Elisa Monte began to create her now program-length Via Sacra (Sacred Road) as an exploration of personal loss and the eventual emergence from it—scarred and sorrowing but just possibly stronger. When the 9-11 catastrophe intervened, the three-part piece became universal in its treatment of the theme. An elegiac mood pervades the dance, along with an emphasis on an empathic community’s ability to sustain individual sufferers. Monte’s choreography is handsome and functional, but all her devices remain standard—the spasms of grief, the aimless wandering that suggests at once the search for lost people and the dysfunction arising from lost security, and the finale in which survivors of trauma exult in their resolve to say yes to life, despite everything. Not even Monte’s personable dancers, who exude human vitality, can make the material register as a new, piercing take on its eternal subject.
A few years back, working out of Cape Cod, Joseph Cipolla and Catherine Batcheller founded Configuration, a chamber ballet company offering work by contemporary choreographers. A worthy undertaking, carried out just now by a number of worthy dancers, several of them, including Cipolla and Donald Williams, from Dance Theatre of Harlem. From the look of the group’s recent New York visit, however, contemporary choreography is in bad trouble. Only Harrison McEldowney’s At the End of the Road, effectively blending Broadway and ballet modes to illustrate a passel of Irving Berlin songs, offered genuine joy and wit. The balance of the program composed a vapid, if acceptable, neo-Romantic piano ballet by Peter Quanz; an adagio trio by Royston Maldoom of gymnastic pretzelings; and a pair of goofball ventures by Edwaard Liang and Martha Mason for which the term sophomoric is too complimentary.