fete: the New York City Ballet at SPAC.
Mae G. Banner
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
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
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
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.
New York City Ballet
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.
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
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
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
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.