We’ve seen little of Kei Takei since she left New York for Japan in 1992, but admirers still reminisce about her ongoing opus Light, begun in 1969. Every so often, she’d present the sections she’d accumulated to date, and we’d sit fascinated all one afternoon, break for dinner, and come back for more.
108 Days of Clouds, the most austere of all her spare, elemental dances, premiered at Danspace in early November. It continues an interest in heavenly phenomena she manifested in the 1996 Empyrean Passage (Light Part 31). We endure the 108 days in 50 minutes; so powerfulIy condensed is the work that I feel I’ve been sitting for barely half an hour yet experienced eternity.
Takei never moves from the spot in St. Mark’s Church where Hiroyuki Sugiura’s lighting slowly reveals her. A small bare-legged figure wearing a puffy white vest, she stands with one foot back, as if poised to move forward. She never does. You strain to see her as a tape of Somei Satoh’s music for solo shakuhachi drops breathy, intermittent tones around her. Her arms rise a little and sink. Eyes closed, she leans to one side. She hunches her shoulders, hangs like a scarecrow. You feel her effort, hear her breathing. It’s big news when she puts her weight on both feet and shifts the direction she’s facing a few degrees.
After a while—oh, horrible!—she starts pulling at her clothes, and a sticky white substance, like very thick cobwebs, comes away in her fingers. But however rapidly she tears at it—breathing very hard now—she’s inefficient and/or the task is impossible. She returns to her cosmic stillness and darkness. A bus passes down Second Avenue. I haven’t heard any traffic for nearly an hour.
The concert Alexandra Beller and Colleen Thomas shared at the new Dance Space Center was long (two and a half hours) and occasionally rambling, but full of smart ideas. Beller, late of Bill T. Jones’s company, is a witty talker as well as a powerful and voluptuous mover. In her clever Dangling Fruits of Joy or How to Make Love, the choreographer, dressed in ruffles and bows, reads in a variety of convincing accents from various texts, including the recent The Rules, about the pleasure women should take in deferring to their mates. Meanwhile Brendan McCall with Tarek Halaby (dressed as a woman) and LiYana Silver with Jill Locke (dressed as a man) flirt, make advances, roughhouse, and rebel against the stereotypical behavior Beller’s character is pushing.
Beller’s engaging on the topic that consumes her: male-female dystopias. In her solo Sifting Miracles, she addresses an invisible former lover while dancing a seductive mix of bravado and despair. One of the best moments in her over-the-top, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink The Shark Attack and Other Dating Rituals comes when the cast of 14 drills and sounds off in a hilariously perverted rendition of “I Don’t Know But I’ve Been Told,” led by unlikely sergeant Brian Reid. I was also charmed by duets in which partners carefully stretch out one of their own ears and place them like suction cups on their mate’s foreheads.
Thomas’s work is quieter and leaner. Sappho’s Echo—a trio for herself, Tzeni Argyriou, and Ermira Gorou—creates a lovely atmosphere but remains a little opaque. The action within a lidded glass pen doesn’t quite develop, nor is the object’s significance fully revealed. Thomas excels in her solo Alone. Brenna Beirne’s three small suspended white tents, onto which are projected slides of a field, seem to condense the space beneath. Thomas dances most movingly on the floor—trembling, rearing up to rise, and dropping down again—as if she could hardly bear to put weight on the soles of her feet. She’s a lovely, thoughtful performer.
Antony Tudor was particular about costumes and decor for his ballets. He didn’t like the clothes Karinska provided for New York City Ballet’s revival of Lilac Garden in 1964. They were too luxurious for an upper-class society fallen on hard times; a certain fustiness was in order.
God knows what he would make of Zach Brown’s operatic designs for American Ballet Theatre’s new production of his 1943 Dim Lustre. The Edwardian ladies now sport not only ruffles but rhinestones galore, not only plumes on their heads but tiaras. The ballroom has become less a real place than a lurid domain for the reveries they keep falling into. Its tilted conservatory and array of gigantic globe lights would distract any partygoer.
The ballet is flawed, but it’s still important Tudor. Like the great Lilac Garden, it progresses in a succession of stolen moments. A woman and a man attend a ball together. They are in love, or pretending to be, but while the party swirls around them to Richard Strauss’s tempestuous Burlesk in D, gestures trigger daydreams; real time stops, and the two relive past loves. The structure is dangerously predictable. He kisses her neck, or he smells perfume on the handkerchief she has dropped. They freeze, the room goes dark, and the one doing the remembering dances in front of a mirror-image self before revisiting a past love. Over the course of the ballet, the woman relives a girlhood adventure with a bounding boy and another with a passionate young man; her lover, now youthful, singles out one of three shy little girls and later encounters a worldly and glamorous woman. Many distracting blackouts negotiate the leaps in time.
What is beautiful is Tudor’s sensitivity to the nuances of these relationships. He’s a master of the fraught moment and the subtle gesture, of the plunge into dancing as both an escape from private distress and an expression of it. In one cast, Julie Kent was lovely, if unassertive, and Ethan Stiefel elegantly modulated. Joaquin De Luz, Xiomara Reyes, Stella Abrera, and Ethan Brown gave fine performances as the remembered loves.
The last new work unveiled during the company’s City Center season, Kirk Peterson’s Amazed in Burning Dreams, is another of ABT’s bring-on-the-men acquisitions, although women do figure. The ballet is hard to pin down. Its many effective passages, unfulfilled ritualism, and aura of power suit the Philip Glass movie score it’s set to. The men and women wear red makeup over one eye; all have red wristlets. Peterson espouses a kind of punched-up contemporary classicism. Four men bomb across the stage, beating their legs in cabrioles, as if on a raid. To begin a stony duet, Kristi Boone jumps into Marcelo Gomes’s arms, where she curls like a folded-up suit. The dancers are well displayed in the flux of high-powered movement. Herman Cornejo rips his heart out in a dazzling solo without ever losing his innate composure. David Hallberg is excellent in a more legato turn. They all fall down in red light when it’s over. No point asking why.