To see the revivals of Peter Martins’s Eight Easy Pieces and Eight More during the New York City Ballet’s winter season at the State Theater (through March 2) is to understand why George Balanchine believed in Martins’s choreographic talent. These are fresh, smart, modest little works, full of nice surprises; the first was made in 1980 before Balanchine’s death, the second in 1985. Eight Easy Pieces features three women of the corps de ballet, Eight More three men. They are danced to the same Stravinsky music, the sprightly marches, polkas, waltzes, etc., that are played for Eight Easy Pieces by onstage pianists Nancy McDill and Susan Walters. The men get a lustier version; Stravinsky later transformed the piano pieces into Suites 1 and 2 for Small Orchestra.
The two ballets have a similar mix of trios, duets, and solos, but Martins gives the piano vs. orchestra, male vs. female distinctions full play. The women’s march is a strut on pointe; all they need is pom-poms. The men step out, swing their arms, and toss off jumps. When the women leave at the end of the last circusy galop, they’re holding hands; the men roister out holding one another’s shoulders. Despite some kicky steps, and jumps with the legs framing a diamond, Megan Fairchild, Glenn Keenan, and Lindy Mandradjieff are more demure than Antonio Carmena, Adam Hendrickson, and Daniel Ulbricht, who leap and turn through competitive canons and other maneuvers for the spotlight. Ulbricht not only gets to show off his extraordinary plushy leaps and turns, he impishly mocks the whole grand style. Both ballets showcase the company’s young up-and-comers without dropping a choreographic stitch.
Jerome Robbins’s Piano Pieces was made for the NYCB’s 1981 Tchaikovsky Festival. The 14 disparate musical works (played by Cameron Grant) seem to have suggested to Robbins a storyless version of one of those harvest festivals that abound in 19th-century ballet, with peasants wreathing bold steps through ingenious patterns, but the piece is also a charming, unpretentious festival of ballet styles that celebrates the company’s dancers. Benjamin Millepied executes the winged beats and leaps created for Ib Andersen with Puckish charm. In the lovely “Natha Waltz,” Jennie Somogyi seems less to perform steps than to play unassumingly with the space and her body in it. Her partner, Jared Angle, has a fine presence—easy yet noble in their engaging duet and in his solo mazurka. Two other beguiling, beautifully performed duets—one danced by Alexandra Ansanelli and Sébastien Marcovici, the other by Maria Kowroski and Stephen Hanna—might have migrated from Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering—especially the latter. Hanna wanders after Kowroski while she dreams with her long, silky legs, stepping in when she needs steadying. And then all those merry folk rush back in to finish reaping the rich dance crop.
The evening’s final treat: the miraculous Kyra Nichols weaving Balanchine’s choreography for Chaconne and Gluck’s melodies through her pliant, musical body.
The Construction Company studio on East 18th Street is small, holding 60 in folding chairs. Dancers rush past the audience to enter, or pour through the door from the gallery up front. All the more bold, then, that Pat Catterson used 28 dancers in her intriguing new Crowd Pleaser. They’re rarely all out there at the same time, but 16 of them do form a horde—rushing, staggering, staring, falling—both spectators of and participants in a dangerous, unstable climate. At one point, they jump the rhythm proper of “The Star Spangled Banner” while humming it under their breaths. This echoes a duet in which Spela Sterle keeps trying to sing our national anthem; Dusan Tynek clamps a hand over her mouth every time, even throws his whole body on top of her.
Catterson has drawn gestures from newspaper photographs. These recur: an index finger to the mouth, a crumpled posture on the floor, and so on, in finely articulated solos for Helen Hansen, Nicole Corea, and Bianca Johnson; in small scenes; and in the crowd action that frames them. Catterson’s subject is the injustice, arrogance, and political corruption that oozes from today’s papers, but accomplished artist that she is, she avoids propagandizing and specific references. Katie Piggott, laughing hysterically, harangues three women who pay no attention, then quietly recounts to us something very terrible—all in a Slavic gibberish.
A tap dancer as well as a choreographer, Catterson saves the taps until the end here. After an alarming duet in which Michele Curtis poses like a fashion model, oblivious to danger, while tall, lean Pascal Rekoert has a love affair with a pistol (and then has to shoot Curtis), the group piles up against the back wall. Maya Krishnasastry, Dylan Smith, and Robin Tribble, dressed as police, menace the fallen with machine-gun tapping and barked commands, while the heap slowly inches along the wall. It’s as if we are the camera, panning over the bodies from some genocidal atrocity.
SPECIAL TO THE WEB: Independent choreographers who are committed to ballet but play the downtown venues and want to experiment within the form have to deal with the burden of history and a familiar vocabulary they want to expand without violating. A tough job. Julia Gleich’s programs at the Joyce Soho showed both her imaginative strengths and some compositional weaknesses. The seven short pieces in Awkward Proximities tackle just what the title implies. So does Pas de Deux Interruptus. This very conventional tutu’d duet for Kim Giannelli and Todd Shanks is invaded by Claire McKeveny in a kiddie hairdo, raggy tutu, and cranky pointe shoes—wanting to join Mom and Dad. It’s an amusing idea that doesn’t quite come off, partly because slumbering in your ballet duds looks odd, as does a grown-up playing a kid, no matter how unaffectedly, and because Gleich doesn’t fully explore the interruptions. “Ghost for Martin,” part of Proximities, begins with Gleich “remembering,” to William Bolcom’s “Graceful Ghost Rag,” what it was like to dance with Jason Andrew, while Andrew supports her impassively. Gleich, an accomplished performer, is wonderful at maintaining the illusion of dancing with someone who’s really not there. Andrew has a harder role to play (should he reincarnate the man she loved or stay completely blank?), and Gleich gives him at least one step—a string of bourrées—that doesn’t suit his modest technical skills. It’s a jolt when they sit down to picnic together. Who’s in which world now?
The theme of people who are dancing together without really being united pervades all the dances in this suite, and incidents (like the picnic) recur. Gleich and Andrew are physically, violently, at odds in “Tainted Love” (sneakers for her, bare feet for him). Renée DeFranco performs almost all of “Confirmation” with Tobias Parsons—who has a fine line and a compelling presence—as if she were looking at herself in a mirror.
In the lighthearted Dances-I-have-secretly-wanted-to-do aka Commedia, Gleich choreographs more expansively. The little pieces are livelier in space, more fluid in their phrasing. McKeveny and Maribeth Maxa play languid, sexy ladies. Andrew comes into his own as a nimble Harlequin, prancing and doing scampy gestures to music by Vivaldi, Haydn, and Thomas Campion and courting a lively Columbine (DeFranco). Parsons shows such nice entrechats that Harlequin brings him a chair, and Columbine files his nails.