New York Theater Ballet at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival

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Harkness Dance Festival: New York Theatre Ballet Martha Clarke’s The Garden of Villandry (1979) Photo © 2017 Richard Termine.

Harkness Dance Festival: New York Theatre Ballet
Martha Clarke’s The Garden of Villandry (1979) Photo © 2017 Richard Termine.

New York Theater Ballet
92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival
February 26, 2017

One of the pleasures of this presentation was its immediacy as the small setting brought the dancers very close to the audience. To the performers’ credit, the strain and difficulty of executing many challenging positions and lifts rarely showed.

The program, three lesser-known works by Antony Tudor paired with two dances made by choreographer Martha Clarke who studied with Tudor at Julliard, was a look back at some mid-20th century works. The most successful offerings were Tudor’s Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet danced by lyrical Elana Zahlmann and Steven Melendez, both marked by flowing lines in body and costume and Clark’s Nocturne featuring Guyonn Auriau.

Photo: Harkness Dance Festival: New York Theatre Ballet Martha Clarke’s Nocturne (1994). Photo © 2017 Richard Termine.

Photo: Harkness Dance Festival: New York Theatre Ballet
Martha Clarke’s Nocturne (1994). Photo © 2017 Richard Termine.

Nocturne takes a dark look at age, perhaps in the form of an aging ballerina, who appears in a long white tutu, with a veil around her head and face and bare breasts that she shields with a crooked arm or her skirt. At the end, as Auriau unwound a red ribbon to use as a cane and hobbled out of the dim light, it was hard to remain unmoved even though I found the veiled head a bit—intentionally—creepy.

Tudor’s 1951 Les Mains gauches, created in 1951, revolves around fate with humorous forecasts represented by a hangman’s noose for the man and a rose for the woman. The stunning, angular costumes were by Sylvia Taalson Nolan. The couple briefly danced with a second woman whose teasing appearance leads to the pair separating although no one knows what lies ahead.

Garden of Villandry, the last piece on the program, shows us a ménage a trois performed here by Elana Zahlmann as the wife and Joshua Antino and Steven Melendez dancing the two men—one the husband, the other the lover but which is which? In Edwardian costumes lent by American Ballet Theater, the choreography played with tension in the dancers’ arms, often while their entire body leaned and stepped sidewards. The wife has it both ways until the very end, a somehow satisfying conclusion, with the piece given added richness by a live performance of Schubert’s Piano Trio played by Michael Scales, piano; Chloe Kiffer, violin and Caleb Van Der Swaagh, cello.

After the final bow, Diana Byers, founder and artistic director of New York Theatre Ballet, stepped forward to read from an essay written in 1942 by E.B. White about the importance of arts in our lives. Prophetic indeed. To say that the audience was moved would be an understatement; hopefully many are or will be supporting the NEA.

Since 1935, what is today the 92nd Street Y’s Harkness Dance Center has showcased many great dancers and choreographers. The Center continues its proud tradition of dance teaching, creation and performance, serving the professional world and the community at large.

Mari S. Gold

About Mari S. Gold

Mari S. Gold is a freelance writer who contributes to many magazines and websites. Her blog, But I Digress… , on cultural events, travel, food  and other topics is at She lives in New York City.

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