We who flock to Paul Taylor’s City Center season (through March 11) to catch the local premieres may notice that when the dancers in Fiends Angelical clot together in a ferocious tangle, we take it as an evolutionary stage in some primal rite. When they tangle in Dandelion Wine, it’s because a daisy chain has run amok, and the eight dancers barely lose their sunny demeanor as they cleverly unsnarl it.
Fiends Angelical (reviewed at its Jacob’s Pillow premiere) is this season’s dark Taylor, Dandelion Wine the light one. Where the be-fogged “fiends” clump and march on instinct, the friends in Dandelion gaze at one another with interest and join patterns they like the look of. The violin in Pietro Locatelli’s Concerto No. 2 in C Minor spins into long cadenzas that suggest high-baroque bees singing thin-voiced in the shimmer of Jennifer Tipton’s lighting. The women’s dresses by Santo Loquasto—white layered over color and, like the men’s white shirts and trousers, belted in color—flutter in the breeze of their dancing. Richard Chen See, clad all in yellow, is the happy sun (or King Dandelion) of this meadow, skimming over it, reaching deeply as if to gather it in. Kristi Egtvedt leaps rapidly through, again and again, like a puffball blown on the wind. (Chen See shows a new, easygoing power, and Egtvedt has become quicksilver.)
An assertive step by Chen See—one leg lifted, knee bent, foot flexed, one arm crooked overhead saluting the day—becomes a motif to be softened, hopped, spun in the dance’s playful games. Two men swing Egtvedt offstage and immediately swing Amy Young in. Egtvedt and Annmaria Mazzini engage in a frisky dialogue, while Chen See, who’s been chaining them around, watches benignly and occasionally intervenes. There are almost always such watchers: Robert Kleinendorst performs his elated solo for Chen See and Egtvedt; Michael Trusnovec dances with Mazzini under public scrutiny; little loner Julie Tice surveys Orion Duckstein and Young before curling into their soft duet.
This noticing gives the folks in the heady, light-as-air Dandelion Wine the look of thinking individuals, while the creatures in Fiends Angelical grope together in darkness.
Drifting tensely through Antony Tudor’s 1943 ballet Dim Lustre was a woman identified only as “She Wore Perfume.” Peter Martins’s new work for New York City Ballet (you can catch it when the company’s spring season opens May 1) is set to the same music Tudor used: Richard Strauss’s vivid, effusive Burlesk for Piano and Orchestra. That Tudor woman slipped into my head only because what Martins’s ballet lacks is perfume—some mysterious quality that turns a stage into a forest or a salon and tells you who these beautiful, nimble people are.
The draped curtains and chandeliers say “ballroom”; so do Carole Divet’s jewel-toned gowns for the women and Strauss’s hot-tempered waltzes. Martins sets us up for partnered dancing and romantic complications. Janie Taylor and Peter Boal arrive already fevered. Darci Kistler and Jared Angle rush together and apart and flit down the aisles the ensemble obligingly forms. But those 10 corps dancers rush on and off the stage with alarming frequency. What can they be doing out there?
A ballet like this needn’t tell a story to make you believe one could happen at any minute, but Martins hasn’t designed or directed the ensemble to bring anything to the party. They enter without reference to the place or their partners—most often hurrying into a formation facing the audience and erupting into dance. Those in the two principal couples relate to each other in a vacuum, elegantly, intensely private in a very busy public space. There is, of course, much to admire: Kistler’s glow, which increases with the heat of her dancing; Taylor’s controlled impetuousness as Boal sweeps her into fervent turns; Boal’s princely side-to-side swashbuckling; a clever passage of jumps with a downward focus for Angle. Taylor and Angle, recently made soloists, more than deserve the promotion.
Near the end, Martins decides to mystify us. The four principals advance to meet and—without ado, second thoughts, or apparent regrets—switch partners. It’s so sudden that we wonder if an offstage clairvoyant has advised them they’ve made the wrong matches and need to correct the situation. We strain to see how the new arrangement has changed things. Not very much. The ensemble doesn’t even notice.
In Allyson Green’s Shadow Catcher, the eloquent dancer-choreographer competes with her highly mobile musician-composer, Joel Davel. Although her solo premiered on “Face the Music and Dance,” a valuable Symphony Space series that commissions new collaborations, the collaborative aspect here is muted. Davel—mostly ignored by Green—holds down center, waving two slim wands in front of an “infrared gesture-sensing instrument” (called Buchla Lightning after inventor Don Buchla) that somehow translates Davel’s movements into sound. Who can keep an eye on Green, being lovely, while this intent shaman conjures up music?
There’s no such conflict in Green’s In the Name, a collaboration with composer Paul Dresher. He and Davel work like busy chefs on Dresher’s “Quadrachord,” an electrified instrument with 14-foot strings, and Buchla’s “Marimba Lumina.” Meanwhile, downstage from the waves of sound, nine wonderful dancers voyage—sleeping where they find themselves, carrying not only treasured objects from home but their customs, their folklore. Green developed the piece in Slovakia, and the dances of her refugees, as well as the handsome, layered red costumes she designed, allude to Eastern Europe. Larry Hahn functions as an understated shepherd, inciting the others, watchful of them, joining them. The dance feels long, but in it choreographer and cast wonderfully convey the life of a tribe and its individuals; adrift these people may be, but their created culture is rich, complex, and full of beauty.
Sharing the program, David Neumann collaborates with Laurie Anderson on So That You Could See Us Coming. This new work is far less shapely than Neumann’s wonderful 2000 Oyimbo, but there’s no dearth of smart ideas and great jokes. While Anderson mixes intriguing musical events at the back of the theater, Neumann and Miho Nikaido, tufted with feathers and fur by Naoko Nagata, lope cautiously about a bizarre Eden designed by Paul Clay and fantastically lit by David Covey. Objects resembling brains light up; a tree of round, glowing fruits wiggles. Civilization evolves (or does it?) via balls, and that empty hand patting the air is soon cupping one. Learn to catch or perish. Bouncing them off the back wall is fun; eating them is not. There’s even an arty “plastique” with three spheres. Bearded Tom O’Connor enters to involve Neumann in monkey tackles and other befuddled encounters. Three handmaidens sort of guide whatever it is we’re enjoying.