Could this be a Jewish wedding? Maybe. The crowd carries a man and a woman high on its shoulders. People kick up their heels while klezmer music wails its irresistible rhythms. But there’s no “story,” and the dancers are all Asian.
No reason for surprise. Rosalind New man’s career, like her two recent works, crosses boundaries. A New Yorker, she’s been based in Hong Kong since 1989, teaching and
choreographing at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Last year, government funding enabled her to form a company, all of whose dancers seem to be Academy graduates. HK/NY performed here in the Asia-Pacific Contemporary Dance Festival, at the Kaye Playhouse through Thurs day.
Different Trains and especially Scenes From a Mirage are rich, beautiful dances. Newman’s supple, springy movement demands strong technical skills, but—molded by purpose, rhythmic punctuation, and telling if enigmatic gestures—the most formal of patterns grip the heart. The dancers, wonderfully lush movers, render the emotional hues so sensitively that you’re not aware of them “doing steps”; deep forces seem to propel them.
They perform Different Trains to Steve Reich’s stunning eponymous music. The cross-country trip that’s conjured up by the rumbling rhythms, the snatches of a conductor’s announcements, the buried allusions to other trains (like the boxcars of Nazi Germany) is cast by Newman into images of constant traveling. Against a projected cityscape, dancers trudge and race, often getting nowhere. Encounters occur on the move. Two women fall into the arms of two men; others stare, but the pattern resumes (if it ever really stopped). Four of the eight dancers leap to hang from portable panels that catch the neon names of cities projected on the backdrop. In an eerie moment, the panels are lined up to form one wall; hands scrabble out between the cracks to haunt a man. When larger gaps open, we glimpse people holding hands, passing between the partitions, like figures seen in the night crossing from one lit train car to another.
At the beginning of Scenes From a Mirage, Juna Koo dances in a corner—rocking, reaching, dipping under barriers created by her curving arms. A voice sings (the music is by Guy Klucevsek and the Klezmatics). The others huddle at the back: memories summoned up. This dance, too, is about journeying. They advance to ward the front of the stage, each desperate to arrive, often pulled back by someone else, or helped forward. They gesture as if brushing steam from a clouded window. When they link arms, they can’t agree which way to go. They barely notice as Koo begins to mold them into tableaux, but once placed, they continue to move in shadowy, indecipherable ways—like wind up toys at the end of their cycles.
As the music heats up, they turn one another’s pale coats and vests inside out. The bright colors cue celebration and rapid, boisterous steps. Two men’s increasingly outflung lumbering signals the onset of drunkenness. Just as we begin to know these people as individuals, Newman returns to the dark anonymity of the beginning. An exit sign lights up at the back; they walk through it, looking over their shoulders. Koo stumbles after them. We hear a heavy door slamming.
Despite the desperation, both these pieces teem with life.
Traditional story ballet would have foundered had onstage parties been banned. Without balls, vintage festivals, strolling players, and the odd peasant who’s managed to get pointe shoes and learn to use them, how could a choreographer fill three acts?
Aleksandr Pushkin’s beloved poem The Fountain of Bakhchisaray is about moral redemption through love. A Tatar khan who has captured Maria, a Polish maiden, is humbled by her beauty, innocence, and resistance to his advances. Unfortunately, a violent lifestyle doesn’t change overnight, and his jealous favorite wife stabs the girl. He then spends much of his life brooding beside the fountain he built in her memory. When librettist Nikolai Volkov transformed this tale into a ballet, he gave Maria a happy, luxurious life to be ruined: a noble father, a hand some fiancé, and a birthday party rife with dance potential. Rotislav Zakharov, choreographing it for the Kirov in 1934, created not only harem numbers to distract the besotted khan, but a polonaise, a krakowiak, and a mazurka for the Act I guests.
In Russia of the ’30s, when the great Galina Ulanova created the role of Maria, Bakhchisaray was considered a breakthrough in terms of what might be called realism-in-fantasy. Drawing on Stanislavsky’s methods, the choreographer prodded the dancers to analyze their characters (unheard-of!). To day, as performed at the Met by the Kirov in a staging by Sergei Radlov, Bakhchisaray‘s emotional pitch may at times recall silent movies, but the performers draw fine subtleties from the characters’ love-and-death existence.
We foresee trouble when we (and only we) spy a dark man vaulting over a balustrade and disappearing into the shrubbery (the Russian scenic designers do trees marvelously, and Valentina Khodasevich’s leafy branches are no exception). The statue-guarded castle garden where handsome Nikolai Godunov leads the rousing krakowiak with Alexandra Gronskaya is to be the scene of a somewhat unconvincing massacre. A show-off dance for two young men with swords (Ruben Bobovnikov and Anton Korsakov) and their martially inclined ladies (Sofia Gumerova and Daria Pavlenko) fore shadows the deadlier swordplay of the khan’s men. The lovers (Svetlana Zakharova and Igor Zelensky) are too sweet in love, too innocent, too bounding, too shy to live happily ever after. He’s killed; she’s abducted.
The harem houses the heart of the drama, although Elena Chmil per forms a bright number with a bell in each hand, the voluptuous second wife (Alexandra Iosifidi) dances barefoot (the more important the wife, the teenier the jeweled bra), and Islom Baimuradov leads the Tatars in a virtuosic display of virility. As Zarema, the former favorite, Uliana Lopatkina brilliantly shows the erosion of her confidence when her lithe dancing gets no reaction from Khan Girei, and Vladimir Ponomarev as Girei magnificently reveals, in his scene with Maria, his terrible struggle; he’d like to rape her immediately, but her purity (Zakharova projects this through a lovely doomed lightness) gnaws into his long-suppressed Better Self even as he yanks her about.
Compared to much-monkeyed-with “classics” like Le Corsaire, there’s a consistency to Bakhchisaray: a blend of high drama, classical steps, and hardly updated 19th-century orientalism.
Rosa Mei competes in Chinese martial arts events, and most of the six small dances at the Cunningham Studio this Thursday through Saturday show that influence in their rhythms. Her dancers, all women, often glide in muscular slow motion or whip into poses that suspend like frozen question marks. Despite the athleticism, my mind retains more images of clear, bold shapes than of the movements that produce them. In the new White Noise, as in the 1997 quintet Cellar Symphony, the dancers (Naomi Luppescu, Amanda Schneider, Galois Cohen, and Jessica Lööf) rarely make contact. Although Mei moves them in unison or well-
designed counterpoint, they frequently stud a landscape, each bent on individual tasks. In a solo, False Eyelashes, to Schoenberg’s Variations, Luppescu, bent over and knock-kneed, can look creaturish, or—imaginary vase aloft—like a downcast nymph.
The exceptions to these intelligent, cool, rather unfulfilled pieces are a silly knockabout for Mei and Michael Martello, mocking martial arts with a broom, plastic bat, and rolled-up newspaper, and a touching duet, Two Stellas. Cohen and Lööf are sweetly gawky in their black dresses. They sit side by side, collapse, and roll as if they hope country hymns like “Rocky Road” and “Shine on Me” will pick them up. In an endearing lapse from wistfulness, a lively tune goads Lööf’s feet into scampering joyfully. A fresh drink on a sweltering evening.