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Strength and Grace
By Mae G. Banner

Paradigm
Jacob’s Pillow, July 18

Paradigm, a dance trio founded in 1998, breaks new ground, defying and casting aside expectations about who can dance, or (more thick- headedly) who should dance.

Carmen deLavallade, Gus Solomons Jr. and Dudley Williams brought to bear worlds of experience and depths of understanding as they performed a set of miniatures—six dances, including four premieres—at the Duke Studio Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow. They were joined by guest artists Martine van Hamel, Hope Clarke, Keith Sabado, Johannes Wieland, and cellist Jesse Levy.

This is no ordinary dance troupe. Among them, they have danced with Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Talley Beatty, Donald McKayle, Mark Morris, Katherine Dunham, the Bejart Ballet Lausanne, and American Ballet Theater. They have seen it all, done it all and continue to do more.

Perhaps their strongest qualifications are their birth dates: deLavallade, 1931; Williams, 1938; Solomons, 1940; van Hamel, 1945.

Solomons, who founded the group, says in the program notes, “I am dancing on momentum now. You can do more on momentum than on muscles.” Indeed, he moves with hieratic pride, his craggy profile lifted, his long legs stepping or striding like a god who has descended from his pedestal to walk among his worshippers.

He was an African king in One, a premiere by Wieland to music of Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, a king from a culture that never allows the ruler’s feet to touch the ground. Wieland and Sabado, the youngest dancers onstage, lifted Solomons and bore him aloft like a fierce icon. Later, they sat before him and rolled on the floor until Solomons lifted them, one with each of his arms.

Sabado and Wieland move faster and more flexibly, but Solomons is more powerfully present, even in stillness. At the dance’s end, he places his palms like calipers on his head, his jaw, his cheeks, taking the measure of his solid, mystical self.

Not all the dances were solemn. It All (2001) by Dwight Rhoden, and set to music of Björk, cast Solomons and deLavallade as a couple who have lived together through better and worse. They know each other’s thoughts. They complete each other’s movements. He touches her hip and sets her traveling. She stops, intending to stay where she’s planted, but goes with him when he extends his hand. He falls and she wills him to rise by the force of her gestures alone. They dance together, deeply.

Far, Near, Never (2004) by Wendy Perron was a self-mocking piece for ABT’s van Hamel as a balletic diva, who turned her annoyance and then her seductive charm on Jesse Levy, as he played parts of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.

Van Hamel, in a fluttery pink-flowered dress, fresh coiffure, earrings and heels, opens her balletic arms to accept applause. She dances in smug triumph with little leaps and flowing arms that suddenly begin to jerk and shudder. Then, she begins an exquisite vocal duet with Levy—they both are accomplished singers—that propels her to a raised platform downstage. Here, she poses like a comic odalisque, one knee bent, the other leg extended up and outward. She becomes the soul of the cello as Levy plays, her arms working, her back arching in pained ecstasy. It’s beautiful, and it’s a hoot.

Dudley Williams has been the soul of Ailey’s Revelations, dancing the fervent solo, I Want To Be Ready. With Paradigm, he shared the stage with Hope Clarke and Solomons in Texture (2004), to a text by Kay Cummings.

Each dancer speaks, recalling fragments of old family stories.These nuggets are punctuated by strong gestures, balled fists, arms that brush away falling leaves, pacing that continues faster and faster. Speech and gesture are equally central to these ambiguous tales that are turned and handled like old wood tools, well-polished from use.

In Solomons’ trio Gray Study (1998), he marched with Williams and Clarke in a strict floor pattern. They wear sweeping greatcoats, gray, with silk linings that show brilliant slices of color as the dancers stride in rhythm. As the dance progresses, the three spin off to do their own dances, all on stage at once. They remove the coats and fashion them into colorful props or additions to their white costumes. Clarke acquires a red overskirt, Solomons a green dancing partner draped over his shoulder, and Williams a purple flag to unfurl.

The program ended with a premiere, Verdi for Three by Richard Move, in which deLavallade, in a black gown with sculpted roses at the shoulders, danced a burning flamenco, reminding us that the greatest dancers are the oldest.

Exquisite Gems

New York City Ballet
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 13-17

Big things happened onstage during New York City Ballet’s second week at SPAC. The biggest was the revival of Jewels (1967) George Balanchine’s distillation of the spirit of three great cities: Paris, New York, and St. Petersburg. Balanchine matches the movement to the music—Faure, a jazzy Stravinsky, and an incandescent Tchaikovsky—and calls his choreographic gems Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds.

New sets by Peter Harvey and newly glowing redo’s of Karinska’s costumes grounded the abstract Jewels, adding a sense of place. We’ve waited since 1998 to see Jewels again. Three performances were barely enough.

Jenifer Ringer and Miranda Weese gave luxurious performances in Emeralds. Their arms enfolded the air as if they were gathering up mounds of cashmere shawls. Their feet made effervescent little runs, like pouring champagne.

In Rubies, big, bold Teresa Reichlen, standing out from the corps, stole the spotlight from Nikolaj Hubbe and Yvonne Borree in the eye-popping showgirl role. She woke up the whole dance—a good thing, because Borree seemed flaccid. Also, the miscast Hubbe had the steps but not the swing, like a European band playing American jazz.

Diamonds was a promise fulfilled, set in an ice-blue grotto hung with asymmetrical clusters of blinding gems. Everyone wore classic white tutus. All the women had flashing tiaras. The choreography stems from Petipa, the Imperial Russian ballet master. Wendy Whelan was icy fire, commanding the stage with her long legs and perfect placement. Her duet with Nilas Martins recreated the enchanted lovers of Swan Lake.

The final, extravagant polonnaise fills the stage with couples, stepping hugely on a diagonal path. This is ballet at its grandest.

Two premieres captured attention. Christopher Wheeldon’s Shambards locates a forceful Jock Soto in a somewhat menacing Scottish wood. Here, he encounters Miranda Weese, an otherworldly sylph. She tempts him, but weakly. She never stretches to her full height, but is always bending forward, her shoulders rounded, her head down. Rather than flying, as sylphs should do, she sinks to the ground, repeatedly.

For his part, Soto catches her or pulls her up, whirls her around, then pushes her down with his knee or slides her along the floor on one toe. He seems to be stalking her, pushing or pulling her to him, according to changes in James MacMillan’s refracted music. Finally, inflamed by a sudden, lurid red light that ignites the woods, Soto seems to dance Weese to death.

All this happens in the central movement. In the surrounding movements, we get to see the wonderful ballet corps do Wheeldon’s version of Riverdance to the reels hidden in MacMillan’s music like tangled roots on the forest floor. These brief snatches of line and circle dances are hearty and acrobatic, but are snuffed out, like the sylph, who returns in the last movement, only to die once more. As Soto drags her upstage by one limp arm, the whole corps falls, supine, on the ground. Oh, Scotland, I fear your dancing days are done.

Shambards, for all its menace, is handsomely lit and costumed and vividly danced. The other premiere, Boris Eifman’s Musagete, is not fit for this beautiful company. Commissioned from the Russian choreographer to celebrate this year’s Balanchine centennial, Musagete is costume jewelry to Balanchine’s pure diamonds.

Of course, there is only one Balanchine; yet, though he can never be duplicated, he shouldn’t be insulted. Musagete (leader of the muses) portrays him, Hollywood biopic style, as a suffering artist who writhes in agony as he tries to create a dance. Robert Tewsley in white T-shirt and black tights, with his hair slicked back, is made to play this caricature.

In fact, Balanchine said, (I’m paraphrasing), inspiration doesn’t wait on union hours. He showed up at the theater every morning and went to work making amazing dances.

I saw little inspiration in Eifman’s cluttered choreography, set to a pastiche of Bach and a final, very Russian excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

The luckiest and most fervent NYCB fans come every night to see something unexpected and wonderful. At the July 17 gala, Jock Soto was showered with flowers after dancing his last performance in Saratoga, a sculpted Barber Violin Concerto. Soto will retire after the spring 2005 season at Lincoln Center, and a loving audience gave him an emotional sendoff.

Finally, peppery corps dancer Megan Fairchild and principal Benjamin Millepied raised Peter Martins’ throwaway dance Zakouski to a new level. A plate of four tidbits set to gypsy-tinged music of four Russian composers, Zakouski is usually tossed in as a palate-cleaner between more substantial dances. Fairchild’s vivacity and Millepied’s nuanced interpretation made a full meal of it.

—Mae G. Banner


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