Soirée, Richard Tanner’s latest work for the New York City Ballet, begins with an anomalous vision: dream-time froufrou. The men of the ensemble are kneeling on one knee, each with a woman sitting on his thigh, as if a dance has just ended. The shades-of-pink tutus by Carole Divet flip up at the edges—smiling, as it were. But Mark Stanley bathes the stage in mystic light, and when Nino Rota’s Concerto Soirée begins, pianist Susan Walters’s notes drop into a woodwind haze.
Tanner maintains an interesting tension in the ballet’s first section as the music turns more festive; Rota, best known as a film composer, creates a convincing fin de siècle Paris ambience. Couples delineate semicircles, circles, and spokes with their dancing, clustering and breaking apart to let three stellar pairs rush in, whip off a few steps, and hurry off.
A pas de deux for Janie Taylor and Jared Angle takes the tone of sprightly conversation. They dance it excellently, but don’t pry out its flirtatious subtext. The second, legato duet begins and ends with one lover covering the other’s eyes (a vision Tanner doesn’t pursue). Carla Körbes, partnered by Seth Orza, is a marvel of warm fluidity. The third duet, for Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette, is bouncier. She springs up and flips one leg straight; he greets her with an entrechat; they strut and jump together. Bouder is strong and precise, Veyette dashing and full of energy, although in Tanner’s difficult step patterns, his feet often flop like his distracting hair.
A ballet that might have been more than a well-made bit of spice slides unaccountably downhill in the final “Can-Can.” Soirée can be seen and pondered again when NYCB opens its Saratoga run Tuesday.
The 69th season of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival began with a farewell. Two days after the opening gala, Barton Mumaw, the finest of Ted Shawn’s Men Dancers, died at 88. He was at the Pillow in the early ’30s when the guys cut down trees, built cabins, planted vegetables, and danced half-naked for appreciative ladies from the Massachusetts towns of Lee and Becket. Lean, fit, and sweet-tempered, he continued to coach younger dancers in his roles until a few years ago. Last summer, he said he wouldn’t come to the Pillow again. But he is there. Always will be.
The gala featured some charismatic soloists. In an excerpt from Jacqulyn Buglisi’s Against All Odds, the extraordinary Graham exponent Terese Capucilli swept about as the fading Sarah Bernhardt, drawn like a moth to the spotlight. Doug Varone performed his mesmerizing 1987 Nocturne as if the Chopin music were tapping his shoulder and slipping inside his skin to both inspire and disturb a reverie. Desmond Richardson danced José Limón’s 1961 Sonata for Two Cellos. Richardson’s suspended moments don’t have quite the wrenched-from-the-earth force of the solo’s creator, but put this gorgeous man onstage and he glistens.
The program boasted a lineage running from Ruth St. Denis and Shawn through their pupils Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey to Buglisi/Foreman Dance (both choreographers performed with Graham) and the company founded by Humphrey’s protégé, Limón (in whose group Varone once danced). Interestingly, in the first section of the new Crossroads, made for the Limón Dance Company by Donald McKayle, the argumentative hand gestures, the way one person leans to whisper in another’s ear, and the final intense tableau evoke moments in Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane. In McKayle’s ritualistic contemporary drama, set to music by James Newton, two couples emerge from the ensemble—a pair of lovers (Kimiye Corwin and Dante Puleio) and another watchful, seemingly jealous pair (Amber Merkens and Francisco Ruvalcaba), perhaps alter egos.
Performing in the Duke Studio Theater during the festival’s first week, Buglisi/Foreman featured a stunning roster of seasoned dancers, including many from the in-legal-limbo Graham company. The Graham heritage infuses the two choreographers’ work with a sense of dramatic urgency and intensity, but their scale is not heroic. No doom-eager heroines quest through mythic landscapes, however tightly strung the bodies and emotions. It’s almost touching to see some of the little coiled-steel women, like founding company members Capucilli and Christine Dakin, strut to the music of Catfish Corner in Donlin Foreman’s Mean Ole World. But lovely, long-limbed Rika Okamoto has a sly looseness, and in one of the best sections five women use their power to really dig into the music and steps. While Stephen Pier gets down in a solo, a lineup behind him happily attacks funky hip swings as if they were destiny to be mastered.
The high point of the beautifully danced program is Buglisi’s haunting Suspended Women (2000). Eleven women in derelict ball gowns roam around to Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, caught in dreams of desire, despair, madness, renunciation. In their extravagant, disordered attire, they resemble dolls that have been played with too much. Foreman, Pier, Philip Gardner, and Kevin Predmore appear, carrying women off, rampaging through, bestowing kisses. But they are transient, leaving only their jackets draped over this partner, held by that one, as the women advance toward some new arena of vision.
Performing his own work, Foreman has a direct and thoughtful quality, as if he were sizing up the situation. In a duet from his 1992 Fields of Love, while he and Capucilli swirl about—charmingly playful, suddenly quarrelsome, happy again—his aliveness to the moment makes it all seem true. And in Archaic Fragment, from a work in progress, his brooding air enriches what might be just a satisfying solo study about breaking from two dimensions into three.
A particular treat: The actress Claire Bloom reads live the poetry that accompanies Songs of Experience. This not entirely successful suite welds three separately composed dances together by means of poetry, clumps of reedy poles, and benches. In Buglisi’s new and sensitive that walketh by night, to music by Arvo Pärt, the splendid Elizabeth Roxas begins coiled on a bench, one foot stuck to it, rocking, as if grief were holding her there. In the 1996 The Kiss, set by Buglisi to Hindemith, Dakin and Predmore are uneasy lovers; despite the eponymous kiss, she wishes to get away and rolls him offstage. Miki Orihara and Pier, the couple in Foreman’s From Pent-Up, Aching Rivers (to Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G minor), are more fulfilled; she runs her hands beneath his outstretched arms with almost secret pleasure. This duet takes its title from Walt Whitman’s poem, and Whitman’s words seem more united with the movement than do the excerpts by Rilke and H.D. that accompany the other two dances but didn’t originally infuse their structures. I kept being drawn to Bloom’s wondrous voice and eloquent reading, trying to fit her words to the feelings I saw.