Ben Munisteri Dance Projects.
Mae G. Banner
York City Ballet
Performing Arts Center, July 5
The New York City Ballet and the Saratoga Performing Arts
Center renewed their marriage vows on their 40th anniversary
with laudatory speeches by new SPAC president Marcia White
and balletmaster-in-chief Peter Martins. Both thanked the
grassroots organization Save the Ballet for advocating to
keep this marriage alive, and promised years of magical performances
to come—though, as yet, there’s been no announcement of a
contract for 2006 and beyond. Before the overture, conductor
Maurice Kaplow led the NYCB orchestra in Anniversary Fanfare,
composed for the occasion by Ron Wasserman, principal double
bassist with the orchestra.
Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Balanchine charmer that inaugurated
the house in July 1966, was the perfect choice for this anniversary,
not least because the ballet ends with a grand triple-wedding
celebration. The silvery woodland setting, framed by SPAC’s
tall pines, provided a fairy-tale atmosphere for Balanchine’s
transmutation of Shakespeare’s comedy set to Mendelssohn’s
The story unreels in the seamless first act that flows without
pause from the quarrel of Titania and Oberon, rulers of the
fairy kingdom, to the confused wanderings in the woods of
two mismatched pairs of lovers, to the barreling dance of
Bottom and his friends, who have met in the woods to rehearse
a play for the wedding of the earthly royals, Theseus and
Amazon Queen Hippolyta. Of course, there are throngs of fairies,
the tall slim retinue of Titania, who guard their sleeping
queen, and the flashing flickering fireflies and beetles,
danced neatly by a corps of youngsters who circle around Oberon.
Weaving through these intersecting worlds is Puck, Oberon’s
mischief-making sprite. Adam Hendrickson brought out the comedy
of the role, miming his mortification at applying the magic
flower to the wrong lover. He was a swift runner and cunning
jumper, girdling the world in a minute at Oberon’s command.
Joaquin De Luz (a recent addition to the company from American
Ballet Theater) was a regal leader who skimmed the stage,
while Darci Kistler as Titania danced heavily at first, but
found the character’s light spirit in her sweet dance with
Bottom, now crowned with a donkey’s head. James Fayette was
an endearing Bottom, bemused to find himself the object of
Titania’s attentions, but so full of self-love that he rose
to the occasion. His lumbering folk dance with the airy Titania
and his pretty bourree across the stage were delightful moments.
The crisscrossed lovers, dark-haired Alexandra Ansanelli and
Arch Higgins (dressed in wine-red) and fair Rachel Rutherford
and Jared Angle (in blue) darted and fled through the woods
or sank in despair. The transparent choreography made all
their shifting emotions clear. Even those unacquainted with
Shakespeare could have no problem understanding the lovers’
plight, which is sometimes sad, sometimes comical.
reveals new insights with every viewing. Hippolyta’s midnight
hunt with her hounds, for example, was not an interruption
of the action, but a vigorous restatement in another key of
the foolish fight of the two men who are led through the misty
woods by Puck’s tricks. Teresa Reichlen, quite the firebrand,
danced an exciting set of fouettes and sprang offstage with
a grand jete.
Amanda Edge distinguished herself as Butterfly, the chief
of Oberon’s retinue. She was swift and sharp, with a lovely
extension and musical phrasing, setting the tone for the enchantments
Though new balletgoers may be content with the story, seasoned
viewers were transported by the divertissement duet in the
second act’s wedding celebration. Wendy Whelan and Philip
Neal were sublime in this twining duet that embodies the essence
of love and joy. Their partnering—Neal’s flawless support
allowed Whelan to become a wisp in his arms—elevated the duet
to its rightful place as the crowning point of the whole ballet,
the very reason for its existence.
Ben Munisteri Dance Projects
Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 17
Everything counts in a Ben Munisteri dance. Even the goofiest-looking
moves, like dancers crawling on all fours or a dancer pulling
her partner’s leg up into a high extension, are part of a
clear, if quirky structure. There’s no improvising in this
Munisteri and his six dancers performed last week in the Doris
Duke Studio Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow, the “second stage”
reserved for experimental dance made by emerging choreographers.
Their program included a world premiere, Thunderblood,
to a commissioned score by composer-violinist Evren Celimli.
Celimli and bassist Mike Rivard were set to provide live music,
but the third player—identified as “Mac e-book”—crashed, so
the dancers performed to a CD of the score instead.
This mishap turned out to carry a benefit. While the musicians
tried to revive the their ailing tech partner, Munisteri popped
out of his seat in the audience to take questions. He proved
to be quite disarming, funny and ironic.
The choreographer’s character was reflected in Thunderblood,
which juxtaposed long, still poses against spirited traveling
passages. The dancers, dressed in a crayon box of red, purple,
orange, and teal unitards, moved in unison, then split into
pairs, making off-center constructions that were often surprising.
Munisteri, ballet-trained but a habitué of dance clubs, founded
his company in 1994. Like Mark Morris, he remains in touch
with the games we played as children, when we bopped around
the yard, flying like an airplane or prowling like a jungle
cat. In Thunderblood, the dancers built a tower of
three people, like a human erector set. Later, a woman stood
on the butts of two kneeling and turning men in a circuslike
Celimli’s music had a Middle Eastern sound, and, indeed, the
dancers made angled Egyptian arms, then blocked together as
one massive sculpture. In another play-yard invention, a woman
settled her back onto the back of a kneeling man, locked her
legs around him, and, thus laden, he crawled offstage. Much
later, the two reappeared in the same locked position, entering
from the opposite side of the stage.
For all its bulkiness, Thunderblood was filled with
the beauty of odd angular poses and quick shifts between movement
The other dances, Not Human (2005), Turbine Mines
(2004), and a Retrospective Portfolio (2004) pieced
together from bits of four earlier dances, all shared Munisteri’s
kinetic collage-making propensities. Arrowy balletic jetes
collapsed into crouching club dance moves. We saw semaphore
arms, backward skips, lightly tripping toes and lovely lifted
arms followed by bopping an elbow on the dancer’s knee.
Would these dancers put their elbow in their ear? Sure, if
they could do it. The important thing is, however abrupt and
off-the-wall Munisteri’s moves may look, every position feels
right, even lyrical. This choreography, with its touch of
the vulgar, is simply beautiful.