New York Theatre Ballet tackled a thematically similar but choreographically diverse program at New York Live Arts from February 24th to 27th 2016. Presenting Legends and Visionariesproved to be the perfect title as the evening clearly displayed work by classical legend Jerome Robbins and famed British choreographer Richard Alston, while also continuing to the young, ambitious choreographers Milissa Payne Bradley and Zhong-Jing Fang in collaboration with NYTB's own Steven Melendez. The merging of Legends and Visionaries made for a diverse but surprisingly cohesive program.
The evening opened with Chemical Bond. The lights came up slowly, creating a silhouette of three dancers. The two female dancers, Amanda Treiber and Mayu Oguri, have many moments of dancing on flat in pointe shoes, a clear choreographic choice by San Francisco-based dancemaker, Milissa Payne Bradley. Choreographic themes thread shapes in the body to spatial patterns on the floor as there were many figure eights and rounded arms. Such over curves and under curves leaked the ephemeral paint of Cunningham technique that was cleaned up by the fluidity of classical ballet.
In typical Cunningham fashion, the modern costuming was based in blue shades with abstract rectangular patterns that hid the dancers' classical lines, particularly for the women.
The pianist and cellist played a delightful Gabriel Faure Serenade op. 98 Apres un Reve, and were positioned upstage right creating a visual relationship to the dancers. Joshua Andino-Nieto was one of the most exciting performer, jumping to the sky with a penetrating presence. You couldn't take your eyes off of him. The irony of Chemical Bond was there was little chemistry between the dancers and perhaps had more to do with a representation of molecules.
Such Longing, danced by Steven Melendez, Amanda Treiber, Michael Wells, and Elena Zahlmann, opened with Melendez walking downstage with a mesmerizing gaze on the audience. In an adagio, he began to dance a dated work with such relevance to our here and now. There's a sustainable quality in Melendez's movement in which the execution of steps have a ripple effect like that of a stone being tossed into a pond.
Much like Balanchine, choreographer Richard Alston understood the psychology of the audience by the deep connectivity between the dance and the music humanized by the choreography and the composition. Both compositions synchronized as the dancers became the music and the sound of the music seeped out of the joints of the dancers. Penchée attitudes dove down to the floor with a stylistically Spanish port de bras. Passésand blade hands emphasized the staccato music.
Michael Wells began the second male solo with deep chassés that resembled the opening of Melendez's' solo. The gaze downstage out into the audience was powerful as dancers danced through the extensions of the arms.
The first pas de deux danced by Steven and Amanda held seamless partnering with thematic low dips with parallel knees together en pointe. There were some moments of unsatisfying turns en pointe that fell to flat feet. The second pas de deux danced by Michael and Elena was more flirty and was gradually danced on higher levels in space incorporating lifting in the partnering. The women's bourrées covered the diagonals of the space. Amanda's solo merged into a female pas de deux that shared lovely lines that matched both ladies. As the many pas de deux progressed, allegros took over as the dancers began jumping with high focus and high lifts. The male duet was fun and filled with movement quality in the choreographic vocabulary.
The final quartet of dancers rolled along with many turns as if taken into the world of the first dancer, Melendez. Richard Alston is a master of his time, combining classical high lifts with low-level partnering work creating the beginnings and evolutions of contemporary ballet choreography. The piece was quite literally a work from the ground up.
Antique Epigraphs, originally premiered in 1984 and choreographed by Jerome Robbinsbased on the Greek Antiquities, is a dance work consisting of eight women in flowing pastel dresses, not unlike Isadora Duncan. As the lights came up revealing a straight column of ladies on stage left, the flutist began playing downstage left and two pianists were seated at the piano downstage right.
The eight dancers portrayed the powerful bond between women and the mystical flower of womanhood and the Greek goddesses. Suddenly, the Greek statues were broken up by a solo of quick chaines. Jerome Robbins' choreography fell off the legs and pushed through the space. I had an urge for the dancers to move bigger. Overall the dancers could have covered more space and looked too safe.
A quartet of ladies in peach united in a pony step en pointe. A memorable solo danced by Mayu stretched through her whole body as she extended every inch of energy out through her fingertips.
The Greek statue dancers ended in an ensemble that featured two-dimensional movement mirroring hieroglyphic communication. Although the ending of the piece had little "dancing", the strength of each pose in unison in connection with one another was the strongest section of the piece. The dancers looked like strong women in the work as the flutist brought the piece to a close.
In general "modern" walks, walking heel-toe wearing pointe shoes is a little off-putting to a classically-trained eye.
Song Before Spring was full of temptation, seduction, and change. It touched on the concept of individuality versus being like everyone else or part of a group. The relationships that were built during this piece were intriguing, similar to watching the duration of a film play out. Set to a score by Philip Glass, dancers stood invested in their characters with men dressed in business suits and ladies in dresses and soft shoes. Long extensions combined with quirky movement themes humanized the dancers. The many partnering sections opened the imagination to real characters and real relationships. All of the dancers end up walking off in the opening after spending close to a minute facing upstage, removed from the audience.
The ladies were flowers of steel as the choreography transitioned to extreme upstage en face to downstage power. The percussionists were astonishing, providing the undercurrent that moved the dance forward. Very obvious triple meters went by the wayside as the choreography ignored the impulses of the music and stayed stubbornly similar to Amanda's character. The evolving contact in the male duets and trios took on incredibly mobile and melty relationships using the floor and rolling together in an interesting boyish relationship. The use of the fetal position and acrobatic group transitions provided a sense of carefree youth and playtime. The undercurrent of Glass did not match the many moments of stillness in the choreography, leaving you waiting in line dying to move. The NYU Steel musical group was definitely worth seeing while the dancing felt inconsistently restricted.
The importance of this program is recognizing that one day our visionaries, some of which are still searching for their choreographic impact in the dance world, will inevitably become dance legends. New York Theatre Ballet remains willing and able to conquer new dances while keeping the classics on the forefront. Thanks to New York Theatre Ballet, both legendary work and new visions of ballet are a critical combination to keeping ballet alive and thriving.