Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung
Design Dialogues with ISAW’s The Ancient World and the Ballet Russes
Peter B. Lewis Theater, Guggenheim Museum
April 29, 2019
The evening provided a thoroughly engaging look at the creative process as it concerns choreographers, dancers, costume designers, music and a related exhibit that examines both antiquity and its relationship to the revered Ballets Russes.
Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, co-founders of Reid & Harriet Design, together with choreographers Christopher Williams and Netta Yerushalmy, engaged in a lively panel discussion moderated by Linda Murray, curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library. Conversation centered around developing two dance excerpts, much of them inspired by a concurrent exhibition, Hymn to Apollo: The Ancient World and the Ballets Russes, on view at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World until June 2.
The artistic collaboration between the designers who created the costumes and the choreographers who made the dances was stressed repeatedly. Besides an extended exchange with the designers and creating choreography, Williams also selected the music for both dance excerpts choosing music from the ballet Daphnis et Chloe, created in 1912 by Maurice Ravel. The original ballet, presented in Paris by Ballets Russes, had choreography by Michael Fokine, sets by Leon Bakst, was made for Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina and commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev. In turn, these luminaries looked to ancient Greece for the underlying myth.
Both the exhibition and the two dance excerpts play off a dialogue between the ancient and the modern, revealing that artists returned to the past not simply as traditionalists but as revolutionaries, intent on using the old to create something related yet new. While we don’t know how the ancients danced, images of dance from statuary, reliefs and vases give us—and gave the Ballets Russes and now Williams and Yerushalmy—a sense of the spirit. The exhibit points out that Bakst drew inspiration for his sets for Daphnis et Chloe from a 1907 trip to Greece.
Williams’ excerpt featured Sara Mearns as Chloe, a shepherdess; I-Ling Liu as Bryaxis, a pirate captain; Christiana Axelsen, Marc Crousillat, Caitlin Scranton, and Carlo Antonio Villanueva as the pirates; Reid Bartelme, (yes, he also dances) Maggie Cloud, and Casey Hess as nymphs; and Cemiyon Barber, Casey Hess, Logan Pedon, Victor Lozano, and Carlo Antonio Villanueva as creatures of Pan.
The start of William’s work was a dramatic silhouette that gave way to a floaty Mearns displaying lovely arabesques and held poses, many in attitude. Chloe was clearly terrified as the pirates menaced her while brandishing staves, an idea Williams says came to him from seeing works from the exhibit that includes a photograph of Fokine as Daphnis holding a staff overhead. In the early sequences of this dance the costumes were airy and light-colored. With the arrival of the Pan creatures there was palpable tension as the creatures slithered close to the ground, moving on satyr-like, wooly legs and encircling but not quite touching the frightened shepherdess.
In contrast to the fairly classic content of Williams’ work, Yerushalmy’s like lithos was far more contemporary beginning with boxy black robes on the four dancers, Bartelme, Marc Crousillat, Brittany Engel-Adams and Amos Machanic, Jr. Where the first work was marked by “Greek” hands, as in the open, flexed- at- the- wrist position seen on ancient artifacts, the second was notable for angularity in the arms, legs and hand as well as jumps ending in stamping feet. In the first work the dancers moved with the lush Ravel score; in the second they moved against the music. Mid-way, the robes were peeled off in a slightly awkward transition revealing brightly multicolored unitards. Unexpectedly Jung stepped onstage to shake out and position the black robes ultimately joined by Bartelme, a juxtaposition of form and function as they appeared to be reverting to their role as costume designers.
It is worth noting that Ballets Russes’ Daphnis et Chloe featured the women in light, suggestive clothing with bare feet which Williams’ costumes echo. According to exhibit notes, Ballets Russes “transformed gender roles …through innovative stories, choreography and costumes that frequently drew inspiration from the ancient world.”
Will these excerpts become complete ballets? Williams, who said that his body of work deals with ancient times and admits to a lifelong love of the Daphnis and Chloe myth, wants to produce a full-length work. Yerushalmy isn’t sure “what will germinate” but both expressed strong interest in the impact of the costumes on their choreography and vice-versa. I hope both works are developed fully to enjoy future reincarnations.
During its 34-plus year history, Works & Process at the Guggenheim
has championed new works and offered audiences unprecedented access to generations of leading creators and performers, mostly in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Peter B. Lewis Theater. In 2017, Works & Process established a new residency and commissioning program, inviting artists to create new works, made in and for the iconic Guggenheim rotunda. To see works from its earliest inception, this is an unbeatable series.