to the occasion: the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.
City Never Sleeps
Mae G. Banner
Sinopoli Dance Company, the Don Byron Ensemble
Egg, Jan. 21
If your game is tennis or chess, you grow by playing with
a partner who’s one or two levels above you. The Ellen Sinopoli
Dance Company got a similar boost in last Friday’s world-
premiere performance set to music by Leonard Bernstein.
dancers were visibly inspired by jazz clarinetist Don Byron’s
arrangements of excerpts from Mass, On the Waterfront,
West Side Story and Candide, played live by
Byron and a five-man ensemble deliciously endowed with extra
jazz and dance show was the pinnacle event in the Egg’s 10-day,
multi-arts celebration of Bernstein’s legacy. Executive director
Peter Lesser (with funding from the National Endowment for
the Arts) commissioned Byron’s arrangements and Sinopoli’s
choreography for a five-part suite that she named Metropolis.
Sinopoli’s company has been resident at the Egg for 13 seasons.
She’s an astute collaborator, making the most of associations
with a range of musicians and visual artists. In pairing her
with Byron, Lesser’s vision for what the Egg can do has brought
Sinopoli the chance of a lifetime.
Working with Robert DeBellis on bass clarinet and J D Parran
on contra-alto clarinet, plus a sophisticated rhythm section
of George Colligan (piano), Leo Traversa (bass) and Ben Wittman
(drums), Byron crafted his own take on Bernstein’s jazz-based,
Latin-tinged music. Every musical voice was distinct and slanted
in new, unpredictable directions. The reed section had the
weight of a full orchestra at times; yet the music kept a
light, witty touch, with plenty of improvised excursions.
Sinopoli couched Metropolis as a day in the city, keying
her dances to times of day, from a midnight procession to
a late-night party. “Part I—12:01 a.m.” had the five dancers
posing with light-headed self- satisfaction. They wore black
unitards tracked with white graffiti and overlaid with gorgeous
fishtailed tunics of a teal-colored metallic fabric. The whole
effect—dance and music together—was just short of cartoony,
which is certainly what Byron, if not Bernstein, had in mind.
It then segued to slow, dark music and movement that evoked
a shadowy waterfront, complete with foghorns and echoes. Long-limbed
Ann Olson, back with the company after a stretch in New York
City, did an earthy solo that suited the film-noirish music.
Jason Sinopoli’s lighting added shadows upon shadows for a
duet by Melissa George and Sarah Pingel that evolved into
the sound of shimmering cymbals and the approach of dawn.
Byron’s group played beyond the end of the dance, a wonderfully
snarling bass clarinet bringing on a jumpy, sprinting crowd
of dancers in black jazz shoes. This was “Part III—8:59 a.m.”
Dancers flung their arms, did skewed leapfrog moves, and,
at one point, hit the ground together like a multiheaded beast.
The clarinet-driven music was headlong, and the dancers matched
While the dancers reassembled offstage, Byron’s ensemble played
excerpts from Bernstein’s Preludes, Fugues & Riffs,
a knockout concerto for clarinet and big band. This was
followed by “One Heart, One Hand,” a chorale-like ballad from
West Side Story that Byron softened and made his own.
The dancers returned, barefoot again and with white chiffon
scarves drifting over one shoulder. Their slow dancing elongated
into a tableau, shoulder to shoulder, angling down to the
Staccato drove legato off the scene in “Part V—10:35 p.m.”
to that nutty riff from “I Am Easily Assimilated” in Candide.
Now, the dancers were cocky, strutting in those beautiful
teal tunics, sweeping across the stage, doing a play tango
that fit the nasty, dissonant tones of the low clarinets.
Thank you, Don Byron, for kicking it up several notches.
The all-premiere evening opened with Counterflow, Sinopoli’s
ensemble dance to recorded excerpts from “The Age of Anxiety,”
Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2. The players on the 1950
recording were the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Bernstein,
with piano soloist Lukas Foss.
Five long panels of cloth hung from the flies and dominated
the dance. Sinopoli and her lighting designer (her son, Jason)
make evocative use of color and light. The suede-finished
panels were pearly pastels of green, yellow, tan, and peach.
Light rolled down the cloth, changing its colors, while the
dancers, one to a panel, stepped behind these vertical flags
and let their hands rim down the fabric’s edges.
There was an implied drama as each dancer looked at her panel
wonderingly, lifted the edges or twisted it like a scarf and
then let it go. But, overall, Counterflow was pedestrian,
the moves too closely tied to the turbulence or receding of
Bernstein’s powerful music. The imaginatively lit cloth was
beautiful in its own right, more arresting to watch than the