Damian Woetzel must have wanted to test and tease the public for his DEMOs by giving it a quiz. The printed program for this fourth show in the series listed the performers alphabetically, provided pictures of their faces and brief bios, but gave no clue as to what was being presented, by whom or in what order. Eight dancers were in the cast, and recognizing or identifying them turned out to be child’s play. I didn’t do as well in knowing the credits for choreography and music, even though “Who Cares?” was a lark. The program’s only two ballet dancers did passages from this well known work when they first came on, and what choreographer other than George Balanchine vivisects bodies so caringly? Who, though, had choreographed Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle’s second duet? Certain that I’d never seen it before, the likelihood was that it had been made by someone connected with the dancers’ home company, the New York City Ballet.
Photo: Kate Davis on Bass, Michelle Dorrance, and Bill Irwin. Photo by Teresa Wood.
New Yorkers remember the Joffrey Ballet, not seen in town at full strength since it decamped to Chicago in 1995, as the smallest and scrappiest of the city's (then) big three ballet companies. In Gerald Arpino it has a house choreographer who had his ear tuned to the Zeitgeist and, in Robert Joffrey, a director with a fine grained sense of history made (from "Petrushka" to Balanchine) and in the making (Twyla Tharp's "Deuce Coupe" and the birth of the crossover era). This gala program, rather than exhibiting a choreographic house style or historical sweep (though the company will perform "Giselle" during its 2017-2018 season) was an exercise in curation, with a nod to Artistic Director Ashley Wheater's roots at the San Francisco Ballet.
"Swan Lake" San Francisco Ballet War Memorial Opera House San Francisco, CA
by Rita Felciano copyright @ 2017
What is there to be said about “Swan Lake”, the world’s most popular ballet? Possibly, the world greatest? Thinking about that reminded me of a comment I excitedly made to a musician friend about having just heard the Queen of the Night’s aria made by artificial intelligence. His dry response was “which one?” Indeed, which one is the perfect “Swan Lake”, the perfect Odette/Odile, the perfect dénouement? Opera rethinks classics with impunity, and patrons live with it, sometimes even appreciate the creative thinking involved. In ballet we are more conservative, we like our master works to stay close to an original conception, even if we don’t quite know what that had been. It so happens that we have a pretty good idea of what the “original” of the greatest “romantic” ballet might have looked like. Never mind that by 1893 romanticism had been swallowed up by wobbling establishments and the ever-rising middle class.
San Francisco Ballet in "Swan Lake" photo: Erik Tomasson
Blanca Li is a Spanish choreo- grapher with modern and flamenco roots, and in 2015 she teamed up with the renowned Bolshoi dancer Maria Alexan- drova to create an exploration of womanhood refracted through various Greek myths. She used their two amazingly strong bodies, imaginative lighting by Caty Olive (who knew Venetian blinds could be so beautiful?), stunning video wizardry by Charles Carcopino, and lots of dresses by high-powered designers (gowns by Azzedine Alaïa, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney, and Sophie Theallet). "I am woman, watch me shop" might have been the subtitle.
Terse but also busy movement surfaced in all the pieces of this triple bill in which the dancers appeared to be playing themselves slightly disguised. That gave the program - from the 1987 Forsythe through the 1991 Kylian to Peck’s 2012 ballet – a contemporary character. Only the Peck was a company premiere, yet the dancing’s precise attack by veterans, by somewhat familiar performers and by recent recruits had the impact of an occasion newly coined. Two members of the Forsythe cast for Thursday evening displayed the span, the overall amplitude of scale and the attraction of comets, pulling all eyes along as they moved across the stage.
Washington Ballet dancers in Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort”. Photo by Theo Kossenas.
In creating “Work/ Travail/Arbeid” Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker asked an important question: “Can choreography be performed in the form of an exhibition?” Her answer is on view through Sunday in the Museum of Modern Art’s Atrium. “Work/Travail/Arbeid” is derived from a one-hour piece called “Vortex Temporum” (score of the same title, composed by Gérard Grisey) that was created to be performed in a theater. De Keersmaeker has transformed it into a nine-hour cycle, with the choreography changing each hour over five days. The work is danced by De Keersmaeker’s company, Rosas, in collaboration with the contemporary musical ensemble, Ictus. This is not the first time “Work/Travail/Arbeid” has been seen. It has also been performed in Brussels (where De Keersmaeker is based), at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and at the Tate Modern in London. In each venue De Keersmaeker adapted the piece to the particular space, which differed markedly in each instance. She has continued this process at MoMA.
What is the story of this ballet with choreography, staging, set, costumes and light design by John Neumeier? Supposedly the plot is based on a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. It hasn’t, though, the clarity of Andersen’s writing but is closer to the shadowy surrealism and mythoscience of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tales and perhaps to La Motte Fouque’s novella “Undine”. Neumerier’s narrative continues to puzzle me but its principal characters are listed in the printed program. Foremost are a Poet and his creation, the Mermaid. Both pine for a handsome Prince who takes their passion lightly as he weds a Princess or plays golf. Also present is a force of nature, the Sea Witch. As choreographer, Neumeier seems intent on spinning his yarn without the use of conventional pantomime. He uses direct action and appears to be concocting a novel dance language.
Photo: Silvia Azzoni as The Little Mermaid. Photo by Holger Badekow.
To see ice skaters as young as 3 years old had not been my reason for going to this “Sing into Spring” show. It hadn’t occurred to me that such tots could even stand up straight in skates without their ankles buckling as soon as they began to move. The lure was a new “Faun”, to the familiar Debussy music but for professional balletic ice dancers of The Next Ice Age troupe. Yet the opening number, Pat Muth’s “Moana” (based on Walt Disney’s South Pacific islands movie) showed the small fry adept at doing a marching step, short glides forward and keeping in formation. There were some among the somewhat older student skaters who broached leaps and twirls, despite an occasional spill. What surprised me most was the predominance of female students. In the show’s cast of some 75 skaters, only a handful were male. As with ballet, tomorrow’s men for figure skating will be in short supply!
Both photos: Ian Lorello in the title role of Nathan Birch’s “Faun”. Photo by Kim Zaruba.
The final performance of Paul Taylor's New York season featured three Taylor works set to great music (by Stravinsky, Elgar, and Bach), outstanding dancing, and one farewell, as Francisco Graciano make his last New York appearance with the company. The afternoon opened with Taylor's oblique take on Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", a score that has overwhelmed many choreographers. Taylor side-stepped the tidal wave by using Stravinsky's version for two pianos and by ignoring the pagan ritual at the dawn of time scenario.