In the Name of Diversity
At its founding in 1940, Ballet Theatre pledged itself to diversity. Now with almost 60 years of repertory to plunder and new ballets coming, eclecticism reaches new heights. Barefoot, the dancers perform Martha Graham's ecstatic 1948 Diversion of Angels, and, after a brief pause, Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Carreño glitter onto the stage in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Push Comes toShove, Twyla Tharp's sly 1976 take on "big" ballets, precedes Agnes de Mille's fevered and gloomy 1948 drama Fall River Legend.
The challenge to the dancers is immense. Those in Diversion of Angels look surprisingly at home in Graham's distinctive and unballetic style. Some of the subtleties of emotion that elude the "Couple in White" (Stella Abrera and Marcelo Gomes) often elude the current Graham company, too, when they perform this paean to love. Several of the women's wrapped costumes show too much thigh, and, oddly, the female dancers have trouble rising swiftly from the floor. The men (Gomes, Ethan Brown, Herman Cornejo, and Clinton Luckett) wing splendidly through their athletic games.
Carreño and Herrera are wonderful in Corsaire-two young thoroughbreds in peak condition. On them stunts look silky, achieved with a touching mix of modesty, warmth, and almost flawless control. In the Baryshnikov role in Push Comes to Shove, Carreño's still feeling his way; he's got ease and charm, but not the impetus, or the play between sharp and smooth. The cast of Tharp's last-season hit Known by Heart grasps her rapscallion dynamics superbly: Angel Corella, Julie Kent, Ethan Stiefel, and Susan Jaffe, plus Keith Roberts and Griff Braun (and their subs Gomes and Sean Stewart) in the twin act they weave through the dazzling third section.
Another remarkable performance by Jaffe occurs in Fall River Legend, a beautifully restored production. Influenced by Antony Tudor's sensitivity to gesture and Graham's technique of flashback, de Mille used her own highly developed sense of drama to flesh out the bloody tale of Lizzie Borden. While a sprightly New England community frolics and gossips, Jaffe movingly shows us the descent of the unloved heroine into madness. How this woman's dancing has deepened in the past few years!
Of two new works entering the repertory this season, Lar Lubovitch's Meadow is the more appealing. Set to a curious mélange of music (William Brohn's Pentimento seethes around Schubert's Die Nacht), the piece recalls earlier drifty Lubovitch works like North Star. Behind a scrim with clouds, the dancers roil softly around, twining into tableaux, then floating off again. Although I sometimes yearn for something more to develop, the effect is lovely. In a pretty duet for Roberts and Kent, he gently molds her into inventive designs, as if she were compass needle, quadrant, and guide.
John Neumeier's Getting Closer, set to Ned Rorem's tempestuous String Symphony, boasts its own tempest of stylish lighting effects by Brad Fields, including a dizzying moiré effect on the backdrop. The movement is harsh. Roberts and Sandra Brown flash their limbs and fix their gazes as if danger were on the prowl. Wearing trimly modish costumes by Zack Brown, men in the corps of eight crash into their partners before settling down to dance with them. There's an interestingly kinky solo for Corella. But the ballet's heart eludes detection. Roberts and Brown, Corella and Kent have eyes for one another's partners. So?
**It's a good thing that Improvisational Arts is presenting its season in a church basement. Were we in the funky Warren Street loft where the late Richard Bull founded the ensemble, we might miss Bull too much-his wit, his wise-loopy texts-and the mischievous serenity of his wife, the late Cynthia Jean Cohen Bull (a/k/a Novack). But the core group of artists dedicated to improvisation and the Bull ambience aim to make us feel at home.
They invite any interested spectators to join Bull's Walking Dance-like all his works, a sturdy, fail-safe structure for performers to animate. So people walk, team up, become deeply interested in the two fat pillars holding up the ceiling. And even sitting, we can be gripped by the jam session Interactions, where a careering dancer may force split-second reactions on his pals and a pleasant move lure copycats.
It's seeing those decisions that makes improvisation rewarding. Or slightly disappointing (Jesus' Blood, Bull's intense and eloquent 1977 group piece to Gavin Bryars's hypnotic score, seems a tiny bit decorated this time around). In Kelly Donovan's Silver, how will Donovan and Meg Fry evolve some of the tender acrobatics they lever each other into? What'll happen when Peentz Dubble (one of the group's founders) nudges her elbow into the bell of jazz saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom's instrument? Bloom, Dubble, and two cushions make a delicious Duet: two mature women at ease, fashioning an intelligent, drowsily playful dialogue between music and motion. Richard and Cynthia would have loved it.
**Like Alwin Nikolais before her, Eun Me Ahn often presents the human body metamorphosed. But her visions are darker and more surreal. Dancers enter Revolving Door in vivid bags (she designs her own costumes), glowing like jewels in Wendy Luedtke's lighting. Walking on hands and feet, butts in the air, masks on the sides and backs of their heads, they're a garish but placid herd. The bags, pulled into stylish drapes, can permit a decorous court dance by Krista Miller and Ted Johnson, while curious sounds from the backstage music ensemble led by David Chiu blat around them, or turn Johnson into an undulating diva.
Two revolvable walls press together at an acute angle. The clear material joining their open ends can be a mirror, or a window through which two naked figures are suddenly glimpsed. Stranger, one of the walls is apparently soft, because the dancers dig their heads into it and start shrieking-just before Brian Brooks emerges from the structure like a giant lizard.
This striking visual display is bolstered by clever movement conceits and strong performing (by Ahn, Brooks, Johnson, Miller, Brian Flynn, Jun Sung Kim, and Linda Sastradipradja). If the meaning is elusive, this may be partly because of a hole at the work's center: One dancer, Elizabeth Pape, committed suicide four days before the opening; another, her partner Eric Butler, could not perform. Sastradipradja danced some sections on short notice. And the dance's "revolving door" tragically evoked for all that other door, between life and death.
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