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!


Best bourrées? Ballet Builders

Posted in Ballet Builders, Contemporary ballet by bourreegirl on May 3, 2010

This April 9–11, New Choreographers On Point presented the annual Ballet Builders showcase at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. Since the program’s inception in 1990, choreographers have auditioned before a panel of judges to have their works presented to a wider audience, including potential funders, colleagues and supporters. But the prize may be more of an acknowledgment than a launching pad: all of this year’s five winners have built substantial résumés in North America and Europe, and some of the featured works (which could be up to three years old) had already had their New York premieres. Since I had missed Harlem E-Stage Moves 2008, Dance on Camera 2009, and a lot of other things for reasons I’ll go into another day, this was my first look at all of them.

Most of the ballets were set on New York dancers, but one choreographer, Deanna Carter of the University of Iowa, arrived with eight of her own dancers from Ballet Quad Cities. (Can you name the Quad Cities? It might be worth your while.) In Ash to Glass, to music from Garry Eister’s Quintet for Glass and Strings and Ezio Bosso’s Io Non Pura, Carter’s Midwesterners took on the air of magical beings. Costumed in pale blue-green and lit by underwater shimmers, they seemed at first to be merpeople guided by the flow of the tides. Later they manifested the effortless beauty of a sculpture park come to life: embodied spirits of classicism, pure but never cold.

Carter showed full mastery of space and numbers, always giving us more dimensions to look at, more dancers bubbling up out of nowhere or somehow melting away as our eyes were diverted to the next entrancing moment. Most admirably, without conscious virtuosity or intrusion of personality, the cast achieved the spellbinding effect of service to a single ideal. They danced from necessity, as if being breathed by one spirit, serenely independent of any observers’ gaze. It’s not the kind of effect that draws violent applause (I was sorry to observe); it just created a world, a time, and a Way.

For his Triptych, John-Mark Owen set Bouzignac’s Salve, Jesu Piissime, a section of Biber’s Violin Sonata in F, and “Blazhen Muzh” from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers on a single pair of dancers, Ramona Kelley and Adrian Silver. After an awkward start (introversion is hard to choreograph attractively, or so I gathered from Kelley’s hunched shoulders), the couple, dressed in simple practice clothes, performed a short evocation of a baroque dance, walking forward, hand in hand, then drawing complementary shapes by dancing the same steps in different directions. From there, they moved into the tender, more intimate partnering of twentieth-century ballet—soft turns and falls, leans and carries. As the choir came in behind the boy soprano, Silver carried Kelley posed over his head like an angel, and they seemed to dance in mourning for the fall of man.

As Bouzignac gave way to Biber, the dancers continued their interplay between the human and the divine. I’d just complained that another baroque ballet by Owen hadn’t done justice to the music; this piece, though, suggested that Owen has as much beauty in his arsenal as the virtuoso Biber. The music escalated and finally erupted in a frenzy as Kelley slowly brought her partner’s hand to her heart, creating an enchanted stillness. As the Rachmaninoff began, she leaned trustingly into his hands, then tipped onto his back. Feet parallel, she bourréed softly backwards—the best I’d seen all month in any direction.

In the final moments, after the vespers choir had tuned our collective pulse to a low, serene vibration, a shock: Silver left the angel and the stage. Why? They’d seemed so close. Had he exhausted her reserves of compassionate sorrow? Was she going to lie there on the floor, recharging her angelic batteries, until someone else came along to ask for guidance? Was he just going on a break from lifting people? There must be more to this story—and if Owen saw fit to put it in another ballet, I’d buy a ticket.

In the dimness, a string quartet set up chairs and stands in the back stage-left corner. (“Are those musicians?” I heard on my left, then “Yeah, what’s the matter, you have a cataract?”) And so began the only live-music ballet on the program, The Hour Before . . ., by Ja’ Malik, to Joby Talbot’s String Quartet No. 1 and No. 2. It was also the only piece not presented in its entirety, and no doubt we lost some context this way. One extravagantly gifted couple, NaTalia Johnson and Leyland Simmons of Ballet Noir (“Sunset”), was followed by another, Devon Teuscher and Jose Sebastian of American Ballet Theatre (“Sunrise”), in a very busy pair of pas de deux. The result was a fine showcase for the dancers’ brilliance—and delivered no message or meaning that I could discern. Perhaps the ballet in its entirety (apparently premiered two years ago at Harlem Stage E-Moves and titled The Hour Before I Loved You) offers something more.

After the intermission, lighting designer Ted Sullivan gave us night lights on a rain-washed street for Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, by David Fernández, to Terry Riley’s Requiem for Adam. It began with a solo for the powerful Ask la Cour, then introduced Georgia St. Onge Lathrop, Katie Moorhead, Carolyn Taconi, and la Cour’s NYCB colleague Savannah Lowery, all in turquoise tops and black shorts.

There was no need to ask (as I sometimes do) why such accomplished dancers had accepted this gig. The ballet created a wonderful tension, a palpable pull the dancers exerted on each other across the space. Fernández used the small corps de ballet expertly to enact the fretful music and frame the soloist; and each woman’s solo choreography seemed distinctly matched to her personal style—graceful, brittle, joyful or elegant. (Even in this constantly shifting vision of unease, everyone’s bourrées were exemplary.)

The ballet might have been more brilliant still without the reprise of la Cour’s opening gestures toward the end; yes, the music repeated, but surely the several minutes of urgent dancing we’d just seen had changed something about the world, calling for new speech? When the dancers fell to the floor, then rose in unison to look at us, we were pinned to our seats by their intensity. As a final gesture, the back wall got the same treatment, which may have been only fair, but I did wonder what they were looking at.

After this dazzling display, Tempo Rosso, a workshop ballet for the Ailey School by Pedro Ruiz, was an attractively packaged letdown. Ruiz may have won (or at least mentioned) the most awards of all the choreographers on the program, but this romp for fourteen energetic but unformed young dancers was basically inexpressive, relying on the warm, woody sound of various sonatas and concertos; velvety, autumn-toned costumes with gathered chiffon skirts; and even tiny candles to create a pleasing effect. Ruiz deserves commendation for keeping the corps busy and happy, and for featuring Jake Warren, who stood out in the third section as one to watch. But mostly the ballet was a blank. Its being such a populous blank, I suppose, made it the inevitable closer.

Touchingly, the program listed all the dancers who have participated in Ballet Builders since it began twenty years ago, and all the choreographers who have been presented. (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one pleased to spot old friends on that list, such as repeat offenders Rick McCullough and Lonné Moretton, and the great Mark Diamond.) It also included bios for every dancer, musician, choreographer and lighting designer who had contributed to the performance—and, unlike the other concerts I’ve reviewed here so far, gave titles, and even the occasional movement or opus number, for musical works. Choreographers, new and old, take note; we can almost always use more here (Biber wrote a lot of violin sonatas. Was it the “Scourging of Jesus,” which might have been significant, or the other one in F?). “Details, details,” Mr. White used to remind us at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet. They’re where professionalism shows.

The “lab” in “collaborative”

Posted in Columbia Ballet Collaborative by bourreegirl on April 19, 2010

After the previous weekend’s feast of aimless jumping around (see post under Avi Scher & Dancers), Claudia Schreier’s Excursions, leading off the Columbia Ballet Collaborative’s spring program on April 9 and 10 at the Miller Theatre, was pure refreshment. Schreier isn’t a Columbia student, but as a young working artist with an honors degree in sociology from Harvard, she fits right in with the collaborative’s membership. The group began just two years ago with five professional dancers who refused to jettison all their hard-won expertise at the university gates. By forming a ballet collaborative, they created a venue where the school’s experienced dancers, even as they refocused their energies toward economics, biomechanics and environmental biology, could sustain their ballet technique, work with up-and-coming choreographers, and share their love of dance with the public at classes and low-cost performances.

The first piece of the spring season made a strong case for each of these projects (though it was probably neutral at best in terms of environmental biology). Beauty and clarity suffused Barber’s music for solo piano and Schreier’s movements for one man and three women in simple black leotards. Guest artist Don Friedewald attentively partnered Caitlin Dieck, Catherine Dillard and Chantelle Pianetta, who, when not swept into dynamic promenades or suspended in architectural poses, were handling things (say, rising onto full pointe from a grand plié in fourth position—in unison) beautifully on their own. This is the house—or the world—that Balanchine built, sometimes in doubtful repair since his death in 1983, but here shored up by a young woman born after he had already gone. In short, this was neoclassical ballet, happening right before our eyes, still possible and well worth the trouble.

In the next piece, choreographer Justin Peck, a part-time Columbia student perhaps better known as a full-time member of the New York City Ballet, partnered the gorgeous Teresa Reichlen, an NYCB principal studying at Barnard. The pair provided all the beauty of vision and execution required to make the squeaks and scratches of Osso and Sufjan Stevens’ “Enjoy Your Rabbit” (also the name of the ballet) go down with ease. (I don’t know why Reichlen, credited with costuming the pas de deux, asked her partner to wear a button-down shirt hanging out over his tights, but it didn’t significantly diminish the overall aesthetic experience.) The only disadvantage to unleashing fascinating partnered steps like a spin into a dramatic fall and slide, or a lift evoking a living clock, is that the audience can’t fail to recognize them when you repeat them and, having seen what you are capable of, is going to demand continued innovation rather than reiteration.

Who is Emery LeCrone? According to her bio, she is a choreographer of “prominent works,” even “at the young age of 23” (Emery, it’s suaver to let the journalists say it) and the object of immoderate praise from Times critic Claudia La Rocco, who incidentally disagreed with me about Avi Scher’s take on Rachmaninoff. Five Songs for Piano (the ones without words, by Mendelssohn), in soft slippers, not only, according to my notes, contained some lovely, contemplative solo moments and pretty canons for the corps of four, but also, unfortunately more memorably, incorporated yoga poses, a Fosse effect (automated-looking shuffles and pelvic thrusts, broken-doll slumps and glassy eyes in the corps, and, of course, floor-slapping), and what became one of the evening’s recurring themes: inexplicable middle-clutching. It concluded with a superfluous coda, in which the first soloist reiterated steps from the first movement, yoga and all, and the corps returned with their stomach cramps. Why not stop at four piano songs if you’ve said all you have to say?

The cramps made a third appearance after the intermission in another flat-shoe ballet with windmill arms, to more Osso and Sufjan Stevens: Lauren Birnbaum’s Navarasa. Guest artist Eric Conrad Holzworth, the lone man among eight women, danced with the precise authority of an Oberon, wearing a slightly defiant look and an L.L. Bean getup that evoked a relaxing car wash on a summer day (no costume credit). It’s possible the ballet might have seemed more interesting in another context; here it mainly suffered in comparison to those on the first half of the program.

Ah, Mio Cor, by John-Mark Owen, would have suffered in any case. Five women wearing high, black tulle collars over emerald leotards (credited to Jason Vincent) were tasked with dancing a long da capo aria from Handel’s Alcina almost entirely without reference to the vocal line. The first moments offered an enchanting clockwork impression that opened up the orchestral ostinato into, if not dancing about architecture, at least dancing about engineering. But the performers quickly lost even the independence of specialized cogs and were pressed into unison sequences that picked out the accompaniment for several long minutes in apparent ignorance of the luscious lament being poured over it by the soprano. Abdomens were clutched, bourrées were sluggish, and the opening choreography was reiterated at the end, as if nothing had happened. Of course, nothing much had. Perhaps the choreographer didn’t trust his dancers, or didn’t finish the piece. The most obvious explanation, that he didn’t understand the music, was blasted the very next day at Ballet Builders, as my next post will happily relate.

In the final piece, Solid Ground, Monique Meunier, formerly of the New York City Ballet, set elegant pirouettes and sauts de chat to antithetical cello rock by Break of Reality. Five women began in silhouette as one man, NYCB’s supple and powerful Craig Hall, posed in a pool of light and repeated what I’ll call the international sign for enslavement (wrists thrust forward and crossed as if shackled). Soloist Victoria North quoted the Black Swan and Diamonds pas de deux and slid through to pigeon pose starting from down dog. This happened amidst some corps de ballet mingling, so it was just noticeable enough to be strange but not strong enough to be dramatic; only in retrospect can I theorize that Meunier was setting North up on pointe as the reigning queen of East and West, only to depose her by sending in a soft-slippered upstart (Elysia Dawn) with beauty of soul. Though fully within the bounds of grace, Dawn showed us a feeling and very human being who held nothing back. Whatever the idea behind the ballet, it felt only right that she got the guy in the end.

Few colleges offer nonmajors the opportunity to participate in ballet on such a demanding level. Kudos to the founders of CBC, who recognized that New York universities are ideally situated to benefit from the nation’s largest pool of transitioning dancers and budding choreographers, composers, costumers and administrators—and that they could do something about it. One of the most significant elements of the collaborative is that the dancers themselves assumed artistic, executive and technical directorship: a situation very far from a traditional ballet company model. By providing work/play space to artists, high-quality and affordable dance experiences to the community, and a welcome measure of power and responsibility to the performers themselves, CBC could build a valuable venue for nurturing American dance and dancers. Roll on, Columbia.

Friends in high places

Posted in Avi Scher & Dancers, Contemporary ballet by bourreegirl on April 16, 2010

When Avichai Scher, twenty-six, took the stage on April 4 to introduce the second performance of Avi Scher & Dancers in its debut season at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, he explained that this new company aspired to present top quality dancers at affordable ticket prices. Encouraged by names like Marcelo Gomes, Veronika Part and Abi Stafford, close to three hundred of us (a theaterful) had plunked down $20 and were about to be rewarded with an intimate view of these stars of American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. (We missed the advertised Sara Mearns, but Scher gave us four excellent NYCB dancers in addition to Stafford, and a total of four from ABT.) In that respect, at least, Scher accomplished what he’d set out to do. What I began to wonder as the performance went on was how on earth he had managed to do it.

Young companies don’t usually have the funding to employ top dancers. Being able to include famous names in your advertising material projects the beneficial implication these artists are lending you their talent and their glamour because they believe in your work and want to help bring in audiences to see it. If Scher, an alumnus of the School of American Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, Washington Ballet, and others, instead engaged these dancers by actually paying them a fair rate, that’s hardly a crime. Surely we all support the idea of paying top dollar to top artists, almost as much as we support the idea of bearing as little as possible of that cost ourselves. Or it’s possible that Gomes & Co. made the time to work with Scher out of friendship, or that they possess that fabled, insatiable need to dance that is simply not satisfied by their busy schedules at America’s best companies. What I would have trouble believing for the most part is that they are also fans of Scher’s work.

Maybe they’d seen Touch, the most successful piece, at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center last year (listed as the premiere on the company’s website). Arron Scott enacted the rapid pulse of the electronic music by “Alles Wie Gross and Alarm Will Sound after Aphex Twin,” if that means anything to you, circling Veronika Part, who unfolded herself languorously to slower-moving tones like a swan queen taking a bath. Eventually she joined Scott in his frenetic motion (and was forced to do some awkward bourrées in open positions). But in a trio for Ralph Ippolito, Eric Tamm, and Savannah Lowery, the expression of contrasting musical elements had more extended play. Lowery danced agitatedly during a slow pas de deux for the two men, then chose a partner, whereupon the remaining male took over the angsty movements. Then she switched partners, leaving the first one moving measuredly and beginning a sharper duet with the other.

It’s a simple concept, but good execution made it effective. The movements, reminiscent of the perpetual flutterings of Amelia, the dance film by Edward Lock and La La La Human Steps, were both beautiful and logical, a puzzle whose pieces locked together. The only other piece that offered this kind of consonance was “Feeling Lucky” (the first section of the three-part Little Stories), a bouncy duet for Jennifer Goodman and Robert Colby Damon to the music of singer-songwriter Jason Mraz. Scher realized this sunnier piece of music with joyful energy and a literal cuteness that tumbled over the line between dance and mime, but with a winning performance it was just adorable enough to be forgivable.

Since “Feeling Lucky” didn’t include much ballet, it can’t really (with the exception of Robert Colby Damon’s brisés volés) be used as evidence of Scher’s ability to convince audiences that his chosen music—usually electronica or pop—is ballet-appropriate. When not aping modern dance with ugly demi-pointe bourrées (or taking them up on pointe into awkward stalking steps), many ballets seemed to be built on the credo “when in doubt, do a circle of piqué turns.” Too often, Scher dressed classroom ballet in casual clothes and divorced it from its supportive structure (the architecture of classical music and harmonious staging) but failed to shape it into new expressions. If this music speaks to Scher as a choreographer, he needs to develop a language that allows him to share what it’s telling him. The pieces I’ve named seem to be creditable forays in this direction. Unfortunately, they constituted less than a third of what was on the program.

In contrast, dances such as No Matter What (music by Aphex Twin and Adam Lewis) and Mystery in the Wind (music by Rachel Portman), and the rest of Little Stories, represent Scher’s musical sense as chiefly a rhythmic sense, so that he keeps pace with the music but neglects its structure (and, when available, its lyrics). The few interesting moments in these ballets were the momentary pauses that pointed up the power in a dancer’s decision to join or resist this rhythmic stream. Even the Rachmaninoff ballet Utopia, danced with great verve by Ashley Bouder and Marcelo Gomes, came off as independent of the music, failing to illuminate it or to bring anything original to a familiar scenario. Solo piano and flowing purple costumes alone cannot be relied upon to create a meaningful experience (especially if the piano prompts comments like the one I overheard, “They should take up a collection to get a better piano—that one’s from Grandma’s basement”). In fact, you’d better be doing something innovative if you’re going to use those things, because they’ve been used quite a bit already, by other people.

One element of the program that you probably haven’t seen anywhere else, and if you have I sympathize, is a stringy, bright-eyed young girl standing on stage in pointe shoes, singing into a microphone. The final ballet, Inner Voice, began with a solo danced by the painfully trusting- and hopeful-looking Genevieve Labean to the accompaniment of equally earnest and vulnerable vocals. Perhaps this was a coltish teenage student Scher had recruited to match the youthful and innocent sound of the singer? As it turned out, the singer was Labean herself, a former NYCB dancer in her late twenties. After dancing to her own recorded voice, Labean left the stage and took the microphone, returning to sing live with her pianist, guitarist, and percussionist while the other dancers engaged in a lengthy waste of talent that had nothing to do with Labean’s lyrics. “I want to live my whole life unscripted,” she sang as everyone onstage paused (not so interestingly this time) in the same pose. (When she returned to this line later on, the dancers obligingly reprised their positions.) The lament “Alone again, why am I alone again” introduced not a solo but a tender pas de deux. “Emptiness, nothing but emptiness,” Labean crooned as the couple embraced sweetly. Not that I don’t appreciate an embrace when I’m staring into the abyss, but neither the valiant Abi Stafford nor her partner looked even the slightest bit worried by Labean’s scenario. If Stafford, Lowery and friends can’t make these dances work, I doubt anyone can.

That being the case, Scher could have hired less expensive performers and spent a little more for a good costume designer. The dancers in the first ballet, No Matter What, wore cutoff unitards that created the effect of long torsos, plush hips and short legs. The “undershirt theme” of Little Stories worked well enough with the first duo’s red shorts, soft slippers, and, for Goodman, pigtails, but when Kelsey Coventry entered for the next pop-music pas de deux with her hair slicked into a French twist, a chiffon skirt floating around her hips, and … a white ribbed undershirt, one felt there had been a mistake, or several. In the third section, Savannah Lowery and Christian Tworzyanski flung themselves and each other passionately about for several minutes, until finally Tworzyanski stripped off his white undershirt and handed it to Lowery, who, understandably but not very politely, grimaced. Inner Voice used clothing from American Apparel: sundresses for the women and polo shirts and jeans for the men. Fresh-faced American teens in dappled light: one last hopeful cliché.

Of course, to have presented these ballets without any of the big names in American dance might seem a failure of the company’s mission. But if this three-day debut season taught the audience anything, it must be that it matters very much what is being danced. I love to watch Sara Mearns, but I wouldn’t have wanted to watch her suffer through Utopia. How wonderful to see Savannah Lowery devouring the stage, eating men like air—but how disappointing to observe that it wasn’t going to mean anything. It’s no joy after all to see fine artists prostitute themselves.

Scher is a developing choreographer and has obviously managed to attract some support; he just needs to do some more developing before it will be time to dedicate an entire program to his work. (The company’s website lists two other choreographers, which indicates an intention to vary things somewhat for the audience, and there may be any number of reasons that didn’t happen for this debut season. Or perhaps it did, and the program accidentally omitted the choreography credits, and no corrective announcement was made. Though that would be strange.) In any event, Scher promised us only stars for low prices. Good choreography, we might be justified in thinking, costs extra.