Performing Arts: Dance
January 11, 2016
One of the many pleasures of seeing dance at the Joyce is the audience’s proximity to the performers: the chance to see some of American Ballet Theater’s talented dancers, with Céline Cassone of Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, up close, is a welcome change from the challenge of more cavernous spaces. This week at the Joyce, ABT principal Daniil Simkin put together a program that was part biographical sketch, part contemporary ballet and gave us the opportunity to get to know the dancers on a more intimate level.

It took a while, but eventually I recognized James Whiteside in Jorma Elo’s Nocturne/Etude/Prelude (2015) who came out with shock of silver grey hair and a brown beard, looking as far from last spring season’s Prince as one can imagine, while dancing with a wild energy and precision that changed my perceptions of him as a dancer. Elo’s work relies on the technical extremes and quirky movements that have become standard in contemporary ballet, and all three dancers (Simkin and Whiteside, with Isabella Boylston) seemed to relish the opportunity, especially with the live accompaniment on the piano, beautifully played by David Friend.

In fact, throughout the evening, all of the ABT dancers (all of the above, with Blaine Hoven, Alexandre Hammoudi, Calvin Royal III, and Cassandra Trenary) seemed as if they were let out of a cage, baring tattoos and dancing with the fearlessness and attack that this kind of work demands – and allows. In Welcome a Stranger (2015), an overactive fog machine filled stage right without adding much to the program, but when Cassone came onstage, with her electric red hair and beautiful, soulful quality, the alternative look seemed exactly right.

One of the downsides of social media is overexposure -- and with over 200,000 views, I’m guessing that many in the audience had already seen Simkin in the City on YouTube, a film by Alexander Ekman where Simkin trots around New York City in a sequin-studded costume and white tights, balancing on fire hydrants and dancing on subways, always keeping the debonair carriage of a classical ballet dancer – which filmed out of context makes for good comedy. But in Simkin And the Stage, seeing and hearing his biographical details on film, as well as a dance historical excerpt, as told in an interview with Jennifer Homans, seemed unnecessary, with information so readily available in the program and all over the Internet.

In Islands of Memories (2015) to Max Richter’s “recomposition” of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and set/visual designer Dmitrij Simkin created an intriguing stage world with mirrors and lighting that transformed the stage floor into a flytrap of sorts, where Simkin starts and ends lying on the floor on his back, as if dreaming (or dead?), with a flurry of trios, duos and ensemble work in between, also danced with polished technique and abandon. While one may ask “why?” with regard to all of this, it seemed that the answer – whatever it was – was clear and dear to these dancers.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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