Since 1986, the Joyce’s “Altogether Different Festival” has swept in with the new year. Paradigm, Gus Solomons jr’s trio with Carmen de Lavallade and Dudley Williams, opened the current season, which features six groups through January 20. Stars of magnitude, Paradigm’s artists have illumined works by Lester Horton, Alvin Ailey, Agnes de Mille, Martha Graham, and Merce Cunningham, to name a few.
All three are over 60. And gorgeous. De Lavallade is one of the dance world’s great beauties. Williams has the erect carriage and slender body of a boy. And Solomons, a colleague of mine for years, has acquired warmth and magisterial power with age. Writing about them involves a search for synonyms to replace subtle. They reveal nuances in movement and expression the way, in Solomons’s stylish, formal Gray Study (1998), they manipulate their long, full gray coats (by Nancy L. Johnson) to expose colored linings and aspects of character.
Choreographers give them steps that are appropriately spare—a tasteful armature for the wealth of detail these performers can muster. You’re aware always of their articulate hands, of how movement alters in dynamics as it passes through their torsos, of the way they sustain the flow of ideas as they whirl or march across the stage. Dwight Rhoden’s It All, to one of Björk’s whispery songs, works a cliché: De Lavallade and Solomons move on and off two chairs, reacting in emotional non sequiturs to some possibly hostile force beyond their safe zone and finding comfort and resilience in being together. They turn it into a life story.
In Stages, Robert Battle also creates gestural tales in a moody atmosphere, evoked by Aaron Copp’s brilliant lighting and a score by Amanda Kapousouz that pits her live violin and Yusuke Yamamoto’s percussion against tape. The dancers wear long black robes patched with leather and odd attachments (by Oana Botez-Ban) and try to press the air away, as if it were encroaching. The form is predictable; over and over, two leave and one executes a revealing solo. De Lavallade makes a mesmerizing whole out of an array of hard-to-connect gestures. Now she’s an Indian dancer drawing an imaginary bow; now she plucks a branch, now dips water from a well and responds with dreamy sensuality to its coolness on her skin. Toward the end, uneasy solo motifs, like Williams’s shaking hands, Solomons’s majestic conjuring, or a confused passage for hands and mouths, become celebratory and foolish before the dread returns.
Solomons offers No Ice in Poland, an elegant river of solos, duets, and trios to Chopin piano pieces, played on tape by Wilke Ferguson. Shades of meaning emerge: enigmatic hand dialogues, flashes of feistiness, a stumble, a game about pointing fingers. Expressive gestures—whether of hands or the whole body—that bear no linear narrative define the company’s style; with these three performing, you seldom tire of it but hang on every unspoken word.
The New York City Ballet opened its winter season (running through February 24) without fanfare: Three small Balanchine masterpieces from the 1972 Stravinsky Festival, Monumentum Pro Gesualdo, Movements for Piano and Orchestra, and Duo Concertant, were followed, with only a pause, by the charmingly flashy Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, and then, after an intermission, by Cortège Hongrois, Balanchine’s version of the final celebration in Delibes’s Raymonda.
The casting gave a hint of pleasures to come. Charles Askegard led both Monumentum and Movements, the first with Maria Kowroski, the second with Helene Alexopoulos. The result is an impression of a man whose life gets suddenly odder. He moves from linked paper-doll chains and offbeat, courtly courtesy to an encounter in a garden of spiky, occasionally drooping plants (two trios of women)—really moving, of course, from Balanchine’s insight into Stravinsky’s take on an eccentric baroque composer to Stravinsky’s foray into the 12-tone scale. Manners change. Kowroski of the stupendously long, sensual legs and amplitude of gesture walks a polite circle around her partner and then, when he drops down, kneels on his calves. Alexopoulos intrigues him by her studied angularities.
Yvonne Borree and Nikolaj Hübbe not only dance in fine sympathy with Kurt Nikkanen’s violin and Cameron Grant’s piano, but with tender interest in each other. Damian Woetzel expresses his amazing clean-as-a-whistle virtuosity in Tchaikovsky, and it’s wonderful to have Alexandra Ansanelli back after an injury—so ardent and pure that she seems like a singing voice in Tchaikovsky’s music. Askegard appears again in Cortège, partnering Monique Meunier, and making it even clearer how nobly he has grown in the Balanchine repertory. Meunier displays a wonderful drama and steadiness in the classical solo, and Kathleen Tracy is deliciously nimble in the ballet’s czardas.
Yoshiko Chuma and Jacob Burckhardt are passionate about windup phonographs and 78 rpm records. For her Joyce Soho concerts last month, Chuma invited a bunch of stellar downtowners to choose discs and make solos. The result? A wildly creative party, with choreographers replacing needles and cranking the handle. Sometimes the only sound was the stylus scraping a label. The show started and ended with politics, but humor and poetry and superb performing pervaded it. Chuma—scrubbing at her leather coat, covering her face—danced against a 1945 broadcast chronicling the bombing of Hiroshima; sounds of a tuning-up orchestra suddenly turned her into a conductor. Treva Offut closed the show, operated like a nutty phonograph burping childish rants about being “sesky” and torchy-voiced emissions that suddenly spat out “Bush” and “Taliban,” as if the needle had skipped. “Hey Mr. Postman” acquired a whole new meaning.
In between we had the pleasure of Vicky Shick moving softly and gravely, sliding herself into and out of a vintage Persian lamb coat, while Yma Sumac warbled scratchily through her incredible vocal range. Harry James hoisted his long-ago trumpet in “Jealousy,” as Sondra Loring dipped her feet friskily and inventively in a long diagonal path of light. Rocky Bornstein built an athletic trial alongside Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys.
Anthony Phillips danced in a blue peignoir and gray wig, while Eddie Arnold yearned for a girl like Mother. That was after Phillips, among other smart things, scrawled statements and questions on a sketch pad and made a big to-do over a gift he pretended someone in the front row had given him.
Perhaps the most amazing performance came from Jodi Melnick, merging with Count Basie like drunken moonlight, like silk drawn across sand, like almost nothing I’ve ever seen. But she undercut that beauty— scrubbing at her nose until you began to fidget, yelping that she had something in her eye, she really did, “Ow!” “Usually,” she said, after dancing some more, the tears streamed down from her eye and formed a pool around her. She was still marveling over that when the lights went out.