Think of Bill T. Jones, and chances are you think of an angry man. In some of his politically charged pieces, even beauty seems to pose an enraged challenge (Can it avail? Must it die?). But We Set Out Early…Visibility Was Poor is a serene, beautifully constructed work through which float what might be images from a remembered life. Bjorn Amelan’s set and Robert Wierzel’s lighting, both amazing, abet such a conjecture. A metal frame hung with circles is reconfigured by the dancers into a cart and then rises; a practice barre becomes a pole. A single spotlight appears, trembling, then disappears in a sudden glare of white; dusk vanquishes noon.
The changes in the dancing are almost as sudden and mysterious, but a profound force holds everything together. The movement is as full-bodied and full-throttle as ever, studded with sleekly designed moments that snag the eye. But watching the piece is like looking into a happy community. Some people are busy with demanding private tasks; some congregate to whisper; others embrace; still others rush by. One or more unobtrusively monitor the action, as if they were stand-ins for the choreographer. Certain events—like Alexandra Beller bent over, arms flapping—are glimpsed through a thicket of quieter figures. Complexity never exhausts the eye.
Because of the dreamlike quality of time in the 73-minute work, you don’t feel the need to challenge mysteries with logic. Occasional flappings and cawings in the first section seem oddly reasonable juxtaposed to Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Each action in the slow transformation of the set has the potential to be a visual analogue to the spare, haunting notes of an early John Cage work for pre pared piano. During the third section (set to Peteris Vasks’s increasingly turbulent Stimmung), there’s no need to wonder at dancers piling onto one another as if playing a street game, or Rosalynde LeBlanc trying to find something on the floor. And who’s to stop you imagining that the final picture—black Germaul Barnes running in place while white Eric Bradley strives upward beside him—evokes Jones and his late partner Arnie Zane?
I could easily write a page on each dancer—the others are Miguel Amaya, Christian Canciani, Daniel Russell Kubert, Toshiko Oiwa, Odile Reine-Adelaide, and Maya Saffrin. They’re that wonderful, that distinctive.
The National Ballet Of Canada, 37 years old, boasting close to 50 dancers and a school, can handle grandeur—the classics like Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. The more modestly scaled contemporary ballets the company brought to City Center also display the dancers’ formidable technical assets, but, more interestingly, show their gift for lyricism, their ability to make a dance phrase seem to sing with the music.
All four works on Program A—one by John Alleyne of Ballet British Columbia, one by talented company dancer Dominique Dumais, and two by James Kudelka, NBC’s artistic director since 1996—meld ballet’s lively footwork with modern dance’s expressive torso. They’re the sort of pieces that create vaguely defined landscapes of feeling. In climates sunny or oppressive, the performers frolic and flirt or search and struggle. It would be pointless to consider cause and effect. Mood seems to fly in on the music.
Dumais’s Tides of Mind drops two lovers (Johan Persson and the intense Martine Lamy) into a place darkened by the second movement of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3. A dangerous but fatally attractive goal, located somewhere in our vicinity, draws them forward, but for all their bursts of physically dazzling frustra tion, they resignedly retreat to the back of the stage.
When you first see Stephanie Hutchison spiking around on pointe in Alleyne’s clever, spiteful Split House, you wonder what she and tall, blond Christopher Body could have in com mon. How will this velvet-muscled, serene fellow manage a dialogue with a woman trying to be one with the buzzing strings of Arvo Pärt’s beautiful Fratres? They manage it, smug about the unpleasant strategies they’re trying out on each other. Jaimie Tapper and Anthony Randazzo mirror the first pair or vie in intricate exchanges of their own. Tapper is a wonder, full and elastic in her movements, serene beneath her instinct for passion; Randazzo knows just how to hold her without reining her in.
Kudelka’s The Four Seasons has been hailed as a masterpiece in Toron to, and it’s indeed rich in dancing, wit, splendid costumes (by Carmen Alie and Denis Lavoie), and imaginative patterns. It’s also surprisingly square in relation to Antonio Vivaldi’s famous piece of music, from which the choreographer draws a scenario charting a young man’s voyage through the changing seasons of his life. The charming romp that’s spring moves toward wintry death. Rex Harrington is passionate and powerful as the hero, and all the dancers are splendid, especially Chan Hon Goh as a wind blown sprite, Greta Hodgkinson as the stormy mistress of summer, and Lamy as a leader in autumn’s restrained bacchanal. Four of the company’s character dancers (Victoria Bertram, Lorna Ceddes, Tomas Schramek, and Hazaros Surmeyan) add wry tender ness to winter’s onslaught.
In the 1991 Musings, Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings draws Kudelka into a subtler, more supple musicality. The women aren’t on pointe. The movement, whether blithe or melancholy, flourishes within the strong structure like windblown curtains in a sturdy window frame. A loving, carefree trio for Tapper, Pers son, and Jeremy Ransom sets the tone for the opening “Allegro,” and in the “Larghetto,” three men carry Jennifer Fournier through dreamy geometry, becoming her bed, her carriage, her steeds. This lovely, fluent ballet shows Kudelka’s gifts not only for choreography, but for making dancers look ravishingly articulate.
What kind of a choreographer calls his company bopi’s black sheep? When Kraig Patterson dances Tryst, a solo he made for Mikhail Baryshnikov, you think you have him figured out. He’s bopi and those sheep rolled in one—mischievous, sweet, flirty, but with the nerve to take the second movement of a Bach concerto and just walk around to it, like some Chekhovian character enjoying his melancholy.
Patterson has grown into choreography bopping between two wildly disparate populations: the super pros of Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project and the students he teaches in the Barnard College Dance Department. Now he has his own company, but a consistent style is unlikely to take root in one with such wide-ranging tastes. Like Mark Morris, with whom he has memorably performed since 1987, Patterson dives into a piece of music and comes up with a palette of movements to fit. Wails, premiered at Barnard, starts off with a guttural lullaby billed as “Music of the Minority People of Taiwan.” Wigged Michael Lomeka and Eden Mazer stomp around while Jennifer Howard roughly rocks the smaller Lanileigh Ting—occasionally administering a slap or picking a louse out of her fuzzy hairdo. Chance O‘s knock-me-down music, written and played live by the band Tortuga (the songs have lines like “I want to dissect your face”), makes dancers stick—vibrating—to the back wall, swim in a dreadful sea, and silently mouth off at one another. Y, made for White Oak, is as full of frail, shimmering complications as its music, Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 10.
Patterson falters at times (what was the significance of the mirror-cum-footstool in Y?). But he has a fine sense of what it means to design movement in space. One of Y‘s charms is its champagne-bubble complexity, while the clear, blocky pat terns in Wails turn the work into something much smarter than a cross-cultural joke.