Theater archives

Strolls on the Wild Side


Being comtesse for an evening can be a heady experience. The New York Baroque Dance Company celebrated its 25th-anniversary season with a concert plus costume ball at Danspace, and I—bejeweled and laced into a brocade gown—surveyed the evening as a guest of honor. Perhaps it was leading the pavane with Carlos Fittante or sitting fiendishly erect (the only possibility) and reacting to the civil whispers of a courtier (well, a gung ho acting student from the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute) that incited a time trip.

Je suis bouleversée by the citizens of these war-torn British colonies! How charmingly they perform our French dances—some even dating from the reign of Louis Quatorze. And how sweet the music of the Concert Royal (royal? I saw no king)! I melted at the soft rise and fall of M. Feuillet’s Sarabande, rapturously performed by Miss Caroline Copeland, and the demure fire of Miss Rachel List in M. Pécour’s Entrée Espagnole of 1704. Dancing, these colonists are as elegant as one could wish (though when spectators joined a contredanse, I was taken aback by their rough attire). I was also startled when Miss Patricia Beaman and our host, Mr. Paul Shipper, demonstrated the language of the fan. Do these people not know how to convey disdain or amour across a crowded ballroom without words?

I cannot describe the evening’s novelty: dances of Jamaica, led by Miss Marcea T. Daiter. The motion of the hips, the flashes of bare skin, the beating of the drums—mon dieu! More tenderly novel was the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from M. Gluck’s new opera, Orpheus and Eurydice, created by the company’s directrice, Miss Catherine Turocy, and rendered without masks by the Misses Copeland, Beaman, and Ani Udovicki, while Mr. Fittante darted through with his lyre. M. Pécour’s famous Passacaille d’Armide—that most difficult solo, fraught with intricate footwork and emotional upheaval—was danced by three masked ladies, each facing a different direction! And Mr. Timothy Kasper boldly transformed Mlle. Prevost’s 1715 tour de force solo, Les Caractères de la Danse, portraying its 11 amorous characters in commedia dell’arte style, now languishing, now arrogant, now coquettish. Miss Udovicki made us laugh at a droll coup de théâtre: a three-legged dance inspired by Gregorio Lambranzi’s innovative manual of 1716. Little Miss Sarah Edgar devised a comic interlude in which she, as a naughty boy, vexed Mr. Terry Duncan. A big box was involved and, I blush to say, a large sausage.

Mr. Fittante offered an interesting Folias de Espagña, full of symbolism and history that was not altogether clear to me. But the elegant Miss Turocy and Mr. Fittante intriguingly mingled their steps and rhythms (and the beautiful Corelli sonata by Mr. James Richman’s musicians) with those of Mr. Yloy Ybarra, a fierce performer in the flamenco tradition, and his wild-voiced singer, Mr. David Castellano.

I mustn’t forget Miss Udovicki’s delightful little students, who danced a dignified and pretty minuet. They are from an establishment called the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts. Mr. Sinatra must be a very cultivated man. C’est merveilleux that Miss Turocy labors to preserve and polish our beautiful dances in this strange new country.

Four men in everyday clothes strolling together—a foursome, as the eponymous title of Mark Morris’s wonderful new work indicates. Their gestures are as familiar and spare as the Gnossiennes of Erik Satie that Ethan Iverson spools out on the piano. Shawn Gannon, John Heginbotham, Guillermo Resto, and Morris canonize deceptively simple gestures through repetition and variation, intensifying—musicalizing—normality. You think, I could do that: walk; point; hunker down, elbows on knees; stumble; flip one hand. But you couldn’t—not like this.

At first, the pace on the BAM stage is unhurried. The men nudge one another into walking, then running. Before long they’re doing grapevine steps. Despite some vigorous dancing, the guys stay as casual as their clothes (by Katherine McDowell). Satie yields to the Seven Hungarian Dances of Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the men pair up in friendly duets. Some of these are hearty, studded with folk-dance steps. Repetition can lend a touch of buffoonishness. Resto and Heginbotham, one behind the other, alternate gesturing “Look at that view!”

Both choreography and performance exude a sweet wit. Gannon and Heginbotham spring straight into the air as if to beat their legs together, but don’t. Once, Morris seems to lose his way. After a burst of speed, the music turns more yearning, and Morris’s full-throttle involvement in its feelings puzzles his go-along partner, Heginbotham. At the end, Satie returns, along with the thoughtful moves we associate with his music.

Foursome is bright and clear and unfraught, the men’s affection for one another relaxed, yet there’s nothing trivial about the piece. It stays with me like one of those remembered beautiful days when nothing much—and everything—happened.

“I lost my shoe,” says Homer Avila in the course of his work in progress Not/Without Words. “I lost my dreams.” “I lost my fear.” Not until the end of the solo does he say what is obvious to everyone in the audience: “I lost my leg.” To music by Evelyn Glennie, the violinist who lost her hearing, he chooses his moves wisely; his trained body has already discovered new ways to dance. We applaud the ingenuity, the artist’s unquenchable urge to create. On a program at the Cunningham Studio, shared with his partner, Edisa Weeks, Avila also explores a useful tool for a choreographer unable to demonstrate steps: structured improvisation. The in-progress Where Was We for six dancers reveals the pleasures of unexpected teamwork and the contagion of ideas typical of the form. It also reveals pitfalls: mainly performers losing sight of the whole.

In Weeks’s strongest work, The Way Out Is Thru (to music by Apocalyptica), Summer Robertson, David Zurak, and Weeks suggest a nuclear family, set against six dark-clad people who march and stagger—at first, just a troubled element of society, later a threat. In the end, Robertson escapes without a backward glance. Fall explains itself by having Christina Sanchez, in dim light (by Jonathan Belcher), slowly drop red leaves from a bowl onto the floor. I like the movement for Sanchez, Solomon Matea, Siobhan Mosley, and Eddie Stockton best when they’re each doing something different. Conventional moves, like pirouettes, undermine those more revealing of Weeks’s theme.

Her Until the Angel Comes has a lot of potential. Right now, it’s not always clear that Hetty King, with watering can and raincoat, is a visiting angel who affects the lives of three in schoolgirl uniforms (Sima Belmar, Margaret Rennerfeldt, and Weeks). She does influence them, but much of the time, she’s more like the new kid on the block trying to fit into follow-the-leader games. I wanted to be better prepared for the striking end: the three “girls,” bare-breasted and wilting in the tin pots they’ve been playing with, while King waters them.