This post is to recommend seeing American Repertory Ballet at Rider’s Bart Luedeke theater on Saturday, September 21st (tonight, as you receive this). Tickets are $20 ($10 for seniors). We went on Friday. The company is in great shape and the program runs the gamut of emotions from romantic love to joyful camaraderie to tender affection, to despicable, ugly hate. Rarely do ballet dancers get to ‘do nasty’ as here.
The piece was, you might guess, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, choreographed by company director Douglas Martin, who has danced quite a few Rites in his time. In the original Nijinsky version, recreated when Martin was with the Joffrey Ballet, staccato thrusts and poundings build up to the sexual sacrifice of a virgin. Martin’s serious satire was equally full of lust for sex and lust for power, but it was set in an office. Half the women were typists, half were “personal secretaries” verging on geishas, all undulating and preening. Cast as ‘ad men,’ the males mimed every macho cliche, including riding a horse, all pumped up and competing for power. I was tempted to giggle but I graduated from college in 1961 when women were expected to be secretaries not salesmen and it aggravated rather than amused. At the end of that section, in comes the boss from hell, Joshua Kurtzberg. The males kowtow and the female objects are flung around and tossed down.
The Stravinsky score, you may remember, is pound/pound/pound/pound loud/loud/loud/loud, all sharp edges and staccato. Seated typists percuss with their toe shoes. Men jump with two feet. It’s similar to the angst in Nijinsky’s tribal version but — wait — now it’s not them, it’s US. WE are the ones in the competitive workplace, elbowing our way to the top or wishing we had the nerve to do that. We are the ones who say “It’s not enough to succeed, your cohorts have to fail.”
One ad man, Stephen Campanella, gets tossed to the side, and the staccato jubilation of deals made goes on. During the lengthy pianissimo, the choreographer takes up time and adds comic relief having the maintenance guy, Jacopo Jannelli, rearrange the chairs. Then it’s a restart of angst, this time with the “Chosen One,” Shaye Firer, on stage.
In the original, she would be a virgin headed for sacrifice. Here she is a rebellious woman turning against type to snatch male power, represented by a man’s jacket. Decide for yourself what the end means. Here are video excerpts.
It was strange to watch Samantha Gullace lead the nasty crew of vamping women, when just 20 minutes ago she had played a luminous Juliet to Edward Urwin’s tender Romeo. Only the pas de deux is on this mixed bill, and I look forward to the full length version on October 11 in New Brunswick, with orchestra.
In between the “hate” and the “love” was a bravura piece of baroque fluff, choreographed to Vivaldi by Martin’s wife and former dance partner, Mary Barton, titled “Five Men and a Concerto.” She challenged them with some very fast classical footwork. Campanella, Cameron Auble-Branigan, Alexander Dutko, Joshua Kurtzberg, and Marc St.Pierre met the challenge with brio. Barton tapped Campanella’s Gene Kelly-like ability to look like an average Joe while doing hard things with his feet, Dutko’s exceptional talent for legato phrasing and St. Pierre’s penchant for teasing humor. A delight.
After the opener, Patrick Corbin’s “Caress,” I found out at intermission why it seemed so “all of a piece.” Set to Schubertian piano music by Kate Jewel, it uses three basic movements from a postmodern technique called Contact Improvisation, in which body contact is the cue for making up movement as you go along.
Without knowing that, this is a charming work, because one senses the spirit of Contact Improv — dancers pay close attention to each other instead of looking in the mirror or playing to the audience. Monica Giragosian and Urwin led Transformation Song, Samantha Gullace did the sharp-edged Storm; Alice Cao and Auble-Branigan were in Meditation, and Karen Leslie Moscato and Mattia Pallozzi ignited each other in Fire. Kurtzberg sinuously caressed the air in Amabile and had an interesting duo with Gullace with their four arms as one bird’s wings. Most memorable was the pair of same-sex duos, Dance with Me. Campanella and Dutko danced downstage left, Firer and Claire van Bever downstage right. first one couple moved, then the other. It answered the question, what does a love duet look like when there are two of each kind. The men were tender but not feminine. The women were female but strong. The piece ended with everyone on stage, in silence, with a last caress.
Please note: This is the new theatre at Rider, NOT the Yvonne Theatre. Above: photos of The Chosen One, in white, staged (credit Kyle Froman), and in performance, middle photo: George Jones. Third photo: Leighton Chen.