REVIEW: Ballet Next at the Joyce Theater
Ballet Next opened its season at the Joyce Theater Tuesday with Alison Cook Beatty’s premier of “Tinntinnabuli.” Set to Arvo Part’s “Tabula Rasa”. The piece begins on a solemn note. The audience is peering in on a dark and fearful hour. Michele Wiles prays desperately into a beam of light upstage. We hear strings and Church bells that seem to warn of some impending doom.
Then it gets a bit muddled for me…
Tiffany Mangulabnan looks on from downstage, as Jason Reilly steps into the light, his back to Wiles. The turmoil is palpable, but the dots are not connecting. What is she praying for? Why does she look to Mangulabnan for assistance? Why does Mangulabnan not reply? (Tiffany Mangulabnan seems under-utilized choreographically here, but manages to look stoic and commanding in her stillness.) Why does Reilly enter and leave without facing forward? These are strong visuals but do not make for a comprehensive introduction.
Eventually, a lovely, haunting tale begins when a slow motion pas de deux reveals the story of a death–not a crime of passion, glamorous or gory, but a slow decline.
The women serve as a sort of greek chorus, silently announcing the inevitable as they bouree with hands over hearts, and in circles, like life’s final memories swirling before one’s eyes.
Reilly, the devoted partner, serves as both lover and cane, carrying a progressively weakening Wiles on his back, and skimming her across the floor. This is confusing at first because only moments ago he had his back literally turned to her pleas. Still, I’d have been fully invested if the piece began here. From this point on, their chemistry is convincing.
Wiles is lovely as a wilting flower, strong from the hips down with heavy vulnerability in her torso. Three women weave in and out of the scene, arms linked. Beatty’s movement for the women is sensuous and eerie. They slink to the ground like sirens on the ocean floor in their wavy blue uniforms, luring the couple in. Wiles falls into their arms and is passed down the line. Reilly crawls back to her, through the women’s legs, holding onto ankles for support. The women serve as a sort of greek chorus, silently announcing the inevitable as they bouree with hands over hearts, and in circles, like life’s final memories swirling before one’s eyes.
As Wiles becomes more and more fragile, many times I think she will collapse, but the piece stretches on. A slow death. Her fight is agonizing and lovely. The scene closes with Wiles in a trance and Reilly holding her, silent and sweating, until the lights go out.
Ben Laude sets the tone on piano with Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 2,7,5,3, &4” in the premier of Margo Sappington’s extended “Entwined”. Georgina Pazcoguin and Kristie Latham dance in flesh-toned leotards, gently painted by the lights. Their technique is clean and tastefully decorated with angular lines, swaybacks and off-balance hips.
Charles Askegard enters, lifting one, then the other. The girls cling to him like magnets, languid and sensual. Wiles’ solo, though graceful, seems abruptly cheerful. When Askegard re-enters with Karina Gonzalez, Wiles looks back with nostalgia and surrenders the stage to the pair.
The pas de deux between Gonzalez and Askegard begins cheerfully too, and quickly melts into a beautiful serene painting that is clearly the strength of the piece. Askegard is a strong partner and, true to the title, the two never seem to let go of one another. Holding on with one arm, the couple leans away from each another and circles, like children spinning on the playground, only slow and supple. Many steps like this, reaching off center yet remaining balanced in his arms, gives a comforting sense that she is free yet supported. His hands anticipate her landings, allowing Gonzalez to fall into his lap and float over his shoulders, revealing exquisite extensions and leaps unhindered by gravity. Lifts and lingering slides across the ground like over ice ooze in and out of the dance, thanks to Sappington’s seamless transitions and clever weight shifts.
No step overshadows another and the result is a pure and visual lullaby.
When Reilly gives Gonzalez space, sitting down behind her, she bourrees straight backwards until he catches her waist, pulling her down with him as her arms float up in relief. No step overshadows another and the result is a pure and visual lullaby.
“La Follia” reveals Michele Wiles and Georgina Pazcoguin in sleek black leotards, the dusty air creating a smoky effect in the lights. Accompanied by Vivaldi’s quartet sonata of the same name, the women are crouched low, rising and stirring the music like stew with their arms, slowly, then rhythmically in quick gestural succession. Bigonzetti’s choreography gains momentum; sweeping arms give way to twisted staccato steps, but stays contained.
Wiles’ solo is light and joyful, perhaps mischievous. Pazcoguin is fiery and fierce, while grounded and athletic. She holds her classical form and flicks it away for effect, arching her back in two and snapping upright on the tail of the same note.
The piece closes with a syncopated duet, mildy aggressive as though the two have re-joined in battle. While the choreography is exciting, and both dancers gifted and generous onstage, stark stylistic differences between the two are distracting.
Perhaps that was an overall theme I took home from the night. The recipe is full of stylistic diversity, and all ingredients are top grade– high caliber classical talent and contemporary, dark and off beat creations — but they haven’t fully simmered.