Jewel Boxes


New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project is named for generous patron Irene Diamond, but the title provokes expectations (which new work will turn out to be a jewel?) and comparisons (only glass after all). Four premieres decked the company’s gala, all glinting in their own ways.

Young-comet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, a soloist with the company, and Helgi Tomasson, former NYCB principal and artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet, infiltrate big piano concertos (Cameron Grant is the pianist). The Shostakovich First, which Wheeldon uses for Mercurial Manoeuvres, was written in 1933, before the composer yielded to Stalinist bombast. Carole Divet’s witty ensemble costumes—blue with red buttons—contribute to the air of parade-ground drills on holiday, although the gradual rise of sheer panels, shot through with Mark Stanley’s red lighting, could allude ironically to a new era’s dawn, heralded by Edward Liang’s splendidly soaring solo and Raymond Mase’s trumpet call. When Jock Soto and Jenifer Ringer enter, each is caged by four “guards” who stay close, then suddenly release the two into a luxurious duet. Throughout, Wheeldon plays splendid games with patterns—disassembling and reconvening squadrons of dancers, and showing his mastery of the classical vocabulary. No doubt of his white-hope status and the ballet’s high carat count.

Tomasson’s Prism is a different sort of gem; its contrapuntal games create a more complex sparkle, an elegant shimmer of feeling in accord with Beethoven’s early and classical First. The opening moments are a little strained, and the rapturous second-movement duet (for Charles Askegard and that river of a dancer Maria Kowroski) drags slightly, but this is a lovely ballet. And the dancers! Ringer is everybody’s favorite princess in the first movement, happy in her steps, charming to her partners Jared Angle and Jeroen Hofmans. And Benjamin Millepied (replacing the injured Sebastian Marcovici) vaults into the last movement with new boldness, as if he were high on the whole experience.

Peter Martins sets two smaller-scale ballets to music by one of his preferred composers, John Adams. Slonimsky’s Earbox—bright, dense, acerbic—loses steam toward the end, while the dancers, in their crayon-colored outfits by Holly Hines, pop about. But Martins constructs some vivid moments: The women’s fan kicks seem, uncannily, to crank the men into bursts of turning; Damian Woetzel skylarks among the group, canting his body and jimmying his feet into startling aerial displays. Most intriguing: Yvonne Borree, Margaret Tracey, Peter Boal, and Albert Evans (replacing Nilas Martins) leaning and twining in imaginative dependency.

In Todo Buenos Aires, the same composer and choreographer turn playful, while doing serious things to the tango; Martins catches its knife-edge lines without using any authentic steps. Evans and Philip Neal vie without animosity for Wendy Whelan’s attentions, but are happy to dance with each other when she’s not around. (I wish the fabulous Whelan would take a cue from Ringer and pay more attention to her guys.) In a lighter-hearted trio, Darci Kistler is more aware of guest Robert Tewsley (in for injured Nilas) and Nikolai Hübbe, whose steps are as greased as their hair. A fine rhinestone, at the very least.

Trisha Brown Dance Company’s Five-Part Weather Intervention
(images: Chris Callis)

In 1987, Newark (NIWEWEORCE) showed us a new Trisha Brown. For several years, our eyes had slid around in her dances, rarely able to light amid that organized delirium of motion. “Unstable molecular structures,” she called the works. Newark, revived this season (sadly without its rising, falling Donald Judd panels) invites a sturdier perspective. Against the sharp intermittent hum of the Judd/Peter Zummo score, Keith Thompson and Seth Parker pour themselves from pose to elegantly tailored pose; lyrical strongmen, they look as if nothing could budge them from their job. Gender differences were also a new strategy for Brown in 1987. The women (Kathleen Fisher, Mariah Maloney, Katrina Thompson, and Abigail Yager), kiting in and out, are more sinuous, buoyant, divided in their bodily impulses, even though the two styles influence each other, and Maloney seems to combine them. At one point, she and Fisher stand together, backs to us, balancing on one leg; slowly they bend over and straighten up. We marvel at the balance, of course, but also, because Maloney overlaps Fisher slightly, the woman in back can’t bend quite as far. It’s such subtleties that make Brown so enthralling.

Composer Dave Douglas and his terrific ensemble are not playing the music for Five-Part Weather Invention live. Yet the feeling of exuberant collaboration and the improvisatory gusto of jazz still pervade this work. Silhouetted against Terry Winter’s black-and-white backdrop with its suggestions of a musical score, Fisher’s a wandering note, until Jennifer Tipton’s masterful lighting turns her richly human. Diving into bold lifts, Keith Thompson and Stacy Spence act as strong as Newark‘s men, but less rocklike. The whole piece kicks up its heels very smartly. While Fisher and Keith T. go about some handsome business, Brandi Norton and Todd Stone—bothersome breezes—dodge around them, as close to the two as they dare get. By entering in canon, the cast turns a line into a serpent. Copying Keith T.’s improvised arms, they stutter beguilingly behind him. A woman crashes to the floor; we gasp. The next time someone falls mid-dance, we get it. This is “wrong” behavior made right.

Brown herself appears in her 1978 Locus and her 1994 If You Couldn’t See Me, reminding us where that wit, that uncanny flow, that gorgeousness come from.

Seán Curran Company
(images: Lois Greenfield)

E.B. White might have been startled to hear his debonair words on the loneliness and privacy and strangeness of New York spoken by a dancing-singing-talking tornado called Seán Curran amid a crowd of dressed-up department-store child mannequins. But Curran is brilliant in this new solo, Approaching a City—garnishing the J. Pointer song “Shakey Flat Blues” with rueful comedy and canoodling eerily with the mannequins. When he lays one little girl down while telling her, “You have been missing for most of your life,” and lies beside her, he can break your heart. And you’ve barely finished laughing.

Curran’s scruffy, fighting-cock vigor and fast feet—bred in ballet studios and Irish step-dancing competitions—are idiosyncratic. Every gesture is clean, even a cannily modulated swoon. Yet he has become an accomplished group choreographer, transferring his precision without his quirks. Symbolic Logic, a beautiful, austere Asian-influenced ritual, is completely different from The Nothing That Is Not There and the Nothing That Is, to piano music by Leos Janácek, which explores subtle dramatic tensions among four people (Marisa Demos, Tony Guglietti, Peter Kalivas, and Heather Waldon-Arnold). And Six Laments suggests the potency of memory through evocative dancing and Kieran McGonnell’s portraits of three ages of man. Painted on venetian blinds, the faces disappear when the blinds open and Philip W. Sandström’s lighting awakens the visions behind them.

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