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Truly musical: Ballet NY.

George’s Way
By Mae G. Banner

Ballet NY

The Egg, Feb. 24

George Balanchine’s children are everywhere. Former principal dancers with his New York City Ballet now lead companies from Miami (Edward Villella) to Seattle (Peter Boal) and most major cities in between. What this means for ballet in America is that audiences get to see exactingly trained dancers performing Balanchine’s brilliant choreography. Definitely, it’s a win-win situation.

So, it’s no surprise that Balanchine’s kicky Who Cares? (1970) was the delight of the program danced last Friday at the Egg by Ballet NY, a chamber ballet company founded in 1997 by former NYCB principal Judith Fugate and her husband Medhi Bahiri.

Besides co-directing Ballet NY, Fugate works with the George Balanchine Trust to stage the master choreographer’s dances with companies around the world. She knows the moves, but more important, she knows how the dance should feel and flow.

This was happily apparent in Who Cares?, which provided a snappy finish to a program of self-consciously modern ballets by three mid-level choreographers. In Who Cares?, Balanchine fused the glitter of show-biz and the soulfulness of George Gershwin’s tunes with the cut-crystal clarity of classical ballet.

Ballet NY’s dancers, especially the seductive Fidel Garcia and the vibrant Elysia Dawn, really got it. They rode the music like a sleek limousine, letting it carry them to jazz heaven. Garcia was flawless in the duet “The Man I Love,” danced with a somewhat perfunctory Bonnie Pickard. He had all the angles, the eagerness, the suavity the role exudes. Later, in his watch-chain twirling “Liza” solo, Garcia did the spins and turns from deep inside the dance.

Dawn, in hot pink, skipped up the “Stairway to Paradise”, neatly bopping off those joyous jumps and slides, giving us the extra pleasure of seeing Balanchine danced on a smaller stage than usual.

Everyone had a chance to shine in Who Cares? Anitra N. Nurnberger and Benjamin Lester projected a teasing charm during “Embraceable You” and Dawn coltishly linked wrists with Alec Donavan on the title song. The fling ended with all three couples spinning in unison to “I Got Rhythm.”

The program opened with now and again (2005) a grim dance to music of J. S. Bach and an electronic soundscape by Dietrich Krueger. The dance was an incoherent patchwork of convoluted partnering and gnarly group passages on a dark stage framed by four many-legged stools to which the dancers retreated after their strained duets.

There were interesting moves, such as a man lifting a woman with her chest to his, then letting her legs spiral out behind her, swiveling from the knees. But, there was no overall shape to the dance.

Hook-Up (2005) by Helen Heineman to a nicely hyped-up Cajun two-step score by Arnold Dreyblatt was a well-shaped, if bitter, duet that began with Lindsay Purrington and the smooth Garcia circling each other warily and ended with them going their separate ways. They developed a sensuous chemistry through the driving heart of the dance as she did easy splits and backbends in his arms, always projecting a feeling for the dance club mood of the piece.

Stanton Welch’s Orange (2001), to oboe concertos by Vivaldi, is considered a signature dance for the seven- member company. In the Paul Taylor mode, three couples danced sportively, like nymphs and satyrs at play in a verdant forest. Orange presented pleasant stage pictures—tilted heads, arced arms, giddy spins—and an air of springtime freshness.

Group passages and duets were carefully, almost academically, contrasted. The women lifted their long, split orange chiffon skirts delicately as they promenaded. At its best, the partnering had a tension that belied the sweetness of the music and gave some depth to the surface playfulness.

I liked the third duet (Purrington and Donovan) best. Truly musical dancers, they made the most of each phrase, transcending Vivaldi’s pull toward the mechanical.

There is a place for chamber ballet companies amid the giant-sized companies that fill the big stages, especially when they can give us a Balanchine close-up. Later this month, the Egg will host another pocket-size troupe, North Carolina Dance Theatre, directed by Balanchine alumni Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride.


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