Ben Munisteri’s work evokes the discarded Christmas trees littering our sidewalks, each with its perfect, natural structure—a long, straight axis and branches splayed in neat, spoke-like patterns—and its own capricious flair: needle cowlicks, broken limbs, and sad tufts of tinsel. Take, for example, his world premiere, Tuesday, 4 a.m., inspired by the mysterious, pre-dawn state of mind that, he says, sets up a duality between structure and spontaneity, for the “formalist plunge” he’s taking with his DTW program. The theme of the evening, he says, is “dances that are at once structured and unstructured.”
What makes Tuesday unique is the challenge of its score, Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, which Munisteri (who studied music at Oberlin) used as his choreographic road map. “The only reason I knew what was coming next,” he says, “is that I had the sheet music in front of me.” Stravinsky is no gracious guide—he’s wily and whimsical, apt to interrupt his own train of thought with gloriously unpredictable rhythms and sudden dynamic changes. Munisteri and his six dancers (all of whom deserve their own accolades) can handle anything. Amid a ballet-based structure of impeccably clean lines—searing diagonals that send the eye racing from one corner of the stage to another—and graceful ensemble work, the choreographer punches holes in his own meticulously displayed order: A dancer jetés across the floor, then gets a piggyback ride to where she started; chaîné turns become cleverly clumsy when performers spot in the wrong direction. In the middle of a highly technical sequence, one woman slips in a shoulder shimmy and then undulates her torso, resembling a sea creature at a rave. Dancers cavort like overdramatized cartoon characters, wave coyly, give bear hugs, and huddle together and drum their feet like football players. As in Stravinsky’s music, the action is quirky without being campy and erratic without being discordant. “It’s all about finding that balance,” says Munisteri.