By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Faun√©
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
The architect Santiago Calatrava appears to be a remarkably agreeable fellow. Interviewed in the short film that precedes every NYCB performance featuring a ballet with his décor, he says hes excited to be working with five of the seven choreographers creating works for the companys recent Architecture of Dance season. Did Melissa Barak (clearly not on his wavelength) request palm trees? So be it, palm trees.
In the film, Peter Martins, NYCBs artistic director, recalls the Tchaikovsky Festival of 1981, when George Balanchine commissioned a set from Philip Johnson and decreed that it be used for every ballet. The array of hanging, clear-plastic tubes could be moved around (although it looked like a futuristic ice palace no matter what). Martins wanted to resurrect that idea, but with a difference; the premieres by Benjamin Millepied, Wayne McGregor, Mauro Bigonzetti, Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky, Barak, and Martins himself were scattered through the companys spring season, and theoretically every one of them could have had a Calatrava set (Ratmanskys ballet and McGregors appeared without décor).
I didnt see the works choreographed by Barak or Wheeldon (his Estancia and Ratmanskys Namouna will be performed again during NYCBs season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 6 through 17. But of the other three new pieces with Calatrava décor, Peter Martinss Mirage was the most intensely collaborative.
Id have expected that. As the architect of the whole plan, he was committed to exploring its challenges fully. Calatravas design for Mirage is akin to those he created for Millepieds Why am I not where you are: two huge white, fan-shaped objects, with scores of elastic cords anchoring their arching tops to their flat bases. Think semi-circular harps. Those for Martinss work are smaller and suspended above the stage. Also, they move. Starting out side by side with the curve at the top, they tilt, invert, or join like two halves of a scallop shell; in the end they resemble a giant moth.
The accompanying Violin Concerto by Finnish composer-conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (jointly commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and NYCB) is richly textured, full of incipient drama. But Martins didnt ally himself whole-heartedly with the messages surfacing from the musics shimmering strings, the plangent voice of the violin (the excellent soloist was Leila Josefowicz), the sudden muffled drumbeats. Instead, Calatravas two identical shapes spoke strongly to him of twinning, of couples, of mirror images, of inkblot tests, and he made a cool-headed paean to symmetry
The opening sets the toneand does it strikingly. Anthony Huxley and Robert Fairchild rush in and plant themselves facing us, one in front of each suspended object. Huxley pushes his limbs around himself in interesting ways, his extreme thinness making the already sharp moves look even more incisive. Then Fairchild shows his stuff. Without moving from their spots, the two work in canon. They try a dialogue. Each man gets a partner (Erica Pereira for Huxley, Kathryn Morgan for Fairchild). Marc Happels sleek gray unitards with purple trim and flesh-colored cutouts give them the air of faintly sexy, super-flexible robots. As Fairchild manipulates Morgan, two of the four corps couples rush through, the men lifting their partners into airborne leaps; shortly the other two pairs soar through.
Nothing that exhilarating happens again, although its pleasant to see a rare diagonal line of three pairs slide from canon into unison. There are also a couple of handsome pas de deux for the handsome principal couple (the wonderful Jenny Somogyi and Jared Angle). In the second, to a dirge-like passage of Salonens concerto, Somogyi appears almost exhausted by her partners ministrations. Do what you will with me, she seems to be saying, as he drapes her over himself yet again.
But a statement made long ago by choreographer Doris Humphrey crawls into my brain: Symmetry is lifeless. Theres no question as to Martinss proficiency, buthooked on Calatravahe deploys his wonderful dancers so symmetrically in space and time that the overall image of the stage is that of an austere modernist wallpaper on the move. Those people stage right mirror those stage left, maybe while a couple holds down the middle. Nothing flashes out again to disrupt that equilibrium, and even our vision of the dancers torqueing, slanting bodies is restrained by it.
In the end, the men all line up across the front of the stage like a paper-doll chain and twist their partners from arabesques into backbends, their legs still lifted high. Spiritually, its depressing. Mark Stanleys final lighting bathes Calatravas construction in day-glo colors. Whats that about?
At the gala that launched the Jacobs Pillow Dance Festivals 78th summer season in the Berkshires, Nina Ananiashvili finished her exquisitely poignant rendition of Mikhail Fokines The Dying Swanto applause and cheers that rocked the rustic Ted Shawn Theater. After a very short pause, the curtain went up on Kyle Abrahams solo Inventing Pookie Jenkins. Pillow director Ella Baffs vision of diversity couldnt have been more fetchingly demonstrated. The great ballerina, artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia, finished her solo by sinking down, encircled by her white tutu; the audiences first sight of the young, up-and-coming African American choreographer was of him sitting on the floor, his back to the audience, framed by a long, fluffy white skirthis chest bare, his arms slipping through the air as fluently as any swans. With both the Shawns proscenium stage and the Doris Duke Studio Theater at her disposal, Baff can continue to juggleover the festivals 10-week seasonthe traditional and the edgy in a variety of ways.