New York Theater Ballet
Florence Gould Hall
February 9, 2018
The title of Optimists, choreographed by Gemma Bond of American Ballet Theater, didn’t tell me anything but the dancing, by Amanda Treiber and Erez Milatin, did. The piece is exciting and filled with action with the pair swooping and diving to Piano Sonata no.8 Opus 84 by Prokofiev. Elegant and spare with powerful bodies they move with confidence, Treiber and Miltatin have made this exhilarating piece their own and it was a joy to watch.
I can’t say the same for Beethoven/1999 or Dark Elegies, the latter a well-known work by Antony Tudor set to Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children.) Somber, danced to taped music without a set, Elegies was presented very severely with muted colors on both men and women, gray caps on the women’s heads and stiff gestures. A community of four men and eight women has lost its children; the group is in mourning. Although the lack of freedom expressed by the group through stunted gestures was clear, the work wasn’t as emotional as it should be. Tudor considered Elegies one of his masterworks but this rendition lacked gravitas –I wanted to have my heart wrung for and by the dancers but that didn’t quite happen.
The final piece of the evening, Double Andante, was the most compelling. Ten members of the company including Treiber, Milatin, Joshua Andino-Nieto, Alexis Branagan, Kyle Coffman, Carmella Lauer, Steven Melendez, Dawn Gierling Milatin, Mayu Oguri and Elena Zahlman performed clever, innovative steps including a great series of pirouettes facing in different directions. Set to Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major, Opus 28, the music was played by pianist Michael Scales (and what a difference live music makes!) Dancers try and fail to connect; small steps contrast with big jumps—the juxtapositions made the work especially interesting and brought forth the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening.
Before Andante, Diana Byer, the company founder and artistic director for whom I’ve always had great respect, read a quote about freedom and liberty by E. B. White—a paean to democracy and a tribute to and hope for the audience. I found this brief interlude, although—or maybe because—it wasn’t specifically connected to the performance, incredibly moving.