Legends & Visionaries
New York Theatre Ballet
Danspace Project: St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery
November 4, 2017
NEW WORK / Gemma Bond
A Rugged Flourish / Richard Alston
BEETHOVEN/1999 / David Gordon
La Malinche / José Limón
New York Theatre Ballet continues to forge ahead. Now in its thirty-ninth season, NYTB brings new ways to look at classics together with the opportunity to see work by up-and-coming choreographers. Legends & Visionaries, presented as a tribute to the late David Vaughan, dance archivist, historian and critic, began with sweetly moving remarks by NYTB company founder and artistic director, Diana Byer, Vaughan’s friend and mentee.
The evening featured four works in the graceful space of the Danspace Project. The last offering, A Rugged Flourish, opens on an androgynous boy (Erez Milatin) clad in a loose gray top and gray tights, dancing alone until he is joined by six green-gowned nymphs. The fawn-like boy moves with one of women; then watches as the women dance together until finally he becomes one with the group. The piece, set to Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations, has, per the program notes, a “brave stony rigor” but the music’s discord seems strangely at odds with the harmonious moves of the dancers. The title of the work is also a puzzle.
The twinkly feet in Optimists, a new ballet made by American Ballet Theater’s Gemma Bond, give way to jarring gestures, for instance, when Mr. Milatin pushes Amada Treiber, seemingly in playful reprimand. The pair, in matching pale unitards with sparkling patterns running up one side from leg to shoulder, (costumes credited to Ms. Bond and Carmella Lauer), made me think of Adam and Eve; the sinuous coiling and uncoiling of the partners’ arms and legs may be alluding to the Serpent in the Garden.
Steven Melendez has outstanding technical skills and an abundance of charm that makes him a special pleasure to watch. He radiates quiet but notable sexual undercurrents especially in La Malinche, created by Jose Limón. The work takes Limón’s memories of Mexican fiestas further back, into a reimagining of Cortes’ conquest of Mexico with the complicity of the Indian princess, Malintzin, danced with sweep by Alexis Branagan. The piece was staged by Sarah Stackhouse.
Mr. Melendez reappeared in Beethoven/1999 with Carmella Lauer, Amanda Treiber and Elena Zahlman. At times the group meshes; then they separate so that each dancer is isolated. Fenced off, fenced in, they look—up, down and around—but don’t find whatever it is they seek.
Several of the pieces were enriched by live music, including La Malinche with mezzo-soprano Anna Laurenzo; trumpet by Thomas Verchot; percussion by Jeremy Smith and piano, ably played by Michael Scales who also plays for Optimists and Flourish. Although Beethoven/1999 is danced to a recording of String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135, this music felt the most appropriate of the evening’s accompaniments.
NYBT is an ambitious, engaging group with strong dancers who can handle classic ballet as comfortably as contemporary choreography. Even when a particular work doesn’t fully succeed, the troop’s style and willingness to make the most of every step goes a long way. You can’t stop rooting for them.