Worlds Away


In case you hadn’t noticed, the dancers in Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech (at the Joyce through Sunday) are all grown-up. And they’ve been joined by selected performers who trained outside Feld’s school. It seems right that the company should now attempt Feld’s beautiful At Midnight, his second ballet, made for American Ballet Theatre in 1967, when he was about 24 and unafraid of romanticism.

The dancers do it proud, capturing both the darkness and the blitheness in Mahler’s settings of five poems by Friedrich Ruckert. Jason Jordan, wonderful as the solitary seeker, lets ardency mold his body into long reaches and crumpled positions. His steadfastness is a force in the stunning first scene, when five men in black embody the spiritual night that engulfs him. In the rapturous yet shadowed duet, Andrea Emmons lets joy turn her to thistledown in Wu-Kang Chen’s arms. Patricia Tuthill is the other lonely and seemingly unreachable figure. Her long arms and legs make the complexities of Feld’s twisting steps especially pungent. The night I saw the ballet, she had not yet found moments to let the tension go, and Chen focused more on partnering than on what he felt for his partner. He is, however, terrific in the revival of Feld’s enigmatic 1971 Theatre, as a forlorn Pierrot and as the actor preparing himself for a role all too close to himself. Excellent performances too from Jassen Virolas and Ha-Chi Yu as Arlecchino and Columbina, Jordan as Pulcinello, and an ensemble of pert maidens and sneaky servants.

Feld’s new Pianola showcases four women in solos that point up their diversity and in ensemble patterns that emphasize their strength. Allen Lee Hughes’s exceptional lighting extends to the modern version of a player piano that jangles out Conlon Nancarrow’s densely brilliant pieces. Jeannine Lowery performs a perky solo and walks an imaginary tightrope. Bold Tuthill creates subtle allusions to flamenco. Yu is all seductive hips, and Emmons staggers around, loose-haired, while Nancarrow’s “player” races up and down the keys. Feld is working here with longer phrases rather than the repeating modules that often absorb him, and he sees these women wisely and with affection.

The National Ballet of Spain, at City Center in mid April, offered no whirlwind tour of Spanish regional dances with simulated village merrymaking, like some of the large companies that used to visit here regularly. Under the direction of Elvira Andrés, it blends tradition and contemporary ideas in sleek, stylishly choreographed works. For Estampío, Andrés took off from a reconstructed zapateado of the dancer Juan Sánchez, “El Estampío” (1879-1957). When, to the music of three guitars, eight identically clad men and two soloists, Jesús Córdoba and José Merino, weave in unison and contrapuntal ranks, slamming their heels and toes into the floor in synchronized rhythms, it’s like seeing a single dancer reflected in a house of mirrors. In Mujeres Andrés creates equally elegant choreography for six women. Against their slow, dreamy prowling, solos break out in flurries. The costumes are gray, the music by Emilio de Diego and Víctor M. Martín spare (mostly piano and soft drums). As women come and go, you’re absorbed not just by soloists Mayte Bajo and Kira Gimeno, but by the group dynamics, the moody dialogues, the variegations in space.

Concierto de Aranjuez is a lovely reconstruction of Pilar López’s 1957 ballet, set to taped symphonic music by Joaquín Rodrigo. This is a 19th-century vision set in a pretty, private park (design by Pedro Moreno). Playful, light-footed couples sport and flirt between columns. In the second movement, four men are drawn to a mysterious beauty, Bajo, wearing a long, feathery blue dress and wielding a black lace shawl (costumes by Víctor Cortezo and Moreno). She vanishes, and though the men dance with women of their own and castanets ring out, these women sense that something has changed. Still, as in a classical ballet, the last movement is all celebration: white and gold revelers in a white and gold ballroom.

Two solos update tradition. In A Mi Aire, to thunderous orchestral music by Enrique Granados and Ernesto Halffter, Gimeno wears soft slippers and executes the little beats, kicks, and turns of the Escuela Bolero with a charming sprightliness, but this lady’s leaps are high and wide and some of her turns multiple pirouettes. A farruca, Entreverao, composed by Manuel Santiago Maya (“Manolete”), also calls for rapid spins, but this is a flamenco solo, accompanied by guitars and flute. Francisco Velasco—harsh, precise—has a dazzling technique, whether he’s snapping into brooding poses or nailing some inner adversary with his heelwork.

The final Grito by Antonio Canales pulls out all the flamenco stops and then some. Singers, guitarists, keyboard, percussion, saxophone! It’s a hot, superbly designed number for the whole company. And what an alegrías! Esther Jurado caught my eye earlier with her beautifully fluent and unaffected dancing, but her power took me by surprise. Her body sings.

The six dancers of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble come from a “dance village”—in Bangalore founded by the late Protima Gauri Bedi. These women are adepts in Odissi style, and in the second part of the company’s “World Music Series” program at Symphony Space, they gave us the spiritual beauty and erotic overtones associated with the form. In Srimathi, Bijayini Satpathy and Surupta Sen, side by side, execute in exquisite unison the rhythmic stamping, made voluptuous at every pause by the way they settle softly into one hip. Odissi is bold as well as seductive. The rhythms may be driving, the stances wide; sometimes the dancers swing one leg around behind them like a hook. Between dance passages, they depict youthful giddiness—checking themselves in imaginary hand mirrors—and then more languid maturity. In Srimathi, Sen marvelously performs one of those poems in which the lovesick Radha awaits her lord, Krishna. She wonders if that can be his step, and—melting under the caressing voice of singer Rajendra Kumar Swain—whiles away the time by reenacting the lovers’ first amorous meeting for an invisible friend.

The innovative piece on the program, Sen’s Sri Savitri, alludes to the myth of a woman who descends into death’s kingdom to regain her husband. But Sen drew her ideas from a more abstract poem by Shri Aurobindo; her heroine seems to be seeking her own identity. The narrative is murky (certain dancers exit and enter for no apparent reason), but it is full of beautiful and dramatic passages. Developing movements drawn from martial arts, Sen creates ingenious sculpted mountains and knots and living, many-armed temple statues out of women’s bodies, as Satpathy makes her arduous journey.

I only understood later that Satpathy is not always playing Savitri; the heroine’s identity alights now on this dancer, now on that one. At one point, Satpathy, astride a living throne, becomes Death. Ayona Bhaduri, her hair hanging almost to her knees, is for a while both an embodiment of consciousness shrouded in darkness and Durga, the goddess of destruction. Enigmas: maddening, fascinating.