writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Small masterpieces and new works

Monotones I & II/Tarantella/Milk Pool/Staged Fright
ABT Studio Company
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
April 1, 2004

by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2004 by Mary Cargill
published 11 April 2004

The ABT Studio Company gave their spring performance at the Joyce Theater. The company usually performs works choreographed for them, and while the dancing is often good, the quality of the works themselves has varied. This season the repertory included works by the great choreographers George Balanchine and Sir Frederick Ashton, along with two new works. The Ashton and Balanchine were intriguing contrasts, one a spunky, sparkling pas de deux full of ribbons and charm and the other an abstract leotard ballet with lots of nose to knee extensions. It is a tribute to the choreographers’ versatility that the first was by Balanchine and the second by Ashton.

Monotones I & II is a set of pas de trios to music by Eric Satie, and is one of Ashton’s most pure and lyrical pieces. The first is danced by two women and one man in identical yellow leotards with oddly shaped headdresses; Ashton himself designed the costumes, and so the hats are sacrosanct, but in the intimate Joyce, they looked a bit like mushroom stems on steroids. But the choreography, with its undercurrents of unease and intriguing patterns, is always hypnotic. The two women were a bit deadpan, possibly concentrating on the intricate choreography, but Grant DeLong, with his noble carriage and understated yet dominate stage presence, was very impressive. He was in no way acting, yet he created a sense of searching, of a quiet yet haunting restlessness.

Monotones II, in white leotards, is to some extent, the mirror image of its companion. There are two men and one woman, and the atmosphere is of an unearthly serenity. Melanie Hamrick has the fluid, easy extensions the piece needs, but there was not party trick feeling; this was dance, not gymnastics. The trio could have used a bit more uniformity, some of the balances were a bit wobbly, and no, neither man made me forget Anthony Dowell, but both pieces were performed honorably, and in this Ashton-deprived era, were very welcome.

Balanchine’s Tarantella is certainly familiar, and the performers, Ana Sophia Scheller and Blaine Hoven, danced with gusto and witty timing. Hoven could have used a little more flash in his expression, to match the flash of his dancing, but it was a great little lollipop.

The obscurely titled Milk Pool, a premiere by Laura Gorenstein Miller, was, unfortunately, not milky enough and was a very dreary pool. It had a rag-tag collection of music, from bits of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater to a Spanish folk song by way of electronic beeps by Rob Cairns. The choreography consisted mainly of bare-legged girls in navel-baring skimpies staring balefully at the audience with a “My figure is much better than yours will ever be” strut. It concluded with the extremely game Aaron Scott and Abigail Simon doing a combination of gymnastics and kiddy porn; both dancers deserved far better choreography.

Fortunately, they, and the rest of the company, did get a much better work in Brian Reeder’s Staged Fright, to music (apparently a symphony, but there was no information in the program) by Bernard Hermann, of Citizen Kane fame. Reeder has choreographed other works for the Studio Company; the surprising and witty Lost Language of the Flight Attendant and the comic, but far too long, Tea & Temptation. Staged Fright is a pure dance piece, with some comic quirks, and was accomplished and confident. Hermann’s music is rhythmic and atmospheric, and Reeder caught its 1950’s frantic side very well. The girls were in basic black and the men’s costumes hinted at grey flannel conformity. The scherzo, a conga line through the eyes of Charles Addams’, was the most inventive section, but I also enjoyed the adagio. Grant DeLong was the man alone, Melancholic’s cousin, but without any hyperventilating melodrama. He was eventually joined by Melanie Hamrick, and they had an ecstatic pas de deux, familiar to anyone who has seen ice dancing, and then she leaves him, while bourréeing backwards, but the movement was so keyed to the music that it looked fresh.

The finale, with Lara Bossen as the hostess with the leastest, a Myrta who poisons her guests, was a bit under choreographed—the music called for movement, but the couples just stood there—but showed a real ability to convey meaning through steps. As always, the company looked rehearsed, eager, and talented, and are ready for real choreography. Fortunately, thanks to Ashton and Balanchine, they got some.

Photo: Dancers of ABT Studio Company.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 13
April 12, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Mary  Cargill



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on January 11, 2004