feeling: Grupo Corpo.
Would Be Honored
Mae G. Banner
York City Ballet
Performing Arts Center, July 9-13
New York City Ballet stepped into its 37th summer at the Saratoga
Performing Arts Center with an all- Balanchine program last
Tuesday that satisfied loyal devotees and showed newcomers
the best of the company’s repertoire. The week also included
nods to a lighthearted Jerome Robbins (Fancy Free and
In G Major) and a heavy-handed Peter Martins (Jeu
de Cartes), plus Haiku, a clean and insinuating
new Diamond Project work by principal dancer/now-choreographer
Andrea Quinn, in her first full summer as musical director,
conducted Agon (1957) with the lively clarity this
masterful black-and-white ballet requires. The dance, a collaboration
between Balanchine and Stravinsky, is inspired by sketches
from a 16th-century French dancing-master’s manual. It’s performed
in a set of spare, architecturally open turns that illuminate
the inner beats of the music.
Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto danced the central duet, which
is both courtly and carnal, with delicate leg beats and extreme
contortions. Whelan is fearless, doing musically smooth splits,
swivels and stretches as if her body had no bones. When she
touches Soto with her leg, it’s like a kiss.
The first-night program opened with Serenade (1934),
which suffered at first because the underrehearsed corps sped
through the steps so fast they had no time to make Tchaikovsky’s
music meaningful. Balanchine claimed Serenade had no
story, but his lyrical choreography suggests a romantic tale
of 17 sisters who spin in a froth of ice-blue tulle and who
lose one to unrequited love.
The corps didn’t become true sisters until their wonderful
repeat performances Thursday and Saturday; but, from the moment
Yvonne Borree flew through her first solo on opening night,
Serenade found its footing.
Darci Kistler was the “Waltz Girl” on Tuesday, taking risks
as she turned in James Fayette’s arms and sank to the floor,
while the winged figure of Kathleen Tracey led Fayette offstage,
covering his eyes as if he were Orpheus. Kistler marred the
dance’s soulful ending, breaking character as she was borne
aloft and carried like a saintly effigy in a mournful procession
offstage. Philip Neal, who continues to dance at a peak of
elegant strength, was her ideal partner.
Jenifer Ringer was a perfect “Waltz Girl” in Thursday’s Serenade,
supported by Maria Kowroski as Fayette’s winged guide.
A dazzling Who Cares? closed the first-night program.
Here is Balanchine in showbiz mode, saluting George and Ira
Gershwin in a fast-paced revue that blends chorine kicks with
pirouettes and fouettes. The audience might think Who Cares?
is a throwaway, but a close look shows that it keeps all the
ballet conventions, yet never misses a syncopated beat. Ringer,
Jennie Somogyi and Janie Taylor—the romantic, the flirtatious,
and the sexy, respectively—were Nikolaj Hubbe’s three muses
in duets to “The Man I Love,” “Embraceable You,” and the lesser-known
Corps dancer Henry Seth, tall and full of personality, made
himself the one to watch, giving every move in the five quick
corps duets an extra pizzazz.
Albert Evans, an admired principal dancer since 1995, is now
also a choreographer to watch. Evans’ Haiku, his first
foray as a dancemaker, drew four curtain calls in its SPAC
premiere Thursday night. City Ballet is celebrating 10 years
of the Diamond Project, an intermittent mini-festival of works
by new choreographers, by presenting four new and three older
Diamonds during its three-week SPAC run.
is a great choice. A modern ballet for three couples, set
to John Cage’s short pieces for percussion or prepared piano,
the dance is sleek as satin and full of invention. Evans’
choreography honors the classical ballet vocabulary with elegant
uplifted carriage and neat leaps and turns, but goes off in
startling, satisfying new directions. Evans uses every dimension
of a deliberately narrowed stage space and sets his dancers
at every imaginable level, from lying flat on their backs
to circling together like a merry-go-round, the women perching
with crossed knees on the men’s linked arms.
Faye Arthurs with Stephen Hanna, Aesha Ash with newly promoted
principal Sebastian Marcovici, and Carla Korbes with Seth
Orza, wind their ways through a set of small displays that
are intriguing and contained, like the lines of a haiku. Dressed
in shiny skirts or pants the color of glowing embers, they
begin in unison, but soon unfold into a series of eye-catching
duets, full of unexpected entrances and exits, sometimes continuing
beyond the music into a reverberating silence.
Some of the lifts and carry-offs are quietly amazing, like
the last line of a haiku. In silence, Hanna lifts Arthurs
in an upside-down split, then sets her down gently to move
slowly, backward, offstage. Korbes is queenly in her duet
with Orza. He lies flat and she steps deftly over him, a move
that morphs into a seated embrace, then unwinds into a Mobius
strip of endless, sinuous challenges.
Ash and Marcovici spun like tops in a continuing embrace.
She made shapes in the air with fluid arms, and he squatted
like a grasshopper, then sped as if dancing on hot coals.
Their exit was a heart-stopping lift. Her legs wound around
him, her back arched, Ash bent Marcovici’s free arm to her
The dance gained extra interest from the onstage presence
of Essential Music, a percussion quartet who specialize in
Cage’s works. Their small orchestra of gongs, drums, chimes,
timbales, rattles, scrapers, whistles, and kitchen gadgets
sounded like an Indonesian gamelan in its assertive, yet soothing
is sure to remain in City Ballet’s repertoire, but you’ll
have to wait until another year to see it. The same is true
for Balanchine’s Firebird, a highlight of Friday night’s
Kowroski was a darting, fluttering Firebird in this folkloric
tale set to Stravinsky’s so-Russian music and danced before
Marc Chagall’s color-drenched backdrops painted with mammoth
upside-down bouquets of roses and floating figures of a princess
bride, lurking monsters and forest creatures. Children and
grown-ups were delighted with the dancing princesses, the
weird-funny monsters, and the lavish wedding with the palace
walls draped in swashes of beet red.
Monique Meunier, one of the company’s most exciting principals,
has left to join American Ballet Theater; and principal Kathleen
Tracey planned to retire after her July 16 performance. If
you haven’t made your way to the ballet, let this be a lesson
Jacob’s Pillow, July 14
Corpo bypasses the brain and goes straight for the groin.
I am still hot from watching the climactic sequence of the
Brazilian dance company’s Sanatagustin, a world premiere danced
Sunday at Jacob’s Pillow.
Late in the dance, the 10 couples cross the boundary from
sensuous to erotic, moving across the stage, butt locked to
crotch. In all permutations—woman-man, woman-woman, man-man—they
hold tight. Then, a man snaps his arm, jerks his partner away
from him and flings her outward. She keeps her grip on his
hand and pulls back in. Repeat. Again. Then, in a neat switch,
she lifts him.
The dance becomes a study in who’s on top and who is on whose
back. The dancers rise and the action swells into a wonderful
group section with active heads and hips. You see an impulse
start in the pelvis and move up through the head, as the couples
do individual variations of the group move on slightly different
Two females wrap their arms around each other, facing front
and giving the audience a knowing eye that says, “We’re here.
Deal with it.” A male couple, still butt to crotch, goes horizontal,
making a four-legged bridge that sways orgiastically in a
transport to nirvana.
This sequence ends with the couples lying side by side, then
easing into a lyrical duet to cool down themselves and the
audience before the joyous finale.
My notes say: “Why is this art and not porn?” Answer: Because
it’s danced in high style with technical excellence. Because
the dancers are counting. Above all, because Grupo Corpo’s
dancers take our cultural stereotypes about the “hot Latin
people” and reclaim them through political/erotic statements
that are simply knockout dance.
Founded in 1975 in Belo Horizonte, the company is directed
by choreographer Rodrigo Pedemeiras. His brother, Paulo Pederneiras,
is artistic director. A color photo of the dancers would show
the full range of Brazillian skin tones, from cream to café
au lait to chocolate.
Their name means “group body,” and all their choreography
is ensemble work, usually done by couples moving along the
stage in a horizontal path, like an escuela de samba dancing
down the street at Carnival. A soloist or a couple may step
forward to do a virtuosic turn, but they soon blend back into
the ever-moving group. The music, whether it’s by Philip Glass
or the indigenous group UAKTI, is minimalist, insistently
repeating a line that changes incrementally as the dance goes
on and on.
The dancers’ names are on the program, but no bios, perhaps
to emphasize the precedence of group over individual in this
company. Still, the choreography makes clear that these dancers
are equally trained in ballet, modern dance and samba. Beneath
it all is a strong West African influence.
All this comes out in Seven or Eight Pieces for a Ballet,
(1994) which combines elegant balletic arms with funky stuck-out
butts and smooth samba action in the hips. This cultural swirl
is similar to Garth Fagan’s choreography, which stirs together
Africa, Jamaica, ballet and jazz. The differences: Grupo Corpo
doesn’t do much with still points and balances or with abrupt
changes in speed and direction. These dances are vivid atoms
in a pulsating group molecule. Their energy, sophisticated,
primal, and always self-aware, is of the whole.