DanceView Times, New York edition
Debussy, Brahms and Bach at Juilliard
Dances Repertory Edition 2004
The Juilliard Theater Orchestra recently performed a varied and richly satisfying program of Debussy, Brahms and Bach—and the impressive sounds coming from the pit were not even the primary attraction. The annual showcase for Juilliard's dance students was a solid program of works from the past three decades by three established modern-dance choreographers with distinctive styles, one of them a true master.
In past years, these concerts used to include a ballet (or quasi-ballet) work by someone such as Hans van Manen or one of the faculty's ballet specialists, and at times ventured into original choreography by young choreographers, often with a Juilliard connection. Now that the Juilliard Dance Division, under the direction of Lawrence Rhodes, has instituted a December showcase for choreography created specifically for the students, this spring event allows them to find their way into works created for the company members who work regularly with choreographers.
The intensely supple shapes and twisting, fluid partnering of Nacho Duato's 1991 Duende (staged by Kim McCarthy) show him still working in a style deeply influenced by Jiri Kylian in this early work. His response to three sensual, languid Debussy chamber scores is movement that develops in abrupt stops and starts. He takes yoga positions and adds surprising punctuation marks to them, turns his dancers into insect-like creatures of boneless pliability, and ask them to move with the same illusion of well-oiled knee joints that Kylian often favors. One striking (and often gasp-inducing) image followed another, and one could only be impressed by Duato's ingenuity and the dancers' brave, wholehearted plunge into his intricate moves. But there was little organic connection to the music. One missed the sense that these movements sprang from Duato's personal, instinctive response to Debussy. What remained once the work was over was a series of vivid snapshots of vivid, often surprising moments (such as the conclusion of a duet which found the woman suspended in an "angel balance" on the upstretched legs of her prone partner, seeming to lie on her back in the air) but not the satisfaction of a completed journey.
The roiling, onrushing opening of Lar Lubovitch's 1985 A Brahms Symphony evokes a tidal wave along which are borne the four soloists, two men and two women whose tropical-colored costumes make them stand out amid the eight black-clad members of the ensemble. Lubovitch's movement (staged here by company alumnae Peggy Baker and Rebecca Riegert) requires open torsos and full-bodied dynamism, and the Juilliard cast was not as completely conversant in his language as they were in Duato's; some of the backs could have used more flexibility.
The soloist roles were shaped around the qualities of four of Lubovitch's most distinctive company members: Christine Wright, Nancy Colahan, Rob Besserer and Doug Varone's most distinctive company members: Christine Wright, Nancy Colahan, Rob Besserer and Doug Varone. With Besserer himself in the house, it was difficult not to miss the heroic grandeur and peerless phrasing he brought to his role, although Anthony Smith, a less powerfully built, but vividly articulate dancer did quite well in the part. Cynthia Welik was notably expressive and spontaneous in Colahan's role.
The audience cheered effusively as the curtain went up on Paul Taylor's Esplanade, as though greeting an old friend—or perhaps welcoming the one true masterwork on the program. This version, staged by Taylor alumna and Juilliard dance faulty member Linda Kent, restored the role of the woman in pink (originally Carolyn Adams) to its rightful place. These days, the Taylor company dances a version in which that role and the one of the woman in red (Lila York in the original) have been to some extent combined. This Juilliard staging made for a better balance between the female roles, and allowed for more distinctive personlaities to emerge.
It also—thanks to the orchestra's crisp, energized performance of the Bach violin concertos—allowed one to appreciate anew how brilliantly and instinctively musical Taylor's choreography is. When the woman in red (Julia Boudreaux) jumps playfully over the reclining bodies of several others, each jump and skip punctuates a musical note. The hectic succession of women leaping into men's arms in the final movement was especially thrilling as one oculd feel the dancers playing off the music's energy.
The Juilliard cast gave an amiable, fresh reading of this timeless work, while not probing as deeply into its shifts of mood and hints of subtle relationships as one might find in a Taylor company performance. The first movement was not as natural; one missed the sense of carefree frolicking, and the enigmatic second movement did not resonate as deeply as it might. Still, this was a strong performance that closed the evening on a definite high note, and the nine dancers performing this unique choreography certainly have gained an invaluable learning experience.