Theater archives

Leaping into Choreography


While modern dance choreographers of all stripes and levels of accomplishment appear like mushrooms, classical choreographers—vital to the health of ballet—are more like truffles in terms of scarcity. Benjamin Millepied, a lively and accomplished young principal at New York City Ballet, began making dances shortly after this millennium began and is already in demand. This spring he presented a concert by his pick-up group, Danses Concertantes, and is choreographing a piece for the School of American Ballet’s spring workshop, a solo for Mikhail Baryshnikov, and a Nutcracker for the Ballet de Genève (in December 2005).

His talent should stand up to the sudden challenges. The ballets he showed at Florence Gould Hall reveal intelligence, musicality, craft, and poetic imagination, the only discernible flaw being that he sometimes seems to want to put too many movement ideas into a given work.

Millepied joined NYCB 12 years after Balanchine’s death, and although he excels in many roles in the master’s ballets, the biggest influence on him was Jerome Robbins. Vaulting through a solo filmed by Olivier Simola in a dizzying array of New York City locations, the sneakered dancer-choreographer approaches a Bach chaconne like a Jet minus attitude. Simola borrows somewhat feverishly from Maya Deren’s experimental classics the device of changing locations in mid-phrase. Millepied bounds upward on a sidewalk, say, and lands on a park lawn, creating an exuberant image of our city as a musical playground.

Circular Motion riffs off Robbins’s 1945 Interplay. Set to Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood, arranged for two pianos by Daniel Ott, plus Ott’s Pieces of Reich, the ballet for four lively men mixes classical steps with easygoing behavior. Jared Angle, Craig Hall, Amar Ramasar of NYCB, and Alexander Ritter, ex-NYCB, sit and watch one another’s clever solos or duets. Ramasar gets up to join Angle big vaulting steps as if he liked what he saw, and throughout, Millepied creates a sense of playful, relaxed competition through bright steps and turns of phrase, plus small surprises (Ritter begins a solo scootching on his butt). The choreography makes all the men look terrific, and vice versa. Robbins himself is represented on the program by A Suite of Dances, created in 1994 for Baryshnikov to selections from Bach’s cello suites. Accompanied by Ann Kim Rozenblatt (seated onstage), Millepied performs the four sections with brio, skill, and a certain edge of his own.

Millepied sets pas de deux on two very different pairs of NYCB dancers. Triple Duet, to Bach’s Partita in A Minor, played by flautist Sylvain Millepied, engages Ashley Bouder and Tyler Angle in a rapid flow of lifts and parries and rapid switches of direction. Millepied sets off not only Bouder’s uncanny speed of foot and leg, but her singing body and beautifully responsive head. Angle, a smooth, clean-lined young dancer, is the soberer one in this clever musical badinage. (I wish these two didn’t often keep their eyelids at half mast, gazing at each other’s navels instead of into their eyes).

In We Were Two, set to Philip Glass’s Mad Rush (Cameron Grant at the piano), Millepied matches two eloquent performers, Alexandra Ansanelli and Craig Hall, less evenly in choreographic terms, contrasting Hall’s warmth and tigerishly powerful jumps and falls with Ansanelli’s fragile fluidity and watery bourrées. She turns to jelly in his arms. The pas de deux, slightly overstuffed with steps, unfolds as a sweet version of the old ballet tale of unfulfilled romance and a drifting-away female. Millepied, as they say, bears watching, and given his schedule, it will certainly be easy to do that.

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