Mini ballet and opera companies flourished during the '60s and '70s, but then foundations began to bypass these for the "something new syndrome," and a great deal of "throw away" art came about. It would seem that few bothered asking: "Yes it's new, but is it good?" An unfortunate situation has resulted, as schools and universities continue to turn out skilled dancers, musicians, and singers by the thousands, who then have no place to go. Major companies can't absorb everyone.
As I approached the Clark Center where Diane Fay Dance Theatre was appearing (Feb. 19, 20, and 21) in a program labeled "Dance & Romance: An Evening of Contemporary Ballet," I felt that Ms. Fay was displaying tremendous courage. As it happened, the program turned out to be pleasing in most respects. As to the claim regarding "contemporary" ballet, it was thrown into doubt by a program performed to the music of J.S. Bach ("Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin"), Sergei Rachmaninoff ("Vocalise"), and Tchaikovsky ("Piano Trio Opus 50"). Guest choreographer Brian Sanders of Momix created the solo "Faux Pas" to music of Carl Orf.
"Praise to Bach" was presented in three parts. The first, to "Partita No. 2," featured three couples, with the men supporting the women in some thrilling overhead lifts. The best of the three parts turned out to be the second, "Sonata No. 1," a pas de deux for Xiao Shan Wang and Peter Di Bonaventura, a dance of yearning and love that cannot be fulfilled, which called for quite a bit of emoting, but was tastefully performed by the pair. (Di Bonaventura is currently with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.) "Partita No. 3," with Gianna Russillo, Nicole Marie Gaston, and Julie Gedalecia, was performed with brio to spare, but was quite overshadowed by the preceding Sonata.
Violinist Gabriel Gordon was the excellent accompanist who seemed to sense the heartbreak of the dancers.
Diane Fay's choreography was seen to best advantage in the "Vocalise," a pas de trois that closed the first half of the program. This turned out to be the high spot of the program, as performed by Xiao Shan Wang, Di Bonaventura, and James Samson. Both men took turns in tossing Ms. Wang about, and then, as if she was weightless, raising her in high overhead lifts, alternating in swinging her about in fantastic patterns, before she was firmly placed over both their heads in breathtaking sculptural poses. It proved a triumph for the trio, and for Ms. Fay.
Anyone who has seen Brian Sanders' solo with Momix is aware that his specialty is hilarity, and he did very well in that area for soloist Nicole Marie Gaston in "Faux Pas."
Somewhat similar to bizarre cartoons that we have seen through the years on balletic peccadilloes, this solo was performed in partial darkness, so that we weren't aware of how Gaston can suspend herself in air while going through some mighty kooky poses. It concluded with a stunning total split in the air, taking everyone by surprise.
"Loving Positive" was the only narrative ballet on the program. Performed to Tchaikovsky's "Piano Trio Opus 50," it began with a playwright, producer, cast, and friends anxiously awaiting reviews after the opening performance of a play. The entire group is elated when a favorable review is finally perused by playwright and company.
Then tragedy strikes, thanks to a medical report advising that the playwright has a terminal illness.
The rest of the presentation is taken up with the playwright's collapse and everyone crowding about him in intense sympathy. Through all this, an allegorical figure of Truth floats about in an almost hand-wringing "bathos."
Everything turns maudlin, and one wonders whether the presentation is supposed to be a play, ballet, or even a silent screen melodrama, even as the program tells us "Life, like the show, must go on."
From the overall program, we can only judge at this point that Diane Fay's forte lies in abstract ballet.
Back to New York City Ballet
Peter Martins' "Slonimsky's Earbox" premiered last May as part of the Diamond Project at the New York State Theater. The work for five couples and a leader is set to what would seem Martins' favorite modern composer, John Adams. Previous scores provided by Adams for the choreographer's creations were "Fearful Symmetries," "The Chairman Dances," and "Harmonielehre." As to the man who inspired "Earbox," we are advised that Nicholas Slonimsky was a Russian composer, pianist, conductor, lecturer, writer, musicologist, and champion of modern music.
Martins certainly champions spirited classical dance embroidered with modern forms in his succinct ballet, a short creation, but satisfying in the opportunities to display versatility afforded its company (particularly the exuberant leader danced by Damian Woetzel). Studies in counter balance as well as steadfast ballon turned into a unique showcase for most of the dancers involved, with particularly noteworthy performances by two couples—Yvonne Borree-Albert Evans and Jennifer Tinsley-Tom Gold.
Balanchine's "Duo Concertant" premiered as part of the Stravinsky Festival held in 1972 at the New York State Theater. The unusual pas de deux sees two dancers standing around a piano listening intensely to the pianist and violinist playing the Stravinsky score. From the dancers, expressions, we can almost sense the thoughts going through their minds as they visualize forming a dance to the music.
After listening for a while, they go to center stage and seem to fall into a spontaneous display of their thoughts, which seems to be combined with their emotions impinging upon each other. They keep alternating between returning to listening and then going back to center stage, illustrating how the music compelled them and affected their relations. Toward the end, they are performing in individual circles of light on a darkened stage. When the lights go down, we are left to draw our own conclusions.
One thought uppermost was that this was one of Balanchine's most poetic works, performed by Darci Kistler and Nilas Martins with utmost sensitivity, and neatly accompanied by violinist Nicholas Danielson and pianist Cameron Grant.
"La Valse" had Janie Taylor as the Girl in White, who enters the ballroom seeking her partner, but instead, encounters the figure of death. While the young Ms. Taylor can't hope at this time to reach the effervescence, as well as the experience, brought to the difficult role by Darci Kistler, she nevertheless managed to leave favorable impressions of her own. Sébastien Marcovici partnered with utmost gallantry, and Robert LaFosse gave a stirring performance as Death. Three couples lent fine support: Amanda Edge-Alexander Ritter, Jennifer Tinsley-Arch Higgins, and Pascale van Kipnis-Jason Fowler.
Readers of this column must be aware of the fact that I have not been a partisan of Twyla Tharp, generally considering her a super flash-in-the-pan. I was compelled to do an about face, however, where her choreography for "The Beethoven Seventh" (which debuted in January 2000) was concerned.
In a version of the symphony created for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1938, Leonide Massine depicted the creation and destruction of the world. Tharp's creation, in contrast, would seem an affirmation of life, hope, and love.
I was particularly taken by the "Second Movement: Allegretto," led by Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans. Their movements were fraught with profound illustrations of intense love. Whelan and Evans were at their most prestigious in their absorption of the score.
The scintillating "Third Movement: Presto," saw Damian Woetzel at his most beguiling. His silken resilience in the Tharp twists and turns sustained exhilaration throughout, even as he partnered Kathleen Tracey.
The "Fourth Movement: Allegro Con Brio," had the aforementioned dancers, plus Jenifer Ringer and Peter Boal, pulling out all stops in Tharp's rollicking conclusion.
Byrd's Contempo Music Project
Donald Byrd/The Group, under the artistic direction of Donald Byrd, launches its Contemporary Music Project at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th St., NYC, from March 7-11. Two programs feature world premieres, including "HeavyLight" by composer Steve Mackey, and "Utopia," with music by John Adams.
Performances: March 7-10 at 8 pm, March 10 at 2 pm, and March 11 at 3 pm. Tickets: (reserved seating) $28, $22, and $18 (with a $6 discount for students and seniors). Call box office: (212) 864-5400. Performance on March 10 at 2 pm is a special family matinee. This show will feature a question and answer period with the artistic director immediately following the show. Tickets: $12 (no special discounts for this performance).
The Contemporary Music Project continues Donald Byrd's exploration of bringing together two separate concert audiences—contemporary music and dance. Plans are underway to follow with new commissioned work by composers John Adams and Louis Andriessen at upcoming performances.
Nathan Trice/Rituals at Judson
Judson Memorial Church's Dance of African Descent Downtown celebrates women with Nathan Trice/Rituals. All performances take place at the church, located at 55 Washington Square South, NYC, March 16 and 17 at 8 pm.
Admission is a suggested donation of $5. Contact the office of Dance of African Descent Downtown at (212) 995-9399 for further information about directions and tickets.
Aerial Dance-Theatre Premiere
Chelsea Bacon will debut her newest aerial dance-theatre piece, Breaker: An Aerial Faerie Tale, in a world-premiere production at Dixon Place, 309 E. 26 St., NYC, preview March 9, opening March 10. The company will run through March 24, performing Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm. Tickets: $15 (paid at door), $12 (paid in advance), $8 for students and seniors. Reservations: (212) 532-1546.