What if Cinderella didn’t wear glass slippers but went barefoot to the ball, her feet masked only by glitter? This vexingly complicated message about simplicity isn’t the only puzzling aspect of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version of the tale, which was presented at BAM by his excellent company, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, as part of “Monaco Takes New York” week (who knew?).
Cinderella is far less striking than Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet, seen here four years ago, although the ballet inhabits a brilliant set by Ernest Pignon-Ernest. White panels, like rippled sheets of paper standing on end, glide about to conceal people, reveal new tableaux, and alter the space. The usual characters and themes are in place, except that the father doesn’t die, he just gets henpecked. The exceedingly charming Prince (Asier Uriagereka) enjoys roughhousing with four athletic boon companions, but sees no woman worth changing his lifestyle for until the kitchen maid comes to the ball. The Fairy Godmother is the same fine dancer (Bernice Coppieters) who plays the heroine’s mother, but the resemblance is almost nonexistent. The FGM’s gestures are sometimes those of a predatory insect (she keeps bopping people on the nose in a friendly manner) and sometimes those of a siren. She wears a teensy pancake tutu and lots of sparkles, but has a thing about Cinderella remaining unpretentious in a plain white satin gown like her mother’s. There are a couple of newcomers to the fairy tale: two tall fellows in ties and ankle-length shirts, who are listed in the program as “Superintendents of Pleasure” and act as the FGM’s fashion consultants. Mirko Hecktor and Gaëtan Morlotti are awfully good in the roles, but their intrusive campiness (they manage the ball, too) becomes wearing.
Maillot has some clever ideas. The same faceless, padded mannequins (all male) who model crooked lizard-tailed tutus for the stepmother (Carole Pastorel) and her nasty, pretty daughters (Samantha Allen and Nathalie Leger) also perform a lickety-split “This Is Your Life” play for Cinderella. The choreographer also excels at ecstatic pas de deux. The opening idyllic one for C’s father (the excellent Chris Roelandt) and mother and the later, more puppyish one for the Prince and the lovely and touching Aurélia Schaefer as C are full of rushings together, rapt twinings, swoons, and kisses. There’s no stopping to reconnoiter, even when running a hand down a loved one’s body.
However, at times, especially during the first act, you wonder if anyone’s ever going to dance. The strong, vivid performers execute dance steps—a sudden leap, a spin, a perch on pointe—but these are used as dramatic gestures, along with crouching, pointing, yanking someone around, and so on. And when there is dancing, it’s often deliberately quirky and unfluid, and it happens in short spurts. The FGM seems about to jump out of her skin. Stage-managing a daughter’s career from the beyond must require a lot of caffeine.
During the latter part of José Limón’s life, he became rhapsodic, almost unrestrained—building weighted, yet soaring architecture out of dancing bodies. When his 1970 The Unsung (featured through Sunday on Program B of his company’s season at the Joyce) begins in a hush, broken only by the stamping of male feet, you wonder if you’ll last through it. Seven men (down from the original eight) stand for seven legendary American Indian leaders, and you can guess that each is going to perform a substantial solo. You survive. The solos, emerging from group circles and processions and absorbed back into them, are superbly vivid studies in dignity, bravery, and strength, in pain and degradation. This man’s suspended reach, that one’s twisted jump, another’s collapsing back-somersaults convey a precarious equilibrium. Their winging arms and reiterated stamping suggest rituals in the face of disaster. The men do Limón proud, especially Charles Scott, Raphaël Boumaïla, and Francisco Ruvalcaba.
You can see Limón’s lineage in the resonant patterns of New Dance, Variations and Conclusion, the final section of a 1935 masterwork by his mentor, Doris Humphrey. In this view of an ideal democracy, soloists emerge from a constantly re-forming group, then rejoin to support its designs. Set to a two-piano score by Wallingford Riegger, Humphrey’s bold, plain work is always surprising in the way those designs skein over the floor and climb a small mountain of boxes. I could wish the dancers performed with more elation and sense of purpose, that the final turns on the boxes hadn’t lost the image of a whirl into a slight side lunge and acquired a detrimental little jolt, that the boxes were the expected gray-blue instead of peach, but to see the piece again is a great pleasure.
The Limón-Humphrey vocabulary, with its suspensions and falls, its interplay of curving and jagged lines, is arresting in itself, but it’s best when driven by some inner purpose. Artistic director Carla Maxwell has a difficult job finding new works that both spice the repertory and suit the heritage. Alas, ex-company member Adam Hougland’s Phantasy Quintet only drifts soulfully on top of an unidentified piece of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, bearing hints of drama, anchored to nothing we can fully grasp.
Limón’s great 1949 The Moor’s Pavane seems timeless by virtue of its masterful structure and magnificently expressive choreography. At the Joyce, it shines despite Jonathan Riedel’s strangely flaccid Iago. Kimiye Corwin and Roxane d’Orleans Juste give luminous portrayals of Desdemona and Emilia. Ruvalcaba (Othello) has grown greatly since he joined the company. Looking not unlike Limón and a lot like John Travolta, he was, from the beginning, a candidate for leading roles. His torso at times still doesn’t fully power his movements. Yet he’s a vibrant Othello, carving up the space in his torment. He may well become a great one.
Two master dancers died on Easter weekend, Cholly Atkins and Bertram Ross, both in their eighties. Atkins was pushing 90 and had had a long career—tapping with the Rhythm Pals in vaudeville; choreographing and dancing for movies; devising moves for the Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and many other groups; teaming up with Honi Coles after World War II. The pair had style and chops to burn. Atkins came out of retirement in 1988 and shared a Tony as one of the choreographers of the Broadway revue Black and Blue. The title of his autobiography, Class Act, says it all.
Ross had been ill with Parkinson’s for some time, yet not long ago he was still enjoying his second career—occasional appearances in cabaret with his partner, the witty singer-songwriter John Wallowitch. His most notable career, of course, was as a leading dancer in Martha Graham’s company for 25 years. When Erick Hawkins left both the company and their marriage, Ross was the one Graham selected to replace him as Oedipus in Night Journey. The stunning, insinuatingly erotic solo with a cloak was in part his invention. A superb actor-dancer, he also took over, with distinction, Merce Cunningham’s role in Appalachian Spring. Graham created many splendid parts for him, like St. Michael in Seraphic Dialogue and Agamemnon in Clytemnestra, and he partnered her onstage into her old age. Dance on, gentlemen.