Not many choreographers would tackle the music Igor Stravinsky wrote for the 24-year-old George Balanchine’s masterpiece Apollon Musagéte. The very musical Richard Daniels has accepted the challenge, even alluding in his new modern-dance Apollo & the Muses to the structure of the 1928 work, but, like Balanchine, making the myth resonate with his own creative life. Daniels gives us two Apollos—a bold young one (Dusan Tynek) and a more mature one (Keith Sabado)—perhaps because the choreographer has had two careers in dance, separated by 15 years away from the stage, the loss of a lover, and his own HIV-positive diagnosis. Unlike Balanchine, whose coltish young Apollo tests three muses and casts his lot with Terpsichore, the muse of dance, Daniels plays no favorites. His companions—Terpsichore (Megan Williams), Calliope, muse of poetry (Emmanuele Phuon), and Euterpe, muse of poetry (Regina Larkin)—are, for him, a true troika. Nor are they the girlish divinities of Balanchine’s Apollo, but beautiful women who have aged along with the eponymous hero as he begins his second stint as an artist.
As Nurit Tilles plays (with magnificent sensitivity), the piano version of the score, Tynek dances with the sense of himself as a young hero, striking noble poses, making bold forays into space. The muses are a sisterhood, gathering like Botticelli nymphs, rolling the young Apollo, jumping over him, crowning him with their clustered hands. They perform individually for Sabado, who sits attentively on the floor with Tynek draped over his lap. The playful, thoughtful, affectionate solos are finely choreographed (not always to the musical passages that correspond to those in Balanchine’s ballet). Phuon, soft and pliant, seems to grasp poetic conceits from the air before dropping a kiss on Sabado’s brow. The crux of the ballet is Sabado’s solo—vividly chanegable, rich in invention, and magnificently danced. His Apollo is both intoxicated by the play of his imagination and aware of the labor in translating inspiration into art.
In the end, he acquires a fourth muse to make sunburst patterns and form the chariot of the sun to lift him to Parnassus. Onstage, Tynek is re-garbed as Melpomene, the muse of tragedy. The transformation is unsettling as drama, even though I understand the reasoning behind it: Tragedy played her role in Daniels’s own private life and was transmuted in his artistic one.
Daniels’s program at St, Mark’s included an even more personal piece, Telling Tales, although for some reason he asked others to contribute to this series of vignettes, linked together as if part of one dream. Tynek choreographed two piano pieces by Dana Suesse as a playful, testing-each other prelude to an affair (“a long while ago”) for himself and Daniels. The second part (“not too long ago”) by Daniels himself, a solo to music by Francis Poulenc, is like waking in the night to check if you are all there—teeth, girth, the unwanted hair in your ear, the bags under your eyes. Tilles plays her own “Raw Silk” to accompany Part III (“a while ago”), choreographed by Scott Rink for Daniels and Regina Larkin. They weave around as if to untangle themselves from each other, and he’s left alone, lying on the floor, ready to be revisited in the final solo, “more recently” (to Gerald Busby’s “Copula”), by both his former intimates. The work is thoughtful and sensitive, if elusive as a whole.