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New York Theater Ballet
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:07 pm ]
Post subject:  New York Theater Ballet

Brian Seibert reviews the New York Theatre Ballet at Florence Gould Hall on Friday, February 22, 2013 for the New York Times. The program included Richard Alston's "Light Flooding Into Darkened Rooms," Jose Limon's "The Moor's Pavane," the bedroom pas de deux from Antony Tudor's "Romeo and Juliet," Jerome Robbins' "Rondo" and Pam Tanowitz' "Short Memory."

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

In the New York Times, Gia Kourlas interviews choreographer Gemma Bond about her new work, "Silent Titles," set to Gottschalk piano pieces, opening on Friday, March 22, 2013 at Florence Gould Hall.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Mar 26, 2013 12:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

Alastair Macaulay reviews the Saturday, March 23, 2013 performance of Antony Tudor's "Dark Elegies," Gemma Bond's "Silent Titles," Richard Alston's "Rugged Flourish," James Waring's "Feathers" and "Eccentric Beauty Revisited" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Tue Mar 26, 2013 9:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

New York Theater Ballet
Florence Gould Hall
New York, New York
March 22, 2013

Legends & Visionaries, Program B
Silent Titles; Feathers, An Eccentric Beauty Revisited; Dark Elegies; A Rugged Flourish

-- by Jerry Hochman

New York Theater Ballet is one of those companies that, if it didn’t exist, would have to be invented. A small company (thirteen dancers), NYTB’s ‘mission’ is to provide a showcase for infrequently performed ‘chamber’ ballet masterpieces and for works by choreographers who have fallen from prominence, as well as an encouraging pathway for new, and relatively new, choreographers: that is, to combine the legendary (but under-performed or overlooked) with the emerging. Friday’s program, one of two collectively titled “Legends & Visionaries,” fulfilled this mission admirably in all respects.

The company’s performance of Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies, simply put, ranks with the finest this viewer has seen; and its presentations of two solo pieces by James Waring were painstakingly resurrected and outstandingly executed. But the world premiere of Gemma Bond’s Silent Titles, which opened the evening’s program, was equally noteworthy.

Ms. Bond is one of many of American Ballet Theatre’s corps dancers who deserve to do more than they are permitted to do – at least in ABT’s performances in New York. But NYTB has provided a nurturing environment for her choreography. A year ago, NYTB included in its program what may have been Ms. Bond’s initial publicly performed choreographic work. Called Run Loose, I described it in my review last year as a light, playful, effervescent little piece that said what Ms. Bond wanted to say quickly and efficiently. Run Loose ran only three minutes; Ms. Bond’s new work is longer and more substantial, but equally engaging.

As its title implies, Silent Titles has a silent movie ambiance, from the titles of each section that are ingeniously written on a movable board that doubles as a changing room clothes rack and male/female dressing room divider, to the sense of humor imbedded (whether intentionally or not) into silent movie movement. Choreographed to pieces by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (whose work also inspired Great Galloping Gottschalk, by Lynne Taylor Corbett for American Ballet Theatre, and Ruthanna Boris’s Cakewalk, which I saw revived by The Joffrey Ballet), the piece also is a trip to a less complicated time where going to the movies was fun and where no one took themselves too seriously. The early 1920s atmosphere is enhanced by the costumes (designed by Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan) that invoke images of Clara Bow, Pola Negri, or Louise Brooks, and the lighting (designed by Victoria Miller) that replicates the sense of looking at a silent movie screening, as well as by Gottschalk’s music. [Although his music was composed in the mid-1800s, Gottschalk was born in New Orleans, and his compositions reflect his Creole roots, in many respects anticipating ragtime and Scott Joplin).] It’s also more sensuous looking than the description ‘silent movie’ would conjure – at times I felt like I was watching moving images of Louis Icart. Michael Scales provided the live piano accompaniment

But Ms. Bond’s choreography makes the piece more than just a take on silent movies. She experiments, combining ballet steps with ‘ordinary’ movement, and adding lifts that could have been hijacked from a circus act. Nevertheless, all the disparate movement qualities meshed – partly because of its comic touch (which also camouflages awkward transitions), but also because of its ingenuity: it’s more complex than it looks. Ms. Bond took chances, and they worked. She also showed that she has not succumbed to the temptation to throw everything but the ******* sink into her choreography to match the music beat for beat. The result was a piece that was not only enjoyable, but visually interesting.

Silent Titles isn’t the greatest ballet created, but it isn’t supposed to be. It’s ‘just’ highly skillful fun, well-executed by NYTB dancers Carmella Lauer, Rie Ogura, Amanda Trieber, Marius Arhire, Mitchell Kilby, and Philip King. More importantly, it marks a milestone in Ms. Bond’s choreographic career, and presages dances of greater depth to come.

Dark Elegies is Antony Tudor’s stirring emotional study of parents’ individual, and collective, reaction to the death of children. Frequently described as a creator of ‘psycho-ballets’ (he is perhaps best known for Jardin Aux Lilas), Tudor has here choreographed not just sorrow over some heartbreaking turn of events, but the essence of grief at its most unbearable – the death of children. [The piece is choreographed to Gustav Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” (Songs on the Death of Children).] Represented by a ‘chorus’ of mourning townspeople that encircles, reflects, joins, and comforts the individual mourning parents, Tudor shows, without superfluous melodrama and on an individual and communal level, the agony of inexplicable loss, and resignation as a form of moving on, nothing more and nothing less.

I’ve seen Dark Elegies many times performed by ABT (and, like other Tudor ballets, its return to the ABT repertoire is long overdue). But as finely crafted as it is, I never got emotionally involved – I just appreciated what Tudor was doing and the quality of ABT’s dancers. But this NYTB performance was different. The dancers were superb, but I recall ABT’s dancers (I saw many different casts over the years) being superb as well. Perhaps it was the recent memory of Newtown that provoked a more emotional response, or perhaps it was the intimacy that the small performance space encouraged, but seeing Dark Elegies danced by NYTB was like seeing it anew. It was more wrenching, more sorrowful, and more personal, featuring across-the-board gripping performance by Ms. Ogura (First Song), Amanda Lynch and Steven Melendez (Second Song), Mr. Arhire (Third Song), Elena Zahlmann (Fourth Song), Philip King (Fifth Song), and accompanying members of the Chorus (Alexis Branagan, Mr. Kilby, Mayu Oguri, Melissa Sadler, and Ms. Treiber).

Last year, NYTB introduced a piece by James Waring, a New York-based choreographer from the late 1950s through the early 1970s, whose work has all but disappeared from view. NYTB deserves credit for resurrecting Mr. Waring’s very unusual and interesting dances, which were accurately described at last year's performance by guest speaker Valda Setterfield as being choreographic collages. [At this performance, Ms. Setterfield, who worked with Waring, was joined as guest speaker by David Vaughan. Their program biographies read like a history of modern dance, and each provided interesting and invaluable personal insights.]

The Waring dance at last year’s performance was An Eccentric Beauty Revisited, which I described as being a witty solo for a female dancer (Ms. Zahlmann), in which she attempts to entertain an audience, but doesn’t quite know what to do. In the process, she tries a multitude of styles that, essentially amount to a collage of everything that went before – from Nijinsky and Ballets Russes to vaudeville and dance halls, including art deco, orientalism, and ballet. As good as Ms. Zahlmann was a year ago, this time she outdid herself. Accompanied again by Mr. Scales, who this time was joined by Geert Ruelens, Ms. Zahlmann seemed more confident, more deadpan funny, and more exuberantly accomplished than she did last year. Her performance was a highlight of an evening filled with highlights.

New this year was a revival of Mr. Waring’s Feathers, danced by Mr. Melendez to excerpts from a variety of Mozart pieces arranged by Jeff Borowiec, and performed live by Mr. Scales (piano) and Robin Scales (flute). It’s a serious hoot. According to the program notes, Waring choreographed it in 1973 for Raymond Johnson, but the dance was dedicated to, and inspired by Barbette (real name: Vender Clyde Broadway, 1899-1973), who was a transvestite acrobat and trapeze artist and one of the greatest stars of the French music hall in the 1920s. Barbette also was reportedly an inspiration to, or had connections with, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Josephine Baker, Anton Dolin, and Serge Diaghilev, performed for the Follies Bergere and Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey, coached Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like it Hot,” created an aerial ballet for “Disney On Parade,” and, according to a Wikipedia article, may have been the inspiration for the German play that later became the film and Broadway musical, “Victor Victoria.”

In 1969, Francis Steegmuller, who wrote a column for the New Yorker magazine called ‘Onward and Upward with the Arts,’ devoted one of his essays to Barbette. In the column, Steegmuller quoted Cocteau as saying that Barbette “is liked by those who see him as a woman and by those who sense the man in him - not to mention those stirred by the supernatural sex of beauty." Steegmuller titled the article: ‘An Angel, A Flower, A Bird.’ The performer in Waring’s piece is all of these. [Cocteau also wrote that “Stravinsky, Auric (composer Georges Auric), poets, painters, and I myself have seen no comparable display of artistry on the stage since Nijinsky.”]

Like ‘Eccentric Beauty’, Feathers also is a choreographic collage, but in this case a collage of everything Barbette was supposed to have been, rolled into one very eccentric, very gender-bending bird-looking performer. Costumed in a ‘collage’ of basic blue feathers that both conceal and enhance the bird’s indeterminate sexuality, the piece essentially is an assemblage of choreographically connected poses that at one point accents Barbette’s female mannerisms, at another point his male character, but that somehow create a seamless portrait.

I saw Mr. Melendez with NYTB last year. I thought he was good then; he’s better now. And he was particularly good in Feathers, managing to execute the difficult poses and transmit the sexual ambiguity without sacrificing any of his character’s dignity. It’s a difficult role to portray without caricature or undue reverence, and to this viewer Mr. Melendez pulled it off. Throughout his performance, his character simply was who he was.

The evening concluded with a reprise of Richard Alston’s A Rugged Flourish, which was first performed by NYTB in 2011 and which I saw last year, with Mr. Melendez and Ms. Ogura repeating their roles as the freedom-loving faun and the nymph he selects to share his independence with. Although there’s nothing particularly unusual or innovative about the piece, it’s pleasant to watch and provides another opportunity for these NYTB dancers to excel. Ms. Branagan, Ms. Lauer, Ms. Lynch, Ms. Oguri, and Ms. Treiber comprised the balance of the bevy of enticing nymphs.

A consequence of being a small ballet company in a city that is home to ballet behemoths is being considered less valuable than the larger and more visible companies. With respect to NYTB, that would be a mistake. Under the leadership of Founder and Artistic Director Diana Byer, NYTB over the years has become a force for accessibility, preservation, and encouragement. Based on last year’s program, which included Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane, NYTB may also stimulate the bigger companies to revive long dormant productions. ABT revived The Moor’s Pavane last fall; perhaps it will soon do the same with Dark Elegies, or the complete one act version of Tudor’s Romeo and Juliet. [NYTB’s second program this year, which I have not yet seen, includes the pas de deux from Tudor’s Romeo and Juliet.] But even if the big guns don’t take the hint, knowing that NYTB is around to keep memories alive, and to create new ones, is both a comfort and a treat.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Apr 23, 2013 10:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

Adria Rolnik reviews Antony Tudor's "Dark Elegies" for the Huffington Post.

Huffington Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

In the New York Times, Brian Seibert reviews the Friday, January 24, 2014 performance at Florence Gould Hall.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Mar 04, 2014 12:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

In the New York Times, Siobhan Burke reviews Donald Mahler's "Cinderella" at Florence Gould Hall on Sunday, March 1, 2014.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri May 09, 2014 12:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

Broadway World previews Legends, an evening of Antony Tudor ballets: "Jardin aux lilas," "Dark Elegies," "Trio con brio," "Judgment of Paris" and "Soiree Musicale," May 9-10, 2014 at Florence Gould Hall.

Broadway World

Author:  balletomaniac [ Thu May 15, 2014 4:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

New York Theater Ballet
Florence Gould Theater
New York, New York

May 10, 2014
Legends & Visionaries Program:
Celebration of Antony Tudor: “Jardin Aux Lilas”; “Trio Con Brio”; “Judgment of Paris”; “Dark Elegies.”

-- by Jerry Hochman

A year ago, in a review of one of New York Theater Ballet’s programs, I suggested that the company, if it didn’t already exist, would have to be invented. One of the city’s worst kept secrets, NYTB presented another of its carefully selected programs of infrequently performed dances in its Legends and Visionaries series – an evening dedicated to a celebration of Antony Tudor, one of the 20th Century’s great choreographers.

Known particularly as an architect of what some have called ‘psycho-ballets’, Tudor – who is frequently mentioned on the same level as Balanchine, Ashton, and Robbins – explored not only movement, but movement that laid bare the innermost yearnings and the complexity of emotions of the human heart. The characters he created are ‘real’ people, they may be choreographed inventions, but they’re characters with souls. Sometimes his pieces, to me, misfire (like his “Shadowplay,” which was revived several years ago by American Ballet Theatre), but most are unforgettable (“Pillar of Fire,” his one act “Romeo and Juliet,” “Leaves Are Fading”). Last year, NYTB revived one of his masterpieces: “Dark Elegies.” This year, in addition to re-presenting “Dark Elegies,” it revived another of his masterworks, “Jardin aux Lilas,” and resuscitated two additional Tudor pieces from relative obscurity: “Judgment of Paris,” and “Trio Con Brio.” While one of these pieces was less successful, in terms of contemporary sensibilities, than others, that’s not the point. Being able to see them again, or in some cases being able to see them for the first time, is a priceless gift.

“Dark Elegies,” was the most successfully rendered of the pieces presented, and remains the finest of the performances of it that I’ve seen over the years. A meditation on the impact of the death of children, the piece, to Gustav Mahler’s “Kinderotenlieder” (Songs on the Death of Children) is divided into five distinct ‘songs’, and a brief, concluding section called ‘The Resignation’. I’d always admired the ballet’s craft, and could empathize with the emotions displayed, but I don’t recall ever being as deeply moved as I was by the NYTB performances both last year and this year.

Part of the reason for this is the staging and the space –on a smaller stage, the production is necessarily more intimate, and there’s no need for the dancer/actors to project grief on a grand scale. Coincidentally, at the performance I attended on Saturday, during a post-performance discussion, an unexpected speaker who emerged from the audience was Jane Pritchard, curator of dance for the Victoria and Albert Museum and former archivist for the Rambert Dance Company and the English National Ballet, who explained that “Dark Elegies” as well as “Jardin aux Lilas” were originally staged for smaller performance spaces (e.g., The Mercury Theater), and the transition to larger stages in America was somewhat problematic. Indeed, amplifying the sense of individual and communal suffering is antithetical to the inward thrust of the parents’ pain that Tudor here presents. The smaller space yields a performance that is more personal in its impact – the viewer is not a member of an audience watching from a distance as much as a member of the grieving community.

But part this wonderful NYTB production is also the dancing/acting. Of course, the ABT casts I’ve seen in “Dark Elegies” were extraordinary dancer/actors. But in “Dark Elegies,” where the choreographic range is less significant than the delivery of unleashed emotions, the NYTB cast was superb. The entire cast shined. I particularly appreciated the depth of the highlighted portrayals in each of the five ‘songs’ by, respectively, Rie Ogura, Carmella Lauer (together with Steven Melendez), Stephen Campanella, Elena Zahlmann, and Choong Hoon Lee. Without in any way diminishing each of these dancers’ performances, Ms. Lauer, Mr. Campanella, and Ms. Zahlmann were outstanding. The remainder of the marvelous cast included Alexis Branagan, Lauren De Maria, Giulia Faria, Seth Ives, Melissa Sadler, and Amanda Treiber.

If there is one Tudor ballet with universal appeal, it is “Jardin aux Lilas.” First choreographed in 1936, it entered the ABT repertoire in 1940. It used to be an ABT staple, but it has been infrequently scheduled in recent seasons. That’s unfortunate – it deserves to be seen more than once every six or so years. Set in Edwardian England, in a garden that is lush with green leaves and flowers, ‘Jardin’ is a hothouse of concentrated bouquet and concentrated emotions. The lead character is ‘Caroline’, and the gathering in the garden is to celebrate her betrothal. But it’s an arranged marriage, and she has no love for ‘The Man She Must Marry’. Rather, her heart is with ‘Her Lover’, who is crushed that she must marry another. But ‘The Man She Must Marry’ has a secret as well, ‘An Episode in His Past’, who yearns for him, and he for her. It all sounds a bit like the plot of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but here, with no Puck to the rescue, it’s an emotional nightmare. The genius of the piece is its revelation of the multi-faceted emotional reality, and the artificiality, of everything on stage. The real flowers, the real scent of lilacs, the real love; the artificial gathering of plants; the artificially-arranged marriage; the artificial concealment of emotions.

On the smaller Gould theater stage, the action, and the emotions, are more concentrated than at larger ABT venues, and NYTB’s dancers did a fine job with it – particularly Ms. Zahlmann’s Caroline, the character who was able to show the broadest range of emotions – passion when she was alone with Her Lover; icy despair when she was in ‘public’. The character who walks the thinnest emotional tightrope is ‘Her Lover’, played by Mr. Melendez. It must be exceedingly difficult to display passion when the passion must at the same time be hidden from view. But I would have liked a bit more of it than Mr. Melendez showed. On the other hand, he also provided a factual reference point I don’t recall seeing before – a reaction to the sound of a church-bell that, appropriately, registered instant but muted recognition, and instant but muted resignation. Ms. Ogura, on the other hand, may have expressed a bit too much overt passion – she seemed to be the least bound by the social convention that required her to keep her real emotions under wraps. Guest Artist Charles Askegard, a former ABT dancer and New York City Ballet principal, provided an appropriately wooden characterization of ‘The Man She Must Marry’.

I must concede that I’d grown accustomed to the lush set that focused the action in ABT’s production so well – and its absence here was a detriment, but an understandably necessary one. The backdrop by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith set the scene sufficiently. And if ABT continues to keep its production mothballed, it’s an excellent replacement. The costumes were loaned by ABT.

In between “Dark Elegies” and “Jardin aux Lilas” were two relatively short pieces: “Trio Con Brio” and “Judgment of Paris.” The latter is rarely seen; the former hasn’t been seen in more than sixty years.

To me “Judgment of Paris” is a two-pronged spoof – of the subject itself (the mythological ‘Judgment of Paris’), and the artificiality of ‘mythology’-based ballets in general. But what Tudor’s intentions may have been is not of critical significance here – his “Judgment of Paris” is simply hilarious. Instead of three goddesses, we have three over-the-hill ‘entertainers’ at an over-the-hill gathering place (a pub, or perhaps a nightclub long past its prime, or more likely the 1938 English version of a ‘gentlemens’ club’). A visitor, the Client (the ‘Paris-surrogate’), played by Mr. Campanella, enters the place and is seated. He’s the only person there, other than the three floozies who are seated together at a table drinking. Once the client is seated, the Waiter, played by Mitchell Kilby, signals the women to get to work. Each takes turns attempting to convince the Client to choose her (for what exactly, we don’t know) in a series of hilarious solo dances entertainingly illustrating the women’s complete disinterest. When the show is over, the Client gets robbed of whatever valuables he still has. Ms. Sadler, Ms. Zahlmann (doing a role she later said, in the post-performance discussion, that she had to play), and Diana Byer, NYTB’s Artistic Director, took turns acting up a storm. It was great fun – and showed more humor than I can recall seeing in any Tudor piece.

“Trio Con Brio” may have been the most significant piece on the program. It was choreographed by Mr. Tudor, under a pseudonym, for Jacob’s Pillow in 1952, and was unseen since then until a 16mm film of it was uncovered about two years ago by Norton Owen. The film was in terrible condition – no sound (although they knew what the composition was supposed to have been – “Dances” from “Ruslan and Ludmilla” by Glinka), grainy, staccato images, and empty space. It took two years of work to recreate, and a portion of one variation was burned out and had to be re-choreographed (by Lance Westergard).

Although I can’t claim to have seen even close to all of Tudor’s ballets, this one looks different from anything else. The piece is a plotless, classical dance with an initial movement for three, individual solos, and then a concluding segment for all. But as enthusiastically performed as it was by Ms. Treiber, Mr. Melendez, and Mr. Lee, it looks strange and dated (except for Mr. Melendez’s solo, which included the additional choreography). Perhaps Mr. Tudor had a reason to distance himself from it via the pseudonym. But none of this matters. NYTB deserves kudos for rescuing this piece from oblivion – its addition to the Tudor canon is invaluable.

Under Ms. Byer’s leadership since its creation in 1978, NYTB has proven itself to be one of New York’s greatest assets, and the most widely-seen ‘chamber’ ballet in the country. As this program demonstrates, its reputation is well deserved. Accordingly, the news, announced at the performance by Ms. Byer that the company and its school, facing imminent eviction from its current location, had found a new home at St Mark’s Church on the Bowery, was welcome news indeed. Losing this little company would have been as unfortunate, and unthinkable, as losing the dances that NYTB rescues from obscurity.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon May 19, 2014 11:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

Holly Kerr reviews the May 10, 2014 performance of "A. Tudor Celebration" for Broadway World.

Broadway World

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Aug 26, 2014 11:25 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

Allan Kozinn previews the 2014-15 season for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Sun Jan 11, 2015 5:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

New York Theater Ballet
Buttenweiser Hall
92nd St.Y
New York, New York

January 9, 2015
“Short Memory,” “Romeo and Juliet Pas de Deux,” “A Rugged Flourish,” “Rondo,” “Game Two”

-- by Jerry Hochman

Things have been difficult for New York Theater Ballet in the past year (the company lost its long-time home, and for whatever reason is performing this year in unaccustomed venues), but you wouldn’t know it from its presentation Friday night at the 92nd St. Y’s intimate Buttenweiser Hall, the first this year in the company’s annual series: ‘Legends and Visionaries’. The first half of the program (Pam Tanowitz’s “Short Memory,” Sallie Wilson’s “Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet,” and Richard Alston’s “A Rugged Flourish”) was ‘serious’, the second half (Jerome Robbins’s “Rondo,” and Mathew Neenan’s “Game Two”) was fun – but that’s not to say that either emotional trajectory distracted from the generally superb choreography and execution by the NYTB dancers. Even though the evening lacked any premieres, it was a smashing program, and another feather in the cap of company Founder and Artistic Director, Diana Byer.

The most eagerly awaited piece on the program – at least to me – was the revival of Robbins’s “Rondo.” I must admit that the piece, which premiered with New York City Ballet in 1980, is one I had not previously seen. It’s a gem.

A ‘rondo’, in musical terms, may be a particular form, as well as music of a particular character – usually both. I don’t pretend to be a music scholar, but my understanding is that in terms of form, a rondo involves a repetition of a recurring elements, sometimes referenced as couplets, within a broader theme, which itself may or may not repeat. In terms of ‘character’, a rondo is often fast-paced, allegro. An example of a rondo that captures both form and character is Mozart’s “Rondo in A Minor,” K. 511, the composition to which Robbins created his piece.

In many ways, “Rondo” bears a visual resemblance to Robbins’s “Other Dances” because it features a pair of dancers performing for each other as well as the audience (although here the pair consists of two women rather than a woman and a man), it communicates a similar sense of intimacy, and, well, it’s danced to piano music.

But the resemblance is superficial: Chopin’s music is a different form and considerably more introspective than Mozart’s exquisite playfulness, and instead of a suite of dances to various pieces of music, this is a suite of echoing couplets within overall themes. Perhaps most significantly, instead of encouraging the audience to visually eavesdrop on private moments, “Rondo” invites the audiences to, figuratively, join the fun. The lightness of mood almost, but not quite, camouflages the complexity of Robbins’s choreography, which requires not only quicksilver movement but impeccable timing. The result is a magical conversion of the devilish choreographic details into a vision of what might be a pair of angels dancing on a cloud.

Staged by former NYCB Principal Dancer Kyra Nichols, no stranger to stage magic, “Rondo” was executed brilliantly, in both form and character, by NYTB dancers Amanda Treibor and Mayu Oguri. They danced to the Mozart and Robbins excruciatingly explicit but irregular counterpoint, like fractured mirror images, with a combination of finesse and exuberance that perfectly reflected the music and the choreography. Ms. Treibor appeared somewhat more effusive, Ms. Oguri more subtle, but even this difference complemented the differences in musical and choreographic phrasing. I thought at one point that one of the dancers was slightly off the other, but they danced so skillfully that either I was mistaken, or they compensated such that the minor error, if there was one, quickly evaporated. Amid the split-second timing, these two looked like they were having a blast – but not nearly as much as the highly appreciative audience seemed to be. Remembering it still makes me smile.

I have had occasion to see only one of Matthew Neenan’s pieces previously. Last summer, The Pennsylvania Ballet presented a program in which one of his dances was performed immediately following Robbins’s “In the Night,” and Mr. Neenan’s piece suffered by comparison, even though the problem was less with his choreography than inattentive scheduling. I feared the same result for “Game Two,” which followed “Rondo” and concluded the program. Here, however, there was nothing at all similar between the two pieces except for the thoroughly engaging quality that permeated both dances. Indeed, the two complemented each other.

Following his performing career with PA Ballet, Mr. Neenan became the company’s Choreographer in Residence. He later branched out by forming his own Philadelphia-based company (which he founded together with Christine Cox), BalletX, which has a sterling reputation although I confess I have not had an opportunity to see them. I don’t know if “Game Two” is typical of Mr. Neenan’s work, but it’s wonderful.

“Game Two” is an abstract, contemporary ballet with no choreographic focal point. Nor is there an overall implicit thematic sense – other than what’s provided by the unidentified music by Georges Bizet to which it’s choreographed. But it doesn’t need either – “Game Two” is stimulating and different to watch, and it’s fun.

It’s tempting to refer to Mr. Neenan’s style, at least based on this piece, as ‘******* sink choreography’. [Note that this site has a block on the word beginning with 'k' and ending with 'n' - it's a room in which food is prepared.] Every movement quality, it seems, is mixed in. At one moment it looks light and airy, at other times weighted; and dancers move individually, collectively, in the air, on the floor, and over, under, around, or atop each other. Hands and legs appear to be thrust all over the place and out of control. Movement is backwards as well as forward, and changes of movement direction occur in a heartbeat. Solos of different character are skillfully blended with segments involving pairs, trios, and the cast as a whole. This is not a comedic dance, but the images at times are unexpectedly, but intentionally, hilarious. “Game Two” is a serious ballet that never takes itself too seriously.

And part of the reason "Game Two" is so interesting and entertaining is the spirit and capability if the NYTB dancers. There wasn't a weak link in the seven-dancer cast. Particularly outstanding was the work done by Carmella Lauer, Ching Hoon Lee, Stephen Melendez, and a company dancer I'd not previously seen, Nayomi Van Brunt. Ms. Van Brunt comes across, both here and in another piece in which she appeared, as a pixie with an engaging and magnetic personality that captures a viewer’s eye. Although they don't look at all alike, and although Ms. Van Brunt is wiry rather than athletic looking, in terms of both affect and effect, she reminds me of Carolyn Adams, an effervescent spark plug for many years with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

The Neenan piece, which closed the program, was an excellent counterpoint to the evening’s austere opening piece, "Short Memory," which was choreographed last year by Ms. Tanowitz for NYTB. “Short Memory” is also an abstract piece, not apparently 'about' anything more than bodies in motion, which may be admirable as exercises but which I often find not the least bit entertaining or stimulating. But unlike many such pieces I've seen, and even though it can look dry and dogmatic and deadly serious at times, I found Ms. Tanowitz’s piece to be endlessly fascinating, filled with startling but beautiful images that at times appear isolated and relatively rigid, like thawed memories.

"Short Memory" is choreographed to a selection of complementary pieces ("Reel," by Lou Harrison, and Henry Cowell’s "Aeolian Harp" and "Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 16 for Violin and Piano" – Harrison was one of Cowell’s students, and “Reel” was an homage to Cowell) – interspersed with periods of silence. It’s strikingly contemporary, but it hearkens back to another era – much like Cowell’s startling “Aeolian Harp” (1923) here a mid-piece transition point, still looks revolutionary but at the same time is classically soothing as strings are plucked harp-like from inside the piano.

There’s a sense of other-worldliness to the piece in which snippets of classical ballet choreographic poses and moments in time are used as distinct reference points, and are seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of the piece, as if they were reawakened memories rather than choreographic samplings. For example, Alexis Branagan and Ms. Lauer each appeared relatively stiff (intentionally) and eerily trance-like through a coordinated (but not mirror-image) sequence of ballet steps, and although the look was dramatic and shocking, at the same time it was surprisingly serene. The superb cast was completed by Elena Zahlmann, Ms. Treiber, Mr. Lee, and Mr. Melendez.

Sallie Wilson danced in the first ballet program I ever saw – in an ABT performance of “The Moor’s Pavane.” I watched her dance in other ABT performances since then – I vividly recall her performances in several pieces by Antony Tudor - and they're memories I treasure. She always impressed as a calm, somewhat haunting presence, within which one could sense a pre-eruption volcano. After her retirement, prior to her premature death in 2008, she staged many of the ballets in which she’d appeared around the world, and choreographed several of her own, including “Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet” for NYTB. Unfortunately, the pas de deux was, to me, the only off-note of the evening’s program, perhaps because it too closely mirrored the stage persona I saw in Ms. Wison.

Prokofiev’s music both invites and reflects passion, but there was little of it on display in what should be a climactic and cathartic pas de deux. Rather, the piece was delicate, and serene. One wanted to see the volcano erupt, but it was too muted, both choreographically and as executed by Ms. Zahlmann and Mr. Lee. Clearly they were would-be lovers, but the passion was muted, and there seemed little connection between them.

I saw “A Rugged Flourish” a couple of years ago, and reviewed it at that time. Although the choreography is powerful and clean as a whistle, matching the force of Aaron Copland’s “Piano Variations,” the purported showing of the sole and dominant male’s acceptance ‘of company’, as described in the program note, still rings hollow. If it were a matter of the heroic figure’s acceptance of community, why are there no male dancers among the ‘company’? Whatever Mr. Alston’s intent, and however exciting the piece is choreographically, it still looks like it’s ‘about’ a faun, Mr. Melendez, who finds himself surrounded by attractive nymphs, one of whom, Rie Ogura, he finds particularly appealing and with whom he dances a fervent duet as much about self-discovery as passion. Most striking about this year’s performance is seeing Mr. Melendez’s growth. Two years ago he was very good, and showed considerable promise; he’s now a commanding presence (in this and other dances in which he appeared), dancing with exceptional strength and clarity. Balanchine’s “Apollo” would be a stretch, but he might be able to pull it off.

The costumes in each piece, all designed by Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan, who is Resident Costume Designer for the Metropolitan Opera, were distinctive and appropriate for each piece. I particularly liked the simple but effective black with white (or pale blue) trim of the costumes in “Game Two.” And except for the recorded Prokofiev pas de deux, each piece on the program was accompanied by live music, and each piece received a finely played rendition by Michael Scales, NYTB’s Music Director (assisted by Pauline Kim Harris on violin in “Short Memory,” and by Zheng Ma on piano in “Game Two”).

NYTB will dance two more ‘Legends and Visionaries’ programs in the coming months. Based on those I’ve seen, they should not be missed.

Edited on 1/14 to correct a couple of name typos

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Jan 17, 2015 2:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

Gia Kourlas reviews the Saturday, January 10, 2015 program at the 92nd Street Y for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

Brian Seibert reviews the Saturday, February 7, 2015 performance of Donald Mahler's "Cinderella" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Feb 14, 2015 12:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York Theater Ballet

In the New York Times, Marina Harss previews the program that will be held at New York Live Arts in Chelsea beginning on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. The program includes premieres by Pam Tanowitz and Nicolo Fonte.

NY Times

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