Sarah Van Patten and Gennadi Nedvigin in Mark Morris’ Joyride, with costumes complete with flashing digital numbers by Isaac Mizrahi.
Program B of the New Works Festival proved, to me at least, the sleeper hit of the season. The biggest surprise was the piece that I was most wary about – Julia Adam’s A Rose by Any Other Name. It had a few factors going against it – the fact that Bach’s Goldberg Variations had already been choreographed before by Jerome Robbins, and the fact that it was a plot ballet (a remake of Sleeping Beauty). How easy is it to explain a plot by only using movement (no words) to an audience mostly unfamiliar with the classic ballet sign language, in the span of 34 minutes? With these two factors, I was suspicious of a result that would beat the classic, as well as please finicky modern palates.
Apparently success on a dangerously close-to-comparison reinterpretation of a piece can occur by choosing a movement vocabulary that’s unique to anything done previously and by using a movement language that a modern audience can easily understand. Add in a dollop of delight, humor, and a good dose of quirky novel ideas, and you end up with a completely fresh take on a classic. Using a movement vocabulary full of sharp, angular, restricted movements, reminiscent of Nijinsky’s infamous Rite of Spring that caused a violent riot in the theater audience, where body parts move in isolation to the rest of the body – first, the arms move in a sharp angle, then the leg gets pulled forward into position, and then there is a sharp head tilt in quick succession. The dancers move sharply from one pose to the next, with poses that often look like Egyptian hieroglyphics or the figures seen on the side of ancient Greek pottery, with sharp right angles at wrists and elbows and legs in parallel. This fractured way of moving actually emphasizes a lovely halting, hesitant quality in the melody of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Complete with deadpan facial expressions, the story is told purely through witty movements; even the graphic plotpoints, such as childbirth, becomes toned down when told through this atypical symbolic yet comprehensible language. Include the irony of four shirtless male fairies struggling with their identities – the Fairy of Beauty (Brett Bauer) can’t stop looking at himself in a handmirror, and the Fairy of Generosity (Daniel Devison) has a hard time letting go of the money he throws around. Add a parody of the famously difficult Rose Adagio from the original Sleeping Beauty in addition to clever staging to signify the passage of time and the fact that the story comes full circle, and you have a quirky, refreshingly original story on your hands with an appropriate nod to the past.
Lily Rogers and Tiit Helimets in Adam’s A rose by any other name.
Some might walk away feeling disappointed without the normal fluidity of classical ballet. In addition, this style of movement is the antithesis to basic ballet training; it was reflected in the fact that some dancers were much better at moving sharply from one pose to the next, fighting the usual tendency to connect each step in succession, with Lily Rogers and Kristin Long (as Princess Aurora) succeeding in this restrictive style exceedingly valliantly. I was surprised to find out about myself that I could forgo my usual penchant for fluid extensions in exchange for originality and delight. This work’s inventive charm and intelligence really made this piece my dark horse favorite for the night.
Stanton Welch’s Naked and James Kudelka’s The Ruins Proclaim the Building was Beautiful was similar in that both were deeply rooted in the classical ballet vocabulary, yet both pieces were not without its modern innovative touches. Welch’s Naked is a sparklingly neoclassical work with literal musicality set to the lush colorful music of Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos. A romantically classical piece syncopated by modern rhythms emphasized with castanets, the choreography reflected the music with a sharp releve set to the background of a pizzicato pluck in the strings, or a bouree set to a low flute trill. Kudelka’s work was more evocative of the mood of devastation and decay, like the sad beauty of a wilting rose. Complete with tattered tutus, mussy hair, and torn Victorian suit jackets on men suggestive of greater days gone by, the piece opened with the corps girls dancing facing backwards dancing with faces hidden. A muted atmosphere weighed heavily onstage, with bursts of fast movements that possessed a desperate quality, with flailing arms and surrendering bodies. The partnering was not an easy partnership and even a little threatening, especially in the central pas de deux with Yuan Yuan Tan and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, where she pushes and fights against him before surrendering in waves. The dancers were again, superb in their commitment to the choreography. Standouts in Naked included Yuan Yuan Tan and Ruben Martin in a cool elegant pas de deux, Frances Chung and Brett Bauer in a slow expansive duet with slow turns and promenades with a full phrase from a deep plie on the floor to a lift in the air. Pascal Molat’s flying jumps and dynamic turns were utilized to an extraordinary degree in this choreography.
Frances Chung and Brett Bauer in Stanton Welch’s Naked
Elana Altman and Aaron Orza in Kudelka’s The Ruins Proclaim The Building Was Beautiful.
The program closed with Mark Morris’ Joyride, composed and conducted by modern composer John Adams. Mark Morris’ famous musicality shone through, set to this almost undanceable music with changing meters and cacophonous sound, with an ultramodern sensibility and a driving chaotic push reflected in the music. The flashy futuristic costumes designed by frequent collaborator Isaac Mizrahi shone in different tones of gold unitards with digital screens that continuously flashed numbers which lent a sense of movement even in complete stillness. Changes in meter are accentuated by points in the music, with random partnerings carrying little personal connection and accidental bypassing lifts. Women lean to deep penchees holding onto a man’s waist for support while he walks away from her. Fast spins finish with a casual saunter off stage. From the frenzied, guarded, pointed, jubilant, and watchful – the piece ventures into all these territories at breakneck exhilarating speeds. A random kiss is shared in complete silence – is this Morris’ version of the mint on the pillow? This is definitely a piece that requires a second viewing in order to take in all of its multilayered complexity.
Elizabeth Miner and Pascal Molat in Morris’ Joy Ride.
Jennifer Stahl and Rory Hohenstein in Morris’ Joy Ride.
No number of words can be enough to describe the breadth of the diversity of movement presented in this program. This program didn’t have the sense of arduous striving to be serious or deep. It was actually fun and intellectually engaging. With its modern innovation and a good helping of intelligence and charm, this program is my personal favorite in the New Works Festival. And I approve this message!
Program B of the New Works Festival: this link includes a preview video of the pieces in Program B
All photos Â© ErikTomasson