un Dernier Verre (A Last Drink), dancers not otherwise occupied hang out on the chairs and gossip in undertones. They also sit at the front of the stage and interlock their legs in a human chain to perform a clever sequence of repetitive unison gestures. In Barton’s Happy Little Things (Waiting On a Gruff Cloud of Wanting), her performers initially base themselves on the rail for a kind of cowboy chorus in which everyone has a slightly different series of precise but lusty moves.

Prioville’s piece for second-year students was inspired by Ettore Scola, Le Bal (The Ball), a film without dialogue that took place in a ballroom. Prioville was a member of the late Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal from 1999 to 2006, and Un Dernier Verre can be considered as an homage to her. His tale of a girl who, at her birthday party, feels increasingly isolated, makes use of many Bauschian strategies and images. What sounds like a Bach cantata begins to play, as a white-jacketed hotel employee (alumnus Paul Whitthorne) finishes fastidiously removing and folding the remaining white cloths that cover the ballroom chairs. After a while, Hannah Wright walks in, all dolled up in a fluffy pink dress, to await the guests. Time passes. Various pop selections are heard.

When they arrive, full of jollity, bearing an elaborate birthday cake, they fawn over her, but almost immediately attend to their own business. She speaks about her birthday, what she hoped for, how alone she feels. The attention she finally gets may not be what she had in mind. Whitthorne sits her in a swing, and one by one, the men break off their idle chatter or slow-dancing with their partners and line up to take a lipstick from her limp hand and improve on her makeup. Unlike in a similar scene in a Bausch work, they pretty much stick to the outlines of her mouth.

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