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Jeté fete: the New York City Ballet at SPAC.

Rave On
By Mae G. Banner

Morph: Live Remix
Jacob’s Pillow, July 21

A power outage in the Berkshires on July 21 cut short the feral, fluid dancing of Stamping Ground by the Lyon Opera Ballet in a matinee performance at Jacob’s Pillow’s Ted Shawn Theater.

However, trusting that the power would be restored in time for the 5 PM performance by the Wally Cardona Quartet in the Doris Duke Studio Theater, I stayed for what proved to be an illuminating dance “fix.”

Cardona’s Morph: Live Remix, a world premiere, projects concert dance into new territory that mirrors all-night club dancing and rituals such as Sufi dancing. Cardona dispenses with such conventions as the proscenium and the distance between audience and performers. Morph is an event in the Merce Cunningham sense, made of known, but interchangeable, parts of music, light, and movement. The performance is different every time.

The dance space is a Mondrian-like composition of white rectangles marked on the floor with paint or light (I couldn’t tell which, even at close range). These shapes, large and smaller, traverse the four sides of the barnlike theater, sometimes in an open chain, sometimes at right angles to each other. The set was designed by Douglas Fanning, who, program notes say, has a master’s degree in architecture.

The lighting, designed by Roderick Murray, was thin tubes of white neon fastened to a vertical grid of square-shaped steel bars, constructed at the corners of the white floor rectangles and joined to an open grid overhead. The cotton tops and pants by Jill Anderson also were constructed as grids, with circles of tape ringing the legs or tops at unpredictable intervals.

Ravegoers in the audience would know the techno, drone-like music mixed by Mike Schoff (aka Plexus), who is a DJ to reckon with in New York City and beyond. His trance-inducing sounds were underscored by the video mix of Maya Ciarrocchi, a dancer and videographer who works with many postmodern dance companies. One floor square seemed to be reserved for her blue and purple swirls that washed over the tall blond dancer who inhabited that space, lying quietly in the light.

Cardona and his colleagues, Joanne Kotze, Kathryn Sanders and Matthew Winheld, all exceptionally tall and slim, would step into a dance space, raise their arms straight up close to their bodies and look skyward in prayerful intensity. They never looked at the audience or at each other, even when they occasionally grappled or danced close.

Yet, they communicated. In the male grappling section of the hourlong dance, I saw Winheld morph into a new set of moves when Cardona almost imperceptibly snapped his fingers.

I could see this because, at that moment, I happened to be sitting up front near the floor shape on which it happened. Throughout the dance, the audience was encouraged to get up and change their seats, stand, or walk around the space, as they would in a club. The effect of this freedom to change one’s perspective is like the control that internet users have over musical information. The audience, like the Morph dancers, the DJ and VJ, are invited to sample, mix, and remix the ongoing elements of the event. We could make our own dance.

I don’t know what I didn’t see, either up close or from a distance. What I did see was an audience of rapt viewers who tended to gather on the floor in a circle around particular dancers, like the circle of listeners around a storyteller at a campfire. I saw other audience members who took a light change, a musical shift, or a video change as a cue to get up and watch from a different side of the room. I saw many audience members who kept their seats throughout, either unsure about joining in the co-creation of the work, or dropping into trance at the music’s insistent drone.

Grooving with the music, I found myself creating words and rhythms for its repetitive phrases: “We gape at . . . we gape at.” Or, “Don’t lose-a-me . . . don’t lose-a-me.”

Dancing sequences that left strong after-images include a dancer stretched out low, stomach just off the ground, walking on extended feet and one elbow, the other arm shooting out front from between her legs; a lovely section of close dancing between Cardona and a woman; and the final stillness as the dancers all slid to the floor, their bodies curved in elongated S-shapes.

I’ll probably never make my way to a rave, but now that Cardona has re-created the ritual ecstasies of club dance in a reconfigured theater space, I know a little about what it’s like.

Gala Pal

New York City Ballet
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, July 16- 20

Benjamin Millepied, call your agent. You need someone who will stand up to the choreographers, notably Peter Martins and Mauro Bigonzetti, who are disguising your long, lean torso and forcing you into a crouch.

Millepied has central roles in Bigonzetti’s Vespro and Martins’ Hallelujah Junction, both shown at the New York City Ballet Gala last Saturday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. He’s a fast dancer, good with a jeté or circling the stage in jump-turns. Too often, in these abrasive dances, the choreographers twist him into a cramp or bend him into U-shapes, like a croquet wicket.

These shapes are meant to be a contemporary response to the elongated beauty of classical ballet. Vespro, made for the 2002 Diamond Project, is self-consciously modern, from the combative dancing to the cryptically marked costumes that suggest uniforms. The dancers could be members of an athletic team, or denizens of a distant planet that hasn’t yet joined the Star Trek Federation.

The music, commissioned from Bruno Moretti, was a gentle, if oddly chosen score for piano, countertenor and soprano saxophone. Moretti played the onstage piano, and Millepied, when he wasn’t sitting on the piano, banged the low notes with a flat hand or foot to summon clusters of dancers out of the darkness.

Vespro had a redeeming passage in the show, and a striking duet by Maria Kowroski and Jason Fowler to a saxophone solo. Otherwise, like the countertenor’s Renaissance-era lament, it was sad to watch.

Hallelujah Junction, danced to a John Adams work for two onstage pianos, cast Millepied as a spoiler who intervened when the Janie Taylor-Sebastien Marcovici duet got too friendly. Four quick duets for corps pairs showed off their singular skills: leaping, speeding, or turning. The final stage picture had a welcome symmetry, with Millepied on one knee at center stage, flanked by Taylor, Marcovici and the corps.

The gala opened with the SPAC premiere of Martins’ Diamond offering, Bach Concerto V, starring Darci Kistler and Jock Soto, with two demi-soloist women and four corps couples, all in stylish costumes of silver, gray, and black.

Martins’ choreography alternated minimalist poses and walks with sometimes too-crowded, too-fussy, passages. Open the space a bit, and Bach V will become a smooth, pleasing dance.

The gala’s lavish closer was Balanchine’s Vienna Waltzes. Performed at the end of an overfull concert and for an audience that had its share of tipsy yahoos with flash cameras, Vienna Waltzes felt slack. The full-cast opening and closing sections were danced perfunctorily, as if the dancers were merely going through the motions. However, the brief woodland dance and polka, and the urbane Merry Widow waltz were appropriately enchanting, humorous (but, not boisterous enough) and sophisticated, respectively. Kistler’s dance with an invisible partner, who turned out to be a sinister Philip Neal, was haunting.

In addition to the premiere-packed Gala, this past week brought the SPAC premiere of Morphoses, a Diamond Project ballet by Christopher Wheeldon, the company’s resident choreographer. Wheeldon, who has done several large-scale ballets for NYCB in the past few years, narrowed the focus with Morphoses, a dance for two principal couples who move together as a conjoined unit, knotting and unknotting, Pilobolus-like, to a frenzied string quartet by Gyorgy Ligeti. The music was stunningly performed by the FLUX quartet, who were stationed in the orchestra pit.

Wendy Whelan with Jock Soto and Alexandra Ansanelli with Damian Woetzel, all splendid dancers, performed a series of tortuous duets, escaping from the knots like slithery Houdinis. The women do creeping spider-walks and rollovers, then rise to do pretty bourrees that carry Ansanelli offstage as Whelan skims on.

Other high notes of the week: Firebird, Balanchine’s magical dance to Stravinsky’s folkloric music and Marc Chagall’s color-drenched backdrop paintings and costumes, lived up to expectations. Tuesday’s performance (July 16) was the occasion for Kathleen Tracey’s retirement. She was a delicate princess, skimming the floor, red chiffon veil flying from her coronet, whirling full-out, transported with the love of dance. In multiple curtain calls, Maria Kowroski added her own huge bouquet of pink roses to Tracey’s.

Young corps dancers Daniel Ulbricht and Ashley Bouder kicked butt in Balanchine’s Tarantella, originally made for Edward Villella and Patti McBride. Ulbricht, a small, compact fellow, jumped so high he nearly disappeared in the stage flies, then landed lightly only to jump again. Bouder was a pert Columbine who teased her partner with deep pliés on toe and shook her beribboned tambourine as he circled her like a whirlwind. These two are a pair to watch.

—M.G.B.


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