October 30, 2017
Ballet West’s Joyce Season presented the company as a collection of habits on the verge of breaking. In a bill where no two piece shared the same choreographer, the resemblances, performatively and compositionally, were troublesome, but the moments of distinctiveness, hopeful.
The dancers love to arch. Dancers’ neutrals will often actually be slightly arched because of how far out their chests project. In partnering, women love to arch down men’s bodies like a swirly slide. Duets are typically a combination of unclear drama, reactions to an unknown backstory, performed for us instead of with care for each other. The movement vocabulary largely rounds the edges of classical vocabulary, though sometimes with more priority on shape-making than in classical ballet itself. Every so often a purely classical movement will break in. In Africa Guzmán’s Sweet and Bitter, though, the pattern reverses, with much more earthbound contemporary impulses filling such lapses of stylistic continuity.
The exception to this, making such habits all the more apparent is the inclusion of Balanchine’s Chaconne on the program. The arched spines may help with hyperflexible contemporary movement, but throw off Balanchine’s nimble verticality and pelvic shifts. In a program of otherwise 21st century works, it was the one piece from 1976 that actually showed any alternate approach to partnering than male dominated transporting of passive women.
The piece that broke the most habits was Val Caniparoli’s Dances for Lou, set to Lou Harrison’s Pipa Concerto to celebrate his centennial. In this piece is the only instance of same sex partnering in the whole program, even if it only happens in one short section of Lucas Horns and Jordan Veit arching around each other, neither one taking a lead. Caniparoli often assigns gender to musical textures - an all male section to the movement featuring only percussion, as well intrusive male outbursts to the women’s string-connected smoothness on percussive blasts in the Estampie. This pattern refreshingly breaks up in the Neapolitan section. Oliver Oguma’s slow poses ostensibly connect to the pipa’s trills while Jenna Herrera flits about to the string melody. When it repeats, it becomes equally possible that Herrera captures the pipa’s individual articulations while Oguma encapsulates the larger melodic phrase structure.
The piece that comes closest to having a subject matter is the piece that features the most sophisticated composition. Nicolo Fonte’s Fox on the Doorstep involves a use of counterpoint that goes beyond the established default two sets of sharp movement on a grid. Dancers are spread more loosely in space, each with different speeds and vocabularies. Stark tempo contrasts as well as ticking sounds elect time as the piece’s concern. An abstract opening gives way to dancers at their most human in the entire program. While lone bodies are instantly met with a partner, this ensemble then turns on two differently costumed dancers, keeping them separate until Chase O’Connell is left alone at the end. There is not so much a story but a shift in perspective – from time, the phenomenon, to time, the meddler.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews