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Benjamin Millepied and Company

'Silence Text,' 'Closer,' 'Short Lived,' 'Phrases Now'

A Star Still Rising

by Cecly Placenti

March 17, 2006 -- Joyce Theatre, New York City

Looking at the brilliant, steady climb of New York City Ballet principal Benjamin Millepied’s career, one might chalk it all up to luck and destiny. On closer examination, however, one would see that Millepied combines hard work, an expansive and searching mind, and great attention to detail with his good fortune. Aside from his principal position at NYCB, Millepied is also a much sought after choreographer. After being invited by Peter Martins in 2002 to participate in City Ballet’s New York Choreographic Institute, Millepied embarked down a duel avenue in his illustrious career. Playing impresario this time around at the Joyce Theatre, Millepied lined up a quartet of world premieres from four of the most exciting and up-and-coming choreographers of the contemporary dance world.

Opening the evening was Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti’s “Silence Text” which utilizes the bodies of the five dancers to create the piece’s score. The dancers’ movements on the microphoned stage create a computer-generated musical soundscape in which this world premiere unfolds. This spare work, which Veggetti describes as “control of weight within the ballet tradition,” juxtaposes stillness with finely balanced partnering. The three women dancers are on pointe and wearing simple black leotards and tights. The men are also in simple black.  Furthering the minimalism, there is no scrim or curtains hiding the exposed brick of the back wall of the stage. There are microphones with lights on them hanging down onto the stage which the dancers manipulate with their hands and bodies, sometimes breathing into them or tossing them in wide arcs over the stage and producing loud vaporous wind noises.  Veggetti’s choreography for “Silence Text” is also minimal and unpretentious, reminiscent of post-modern dance more than contemporary ballet. The mood was dark and at times the sound score was bothersome and too abrasive. The concept and choreography were interesting and exploratory, the use of pointe shoes an added ingredient to the juxtaposition, but the overall piece could have been just as effective if slightly shorter in length.

Benjamin Millepied’s duet “Closer,” choreographed for American Ballet Theatre principals Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel, employs a classical foundation with a modern sensibility. Stepping in for Stiefel, who was plagued with a knee injury, Millepied moves audiences with his effortlessness, his wonderfully pure and unforced dancing, his soaring leaps and floating landings. He phrases his movements with a complete lack of mannerism or affectation and a sensitive attention to detail. The duet, an intimate and tender relationship between a man and a woman danced to live piano accompaniment by Pedja Muzijevic, is a study in simplicity and the organic unfolding of movement. Ballet can tend to be flashy and sterile at times, but Millepied seems to have a penchant for thoughtful movement more concerned with expression and quality.

“Short-Lived,” a piece for four dancers choreographed by Aszure Barton, was unique in that the phrases grew out of the dancers personal styles of movement. This fact made each of the dancers captivating and equally strong. Of special note, however, was Charissa Barton who is an extremely engaging and present performer, intense in her gaze and involvement. The piece started out quite enjoyable yet seemed to go nowhere and drag on for too long. I found myself losing interest in its eccentricities long before the lights came down. Overall I would have to say the same for much of this show. Even the intermissions and pauses between pieces were unnervingly long! This evening, hosting only four pieces, lasted nearly 3 hours.

Ending the evening was Andonis Foniadakis’ “Phrases Now,” a non-stop aggressive work for four men and one woman. The piece blurs the boundaries between the sexes in a primal and spontaneous battle of movement set to an original somewhat abrasive sound score by Julien Tarride. Illuminating the psychological aspects of dance and cutting against the type of movements sometimes expected of the different sexes, “Phrases Now” is highly charged and fast paced. Ula Sickle threw her body around the stage, long black hair flying, and it seemed her head was never looking out or held on balance. Sean Suozzi was notable for his ability to move so pristinely and cleanly even at such fast speeds and with such large violent movement. My complaint about this piece as well was its length. At several moments I was expecting it to wind down, but it kept going. Its monotonous fast pace and music lulled the audience a bit and could have been more effective in less time.

While I admire Benjamin Millepied for his far reaching vision and intelligence -- his ingrained sensibility to think not in terms of modern or ballet dance but in terms of talent and if a work speaks to him or not, I was not overly enthusiastic about this performance.

Nevertheless, he is still a star on the rise finding his voice and honing his skills as a performer, choreographer, and producer.

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