writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

From the Sublime to the Clueless

Joyce Theater
New York, NY
March 16, 2004

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter

You can't fault Peter Boal for the degree of contrast he provided within the confines of his chamber-sized troupe and its debut program. First, there was the contrast between two New York City Ballet veteran principal dancers—Boal (with the company since 1983) and Wendy Whelan (since 1986) —who brought their established personas and accumulated history to the project, and two fresh new faces from the company's corps de ballet, Sean Suozzi and Carla Körbes, both members of the company since 2000.

There was also choreographic contrast, between the all-American directness and joy of Pergolesi, Twyla Tharp's brilliant joyride to Baroque music and three works in the ever-expanding (and annoying) Forsythean mode—in this case one by Forsythe himself, two by choreographers who display an admiration for his aggressive, self-consciously edgy "take that" approach to choreography.

Also intriguing was the extreme contrast between the two male solos that began the program. There is a vast stylistic chasm between Boal, a vision of serenity in gleaming white casualwear by Isaac Mizrahi, deftly gamboling and teasing his way through five selections of Pergolesi music, and Suozzi in Marco Goecke's Mopey: a tense, hooded figure in black, lurching and grabbing hold of his chest as if to keep himself together. (Not to mention the contrast between smart, witty, choreography a dancer can sink his teeth into and a movement study that quickly turns into a frustrating dead end.)

In fact, it seemed as though the whole program was set up to make Tharp look good. Strong as the dancers were, the evening was a downhill affair once Boal had put his own luminous, courtly stamp on Pergolesi, which Tharp created for Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1994. (The solo is an adaptation of what was originally a duet for him and Tharp herself, performed on their 1992 "Cutting Up" tour.) Classical elegance personified, Boal brought a more studied, less spontaneous accent to the slippery shifts of weight and direction than the role's creator. The sly humor of the piece was delivered charmingly, but not quite as effortlessly, which is only natural—by the time she made this work for Baryshnikov, Tharp had nearly two decades of experience with his unbelievable control and gift for gentle mimicry, and she embedded throwaway "laugh lines" in many places. There are even references to his Push Comes to Shove persona, and echoes of some of the jokes Jerome Robbins inserted in Other Dances.

Boal, our ideal contemporary Apollonian danseur, brought a gleaming purity to the work, and was exquisite in the adagio sections, just as he has always been in the profound male solo in Square Dance. His eloquent penché arabesque in the fourth section left a potent after-image, and throughout that somber adagio he seemed to be confronting some ineffable sorrow. He also flashed a more playful side, especially as he sped through the rapid-fire collection of Famous Ballet Images—everything from the Sylph's beating wings to the Prodigal Son's iconic arms to the "you must die" crossed arms from Giselle—in the third section.

Hopefully, Boal will continue to perform this challenging suite and it should be fascinating to watch him grow into it. It already ranks up there with his other roles (one thinks of Apollo, Square Dance, Opus 19) in which he wears white and fuses his innate nobility with deeply expressive plastique.

Suozzi, who had worked on an earlier solo with Goecke (a German choreographer who honed his craft at the Stuttgart Ballet) for NYCB's New York Choreographic Institute, brought plenty of dynamic intensity to his solo Mopey, dancing much of the time with his back to the audience, flailing and lunging in direct contrast to the upbeat music by C.P.E. Bach that propelled the first half. Once his hooded sweatshirt was gone, his back, twisted and contorted, and his agonized quirky gestures (thumping his chest, pulling at his face) let us know this was one troubled dude. The music for the second half was by a group called The Cramps, but it sounded like a remix of old Beach Boys songs. This is the kind of choreography that a dancer probably gets a charge out of doing, but its meandering stirng of self-conscious effects did not add up to a coherent piece.

Forsythe's Herman Scherman Pas de deux is familiar from the NYCB repertoire, and its edgy, daringly abrupt off-center moves have always suited Whelan well. They do not come as naturally to Boal, but he plunged in gamely, seeming to relish the confrontational face-off that Forythe turns partnering into. He and Whelan shared an obvious and delightful rapport. The less said about the pale yellow skirts that both dancers change into offstage halfway through the piece, the better.

Alleyne, who has choreographed for NYCB, also passed through Stuttgart. 2nd Prologue, his trio for Körbes, Boal and Suozzi, stayed away from the Forsythean edginess he sometimes favored but traded it in for shapeless blandness. Arranged in overly meticulous shapes and taking turns partnering each other (with the outsider more or less biding time till it was his/her turn to get involved again), the dancers looked dutiful and earnest, but perplexed by exactly what they were supposed to be doing. Timothy Sullivan's gentle continuum of sound did not offer any guideposts as to where we were or what this was supposed to be. Even with the ravishing Körbes, who moves with lushness and intelligence, at its center, the work remained clueless. It was all decorative and decorous, and went on far too long to support the bland material. The threesome did look stunning in Mark Zappone's intriguingly cut, clingy maroon costumes.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 12
March 22, 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 January 11, 2004