writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

BalletMet's Manhattan Debut

BalletMet Columbus
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
May 29, 2004

By Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter
published June 2, 2004

BalletMet Columbus gained a certain level of recognition over 20 years ago, when its director was John McFall, from whom Baryshinikov commissioned several ballets (anyone remember Follow the Feet?). It's hard to believe that this Ohio-based company, which has a solid 26-year history and an impressive record of commissioning 63 original works, has never been seen in Manhattan until now. For its local debut, it brought a triple bill including works by two choreographers with major international careers—James Kudelka and Stanton Welch—and by the lesser-known Deanna Carter, a Seattle native who is currently a ballet mistress/choreographer based in Germany. All three dances were created for the company's dancers and premiered within the past 15 months.

BalletMet's repertory leans heavily on the classics—surprising for a 28-member troupe—including versions of Cinderella, Coppelia and Sleeping Beauty by the current artistic director Gerard Charles. But they clearly have a strongly contemporary side as well, and that's what they brought to the Joyce.

Carter's Colores de Alma (Colors of the Soul might be a rough translation) at first looks like an attractive, non-threatening venture into Nacho Duato land —Kylianesque pliable and sleek modern phrases set to emotionally charged folk-flavored music. The music is not identified, but aside from a few throaty, growling traditional Flamenco vocals, it consists of rhythmically propulsive, earthy yet contemporary Spanish vocal selections. The costumes are charcoal grey sleek tops and pants for the men, and subtly styled variations on leotard-and-flowing-skirt practice clothes for the women, in shades of rust, rose, burnt orange—colors that quietly approach full-fledged red but never quite get there.

There is nothing earthshakingly novel in Carter's choreography, but it has many strengths. It showcases the 15 dancers very well and is artfully interwoven with its music. There are many partnered sections, often with multiple couples performing the same patterns in sequence. The partnering is quietly sensual; this is a work that firmly delineates between male and female movement, without venturing into clichés. The men don't stomp or preen or imitate flamenco dancing at all, but they are quietly assertive, and the women revel in the curves and sculptural flow of their movement.

Carter chose the familiar suite form, in which one selection follows another until she decides it is time to sum up. The work thus had a pleasant, lyrical flow but no obvious structure; it was substantial and varied, but not overly extended. A few sections made a stronger impact than the rest: a sprightly trio in ¾ time, and an intriguing slow unison section for the men, in which Carter blended a series of yoga moves emphasizing balance and control into a seamless, fluid continuum. She ended the work authoritatively, with a well-chosen, strongly rhythmic piece of music to which she set a dynamic crescendo of accumulating couples; their momentum was irresistible. The lighting throughout highlighted the choreography's strength and enhanced the work's emotional pull.

The straightforwardness of Carter's opus stood in contrast to the two concept-driven efforts by the better-known choreographers. Neither Kudelka's nor Welch's ballet resembled any of their more familiar works for New York-based companies or other large troupes who have presented their work. Kudelka's Gazebo Dances was a perplexingly quirky bit of purported Americana, set to a terrific, punchy old-meets-new score for wind band by John Corigliano. Kudelka makes the dancers, the men particularly, look goofy and gauche, saddling them with odd costumes (in white with blue or red trim and accessories) that are truly distracting. For the men, these are a cross between boys' knickers and a nerdy golf outfit.

Five men jump frequently and stiffly during the robust Overture. The movement becomes calmer and more dense during Corigliano's vigorous, syncopated Waltz ushers in four couples. The women's toe shoes seem almost an afterthought; they bob up and down on pointe but do very little dancing that really moves through space. The gimmick during the meandering duet performed by Carrie West and Jimmy Orrante is that she covers one eye with her hand nearly al the time, while he covers is mouth. They stay linked together as much as possible within these limitations. Are we to interpret them as keepers of momentous secrets? Where do they come from and how do they fit in with the youthful bobbing community that was introduced earlier? They eventually walk quietly off stage, taking their mysteries with them, and things brighten for a quick final Tarantella, in which a central man wears a tall red, white and blue hat that evokes Uncle Sam. The others taunt him and eventually push him away. Later, a guy strolls on sucking his thumb. There is a general air of celebration in the air, until things end abruptly and inconclusively.

Perhaps a greater familiarity with the music of the rock group Moby is required in order to absorb the full impact of Welch's Play, which is the opening section of his three-part full-evening work Evolution: Mozart to Moby that BalletMet premiered in April. Despite the title (which is taken from the 1999 Moby album from which the music is taken), it's not a particularly playful piece—nor is it especially dancey. It's one of those works where the dancers wear street clothes and let their hair loose, coming across as defiantly contemporary—as "real people," not dancers. It alludes to isolation within a crowd, hectic rushing towards a dubious goal, chance encounters and spiritual emptiness.

At the start, we seemed to have entered Ohad Naharin territory, as the 16 dancers were arrayed all over the stage, seated near random items of clothing (jackets and shirts) which they gradually put on. A dreamy wash of electronic music bathed them as they stood, staggered, and assisted one other. A brisk, rhythmic ensemble section to a steady rock beat was notable for the way random patterns gradually resolved themselves into more orderly ones. A central couple, brought into focus during the opening section, has recurring but inconclusive encounters as the work progresses. The music is a puzzling array—some sections feature gentle pulsating solo piano, while others are over-produced layered adaptations of spirituals—most recognizably, "You May Run Home for a Long Time" which is familiar from Ailey's Revelations. Welch is clearly trying to do Something Different, but the overall effect is muddled. Perhaps seeing Play in context of the full evening would make a stronger case for what he is trying to communicate here. The dancers gave it their all, never drawing attention to themselves, but meeting his demands with powerfully focused and committed performances.

First:  Dancers of Ballet Met in Deanna Carter's Colores de Alma.   Photo: Manjari Sharm.
Second: the company in Stanton Welch's Play.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 20
June 2, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter



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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 June 2, 2004