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Dance Review

Bacchae

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Bacchae
Perhaps there was a mix-up at the printer's and I got the wrong program. The contents of my playbill included a plot synopsis of the Euripides tragedy "The Bacchae," upon which "Bacchae," the evening-length dance piece I was seeing, was purportedly based. But no matter how hard I tried, I could discern nothing on stage resembling story line, characters—gods or humans—Bacchic rituals, or explorations of the play's themes of revenge and the nature of the human soul.

But that doesn't really matter. A world premiere choreographed and designed by the Italian stage director Luca Veggetti, "Bacchae" is an engrossingly experimental multimedia adventure combining a bit of puppetry, slippery text, flute and electronic sounds, and gorgeous contemporary dance. Veggetti's slinky, animalistic choreography is built of distinct phrases that slide into big lunges, come to rest in neutral demi-pliés, or stop with the abrupt forming of shocking shapes. Sometimes exhibiting martial-arts qualities, the choreography is stunningly performed by the 11 dancers currently composing Morphoses. A pickup company that will rotate artistic directors on a seasonal basis, Morphoses is now under the sole direction of Lourdes Lopez and is being seen for the first time since co-founders Lopez and Christopher Wheeldon, the noted choreographer, parted ways.

Watching Veggetti's choreographic vocabulary—a seamless blend of ballet technique, historically significant modern-dance styles, and postmodern sensibilities—it becomes clear that with dance makers like him, "contemporary" has finally emerged as a dance form that needs no further descriptors. In recent years, critics and artists have been struggling to define contemporary ballet and to determine how exactly that differs from contemporary dance (characterized somewhat differently in the concert-dance world than it is in the commercial-dance industry) and then what relationship that has to modern dance. But the kind of dance Veggetti and his meticulously trained performers show us is so thoroughly fused that its borrowings from earlier forms and styles are barely detectable as individual components. Contemporary dance has arrived, no longer as a postmodern mishmash but as a genuinely advanced, new form.

Adding to the overall freshness of Veggetti's piece are Paolo Aralla's commissioned score, containing tones produced by the dancers' movements upon an onstage wooden platform, and an opening scene in which puppeteer Candice Burridge manipulates a wee marionette through a hauntingly expressive little dance that hints at the choreographic moods to come.

Presented by Morphoses, in association with the Joyce Theater Foundation, at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC. Oct. 25–30. Tue. and Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org.

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