Bourrée Girl

They’re back.

Posted in American Ballet Theatre, Contemporary ballet by bourreegirl on October 15, 2010


Star of the evening: Daniel Mantei


In case you’ve missed them, Bourrée Girl, and reasonably frequently mentioned American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet member Devon Teuscher, are again before your eyes in blog format. This happy circumstance, with its many parentheses, has arisen from ABT’s new Innovation Initiative, a choreographic workshop for company members, the results of which premiered on Tuesday at the Frederick P. Rose Theater. The dancemaking debut was mainly a benefit—a posh affair with a pre-performance dinner and post-performance reception, not to mention a chic promotional film of black-and-white rehearsal footage that followed the warm-up speeches by Kevin McKenzie and David Hallberg (a sort of ambassador, we were given to understand, from the dancers to management and then to the audience). But if you were short the thousand dollars for the full-evening package, or even $350 for the performance-plus-after-party deal, you could still buy a ticket simply to see the ballets. If you’d really coughed up to support the artists, though, you got the royal treatment. Do you have time for a cocktail? You bet you do! Fifteen minutes after curtain time, the distinguished guests flooded in to fill the vacant orchestra section, and the proceedings got under way.

In his remarks, McKenzie invoked other beginning choreographers who had honed their skills at American Ballet Theatre over the years, such as Jerome Robbins and Clark Tippet, but cautioned that, rather than presenting “the next Robbins,” the initiative claimed to offer only “a litmus test of the power of the art form to speak to future generations” and a venue for hearing “what this generation has to tell us.” Someone also thought it would be a good idea to remix this generation’s remarks into a glamorous music video that blended the choreographers’ four voices into one: that of composers Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. So before the performance we saw dozens of moments from ballets composed to Liszt, Puccini, Mozart, Korngold, Tchaikovsky, and Ravel, edited into an eight-minute montage and set to a single piece for perpetual strings in 4/4 time. Of course, it was attractively managed (a creation of Alex Freund and Lisa Mosko of Gravure), if homogenizing. If I had made a ballet, I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted spoilers introduced right before it premiered, taken out of context and set to different sounds, but no serious harm done. And you may even enjoy it, if you care to take a look.

The first ballet, Gemma Bond’s Manner, employed piano music by Liszt (performed live by Emily Wong, the pianist for three out of the evening’s four ballets); graceful, Grecian-looking white costumes and headbands; and well-timed meetings of the eyes. The effect was sunlit and frequently inspired, apparently by something hovering high in the downstage right wing. I didn’t get a message from the piece, but the tiny differences in the simple and lovely opening cambrés (echoed later in partnering sequences and at the end), as performed by the two kneeling women, Christine Shevchenko and Katherine Williams, provided a subtle and memorable pleasure in an evening celebrating dancers’ voices.

Craig Salstein’s When It’s Over, It’s Over also offered subtly different takes on a single sequence of steps, this time by three haphazardly costumed couples. (Jared Matthews looked fantastic in his white shirt, black pants and vest, but for the others it seemed to have been catch as catch can, and poor Lauren Post drew the polka-dot blouse.) Short bits of dialogue (Mary Mills Thomas bravely spoke the first line, not usually part of a ballet dancer’s job requirement) set up each pair’s emotional situation and prepared us to observe a triple pas de deux inflected with yearning or impatience, buoyancy or vulnerability. Accompanist Anthony Manoli’s piano arrangement of music from Don Giovanni added depth to the couples’ distinct interior worlds by evoking the opera characters’ disparate desires. Ultimately, though, the choreography should have taken this over, and though the pairs began to diverge, only the character danced by Stella Abrera, who sang through the full length of her body, seemed to have been given a vehicle with which to tell her story.

La Relation, by Nicola Curry, featured brightly colored diapers and energetic performances from Sarah Lane, Alexandre Hammoudi, Joseph Phillips, and the coolly challenging Isabella Boylston. To me, though, the flashing legs and shifting partnerships chiefly distracted from Ravel’s delicious, shivering Piano Trio in A Minor and the fluid coordination of the fifth cast member, Devon Teuscher. Teuscher has a special movement quality—easeful but dynamic—that, channeled through enviable proportions and technique, creates miraculous little dramas in the simplest combinations. Watch this girl—indeed, you’ll find it hard not to. And as long as I’m giving instructions, please comment on this post if you saw the performance and did feel it was a sensitive response to the music. The choreographer who volunteers to tame and ride this shape-shifting creature deserves admiration at the very least, for valor and good taste.

Despite their virtues, none of the three exhibitions of dancing came across as a coherent work of art with a definite style or meaning. One ballet out of the four, which is really a pretty good success rate for this kind of experiment, did offer innovation, and enchantment besides: Daniel Mantei’s Armaments. (If you watch the Gravure film, this is the one in socks.) Mantei’s ballet, to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor, played entrancingly with gravity—ingeniously stealing it from the physical dimension and infusing it into the emotional realm. The six dancers projected a sense of great seriousness, both in one-on-one partnering work—which was exquisitely careful without being personal—and as a group, assembling in the shadows in anticipation and turning together to the light. Yet they created an atmosphere of wondrous lightness and suspension with their slow-motion, floating elevés and pliés. Socks in place of more constraining ballet slippers emphasized, and perhaps to some degree enabled, the dancers’ catlike relation to the floor, while protecting feet that presumably lack a barefoot dancer’s calluses. And, thankfully, no one slipped.

Now that the gala is over, what will become of these ballets? At this point, three of them deserve more work to hone style, dynamic, and message, and one of them deserves more exposure. What will be the next venue for Armaments? And what else does Mantei have up his sleeve? An event with so much good will turned to hard cash must have the power to launch him to another showcase, a fellowship or commission. The company and its donors have invested in putting him out there. Now, ballet world, make it happen!