It’s Been Strange


If Scott Heron and Chris Cochrane were 14 years old, you’d say, “These guys may really make it someday!” But of course, what’s endearing about them is that they’re grown-up and savvy. In their let’s-put-on-a-show recital (at Dixon Place through April 28), climaxes deflate, cards up the sleeve hide in plain sight, and mysteries rain down if someone pulls the right cord. Cochrane sings his own compositions with a stoically morose air, while playing guitar (acoustic and electric) from a little wheeled platform that boasts a lamp, an amp, and a maze of wires.

Heron does almost everything else. He executes passages of dancing that his skinny body translates into knife-sharp angularity. He catches and devours an invisible fish, wearing little but a black jacket and a hat decorated with a vacuum-cleaner tube into which he sings, joining Cochrane on “Teach Me How to Breathe.” He repeatedly tosses an umbrella behind him and tries to catch it; it becomes a fantail. He enters as a cranky old man pushing a table (tin cans fall from above, “Love Me or Leave Me” is heard), then turns into a jerky hoofer who is also a hilariously incompetent magician. A trick knife, a fake mustache, surprising costume changes, a lip-synching dinosaur puppet, and taped counsel on fisting are some of the evening’s features. Kleenex is big.

Transitions can be casual—OK, what next?—or circuitous. Why not walk over the backs of the audience’s couches (Dixon Place seating is funky) to get to the piano and play some Grieg? But, at the end, Cochrane makes music so Heron, bearing knives, can make an Entrance in heels and red ruffles and have a sort of flamenco hissy fit to end the evening. Inspiration and foolishness, method and madness race neck and neck.

Les Ballets Grandiva, like its elder sister Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, goes for all the drag strategies guaranteed to goad an audience into hilarity. Foremost is the spectacle of men—flat-chested and hairy—done up in tutus and pointe shoes. Other ruses: the rival-divas act, cheap jokes (I wish they’d retire the smelly armpit one), botched steps, and inappropriate zeal. Ineptness, like unshaven armpits, seems to be on the way out. Many of the Grandiva ballerinas on view at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in early April have excellent technique. In fact, the imperious Tatiana Deblockova is so good in Marius Petipa’s Satanella Pas de Deux that there’s little to snicker at but her plumpish though nimble partner (Raymond Van Mason), who’s wearing not only the devil horns usually reserved for her, but a flippy little red tail (the splendid costumes are by José Coronado).

The meat of the comedy is choreographic satire. Peter Anastos, a pro at this, has created for the Grandiva an expert Balanchine parody, Serenadiana, that follows closely the design of the master’s Serenade. However, when the curtain rises on a tide of Tchaikovsky, the blue-tutued women are not stretching their right arms toward a distant horizon, they’re looking up into their left hands as if checking their ‘dos in concealed mirrors.

There are some inspired moments (my favorite: A ballerina does an abandoned swoon into the arms of her partner, not realizing that another has beaten her to the draw). Anastos drops references to Giselle, Apollo, and Union Jack (the dancers pull tiny flags out of their bodices and solemnly semaphore). Husky Ginger Snapps of the leaden leaps and the aptly named Janie Sparker go a little overboard fluffing up their skirts until they look like bundles of tulle, but they and tiny Nina Minimaximova (company director Victor Trevino) go for the soul of the ballet. George Callahan, unaccountably dressed in long johns, partners them ardently.

Tiffany Anne Cartier, Yoko Moshimoshii, Helene Aymondatopoulos, and Heather Sowatt—gorgeous in Coronado’s pink tutus—reenact the famous 1845 Pas de Quatre (by Trevino after Jules Perrot), alternating immense charm (for us) with withering glances (for one another). Dying Swan Karina convulses the audience by getting one fluttering arm wrapped behind her neck. And in Marcus Galante’s Balanchine spoof, Star Spangled Ballerina, Sparker dances with such dogged charm, abandon, and enthusiasm that it’s a wonder her glitter lipstick doesn’t drip on the floor.

Ballet dancers train to imprint their moves on retinas in the top balcony. Performing in a small space, they look like superpeople, stunning machines for dancing. The closer they get, the more unlike us they seem. A raised leg can look like a carved object. Earlier this month Jonathan Appels brought this home, wedging large-scale dancing by Dena Abergel, Jared Angle, Craig Hall, Ryan Kelly, Deanna McBrearty, Amar Ramasar, Sean Suozzi, and Janie Taylor into the shallow, black-box space of Lincoln Center’s Clark Studio Theater. These performers in Appels’s “An operation can vanish” are members of New York City Ballet—Angle and Taylor recently minted soloists, Ramasar an apprentice, and the others in the corps.

Appels’s strategies in controlled volatility do indeed vanish from the space, as his title (drawn from Wittgenstein) implies, but linger as memories of people bursting into view and flashing their hyperintelligent legs at one another in nondramatic encounters. Their bodies don’t so much merge as angle intricately around one another. A duet for Ramasar and Suozzi is a study in push-pull, pick up-put down. Angle’s hands on Abergel’s body project businesslike power, rather than pseudoromance. In Appels’s work, flow is there to be queried. Like the philosophy he studies and teaches, his dance phrases debate, consider, rush in with new arguments. He uses his dancers’ ballet chops to the max, but twists them off-kilter. However often he sends people to the mat, and however trendy his often distracting collages of music and speech, his style is marked by the purposefulness of the classical artist, the Apollonian (Merce Cunningham is, no surprise, one of his heroes).

Kelly and Hall, who’ve worked with Appels before, are especially riveting in a duet, and Hall’s solo is one of the best things in the piece. Some of these astonishing young creatures seem unsure about how to perform in this setting. You catch them thinking about steps. Taylor—pale as a Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia behind cascades of yellow hair—focuses on inner thoughts. Abergel looks cross at first, but mellows. Angle, eyelids at half-mast, projects a danseur-noble hauteur. It’s almost a relief to glimpse them in the wings grinning at friends in the audience.