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"American Choreographers" Cast List and Reviews

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I saw the "American Choreographers" program this afternoon. It opened with Christopher Stowell's Quick Time, set to a piano sonata by Camille Saint-Saens, based on a theme by Beethoven. For me, therein lies the rub: I found the music to be quite static rhythmically, until the very end; it was like stakes in a garden -- da, da, da, da -- with frenzied steps like vines run amok. The ballet was beautifully costumed by Mark Zappone, with the women in sleeveless bright blue and green jumpsuits with flowing bellbottomed pants and "inlays" on the bodice that offset the 60's decorations on the pianos.

It was beautifully danced, and there were some lovely passages: a very short pas de deux for Kylee Kitchens and Lucien Postlewaite, a lovely series of low lifts in a late pas de deux between Noelani Pantastico and Jonathan Porretta, and Porretta's second solo. It was the softness and fluidity with which Porretta embued the long opening solo to such thankless music that made it possible to watch. His ample gifts and technical acumen were better served by his fellow dancers in the Choreographer's Showcase a few weeks ago. Of the supporting corps couples, Rachel Foster was particularly vivid.

After a pause, The Moor's Pavane followed on the program. In another form of thanklessness, the Moor's confidence is poisoned by His Friend very soon into the piece, and he must maintain a jealous rage for the duration of the dance, while his Friend has the luxury of personality shape-changing. To his great credit Jeffrey Stanton maintained and built that intensity believably in what is, in many ways, a mime role, as his limbs are covered by a floor-length robe.

By contrast His Friend, in his short tunic and tights, performs signature moves that emphasize turnout: grand plie in second, demi plie in what looked like passe with the working foot in demi point, and b-plus. Christophe Maraval danced and acted brilliantly in the role, playing each incarnation of Iago -- the spoiler, the fool, the punching bag, Machiavelli -- convincingly.

Jodie Thomas danced The Moor's Wife, and gave an even more deeply moving rendition than she did in 2002: womanly, gracious, loving, and with wifely pride. In a signature move, where she stands facing the wing and bends back from the waist with her arms outstretched, she embodied trust, and the irony in the tragedy lay in how ill-founded that trust was.

Paul Gibson's Piano Dance followed, to short piano works by Cage (Opening Dance), Ligeti (Musica Ricercata), Chopin (Raindrop Prelude?), Bartok (Chromatic Invention & Ostinato), and Ginastera (Criollas) -- every single piece music to dance to. Gibson has a strand of Balanchine DNA: while there are overtones in this ballet to specific Balanchine pieces, there are more palpable resemblances in the logic and placement, the unending inventiveness, the movement and energy that burns from the sternum, and choreography that makes the dancers look newly born. But even more, the ballet was infused with humor and a joie de vivre that Robbins tried to hard to achieve in pieces like Interplay, but that appeared to flow naturally and in abundance.

I saw the second cast, comprised of Soloists and Corps; in the first cast, half the roles were performed by Principals, and I will be curious to see if the dynamic shifts when I see that cast next week. The central couple was danced by Lesley Rausch and Casey Herd. I'm not sure if the role was made primarily on Louise Nadeau or if it was a fusion of the strengths of Nadeau and Rausch, but if the former, it is even more remarkable that the role could look like a perfect fit and be such a triumph for Rausch. It would be so easy for her, with her long legs and preternatural extension and feet, to exaggerate her flexibility, but her dancing came from the center, which made the extension part of the whole phrase and shape. One of the pas de deux for Couple 1 (Rausch/Herd) had the feel of a cross between the first two themes of Four Temperaments and "Five Pieces, Op. 10" from Episodes. (And, like often in that piece, the audience had a fit of the giggles.)

Another resemblance in tone was a short part danced by Jordan Pacitti, which made me immediately wanted to see him in "Gigue" in Mozartiana, a role I would not have imagined him in before. (A decided lack of imagination on my part, having typecast him mentally in other genres in which he excels.) It was a strength of this piece -- and the casting -- that it revealed so many "hidden" strengths and treasures in its cast.

Rausch and Herd, Thomas and Moore, Foster and Pacitti, Eames and Spell -- it was like being in a huge garden, where around every corner there was another gorgeous type of flower in full splendor. And kudos to Dianne Chilgren; it's so easy to take it for granted that a concert pianist performs for the ballet.

The women were dressed in red, with the body in the shape of a lycra leotard, with velour "boning" fanning out off the vertical axis, and short velour "skirts" in the back. (Mark Zappone also did the designs for this ballet.) Lisa J. Pinkham's lighting enhanced the overall feel of each piece. The only disconcerting element was the men's pants, which had wide horizontal stripes at the bottom of one pant leg, and the other pant leg cropped at the knee.

It is ultimately the inevitability of Gibson's response to danceable music that made this the best contempory ballet I've seen since NYCB revived Danses Concertantes in 1989. I think that ballet companies should beg, borrow, and steal this ballet for their repertoire.

The last ballet on the program was Lambarena. Carrie Imler danced the lead among a trio of women, including Noelani Pantastico and Mara Vinson. Imler was fascinating to watch, because she dances with a fluency and self-confidence that doesn't scream "I AM GREAT" (even though she is, in my opinion), but states, "This Is What I Am." She hasn't boxed herself into any other persona but "dancer," and her dancing has both a richness and directness that I find so appealing.

Mara Vinson danced with a sense of fullness, and amidst Vinson and Imler, Pantastico looked a bit formal, until her pas de deux with Batkhurel Bold, when her crispness and precision fit the choreography beautifully. Another standout in a demi role was Pacitti, who caught the undulating quality of the movement so well, that when he shimmied with his shoulders, the reverberations could be seen in his ribs, waist, and hips. His dancing has a grounded, virile quality of movement.

During the intermission after The Piano Dance, I ran to the box office to buy tickets for two more performances next weekend, but, alas it was closed. (I later ordered off the website.) I'm really looking forward to seeing the alternate casts.

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I had a couple of comments that I wanted to make but couldn't get into my review, so I'm taking advantage of Helene's extensive description and piggybacking!

Helene's observation about the two male parts in Moor's Pavane is astute -- it's very interesting that Limon made the less complex role for himself, since he was an excellent dance actor, but Lucas Hoving, the original Friend, was a stunning performer and this role must have been a fabulous vehicle for him. I never saw his work live, but the video of the original cast that's floating around is well worth the price (I think it's currently available on DVD) -- even in a blurry, black and white kinescope you can see the power of the technique and their mastery of it. I got the chance to see Olivier Wevers and Christopher Maraval as the Friend last weekend, and both of them had very interesting interpretations of the part. Wevers, who could have a great future as a character dancer if he chooses, gave a slightly more presentational perfomance -- without being too overt it was clear that he thought as much about how the audience would see his actions as he did about the relationship with the other characters on stage. This helped to focus our view of Bakthurel Bold's Moor as well -- he's come a long way since he did this role a couple of years ago, when he seemed uncomfortable with the emotional expression of the part, but he's still seems to be looking for more nuance in the general sense of betrayal, and the interaction with Wevers created some of that. Maraval, dancing with Stanton as the Moor, seemed to deal with him, and the other characters on stage, a bit more directly.

Wevers and Ariana Lallone have performed this work several times before, and they're still adding to the details of their relationship (his hand coming around her chest as she leans back into him is almost lascivious -- it's clear just from that one gesture that her controls her sexually) but the thing that I noticed most clearly this time is that they are almost the same height -- when she leans toward him and they both "spy" on the Moor and his wife, their heads are on the same plane -- it makes them appear more as equals, which makes her seem more culpable at the end. In the same production, Louise Nadeau is much smaller than Bold, it sets up their dynamic before they even get started.

Chalnessa Eames performed the Friend's Wife, and I think this was a debut. It's certainly a good part for her -- she seems willing to grapple with the weighted quality of the movement and to move through the phrases rather than going from shape to shape, which is a temptation I've seen other ballet-trained dancers fall into doing this work (though no one here this time). And in the section where she's managed to get the handkerchief, she understands the difference between fast and quick -- one of my all-time favorite parts of the work, even in that old film, is the sequence where the Friend's Wife is playing with the kerchief -- tossing it in the air and catching it. Pauline Koner snatched that piece of fabric out of the air, almost like a fox would snap at its prey. It's a wonderful feral moment, and a big key to that character's motivations and reactions, and not always something that dancers get clear. Between this, and her part in Paul Gibson's new work, Eames had a great performance, and it was a treat to see her with more clarity.

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Last week I saw this program from the back of the orchestra; tonight I sat in the second to last row of the house. What a difference it made -- Christopher Stowell's Quick Time looked a million times better from the higher perspective. What had seemed like pounding frenzy from ground level looked energized and much smoother from above, where the structure of the ballet was clear. And this ballet, despite the music, has excellent bones. My unsolicited advice to those who will see the OBT Fall program, in which this ballet will be performed, is to sit in one of the balconies.

The cast was the same as last week's, but I wanted to note that Kylee Kitchens looked particularly glamorous in the lime green jumpsuit costume worn by the demis. (Maria Chapman would look glamorous in a burlap sack, so pointing out the same about her is almost unfair.)

Tonight I saw different casts (mainly) for The Moor's Pavane and The Piano Ballet. In the Limon, Batkhurel Bold danced The Moor; Oliviers Wevers, His Friend, Ariana Lallone, His Friend's Wife, and Louise Nadeau, The Moor's Wife. This may be the only piece on the program that suffered from being so far away; I didn't note many of the dramatic nuances of Wevers' portrayal of His Friend. This may have been partly because Lallone was so overwhelmingly vivid and commanding as His Wife.

Sandik identified the importance of the sexuality in the relationship between His Friend and His Friend's Wife. I missed the gesture where Wevers' hand came across Lallone's chest, which, had I seen it, might have influenced the impression I had of the characters. My impression was the opposite, though: I thought Lallone was the controller in that relationship. To me it looked as though, the characters on stage were Otello and Desdemona vs. MacBeth and Lady MacBeth, so powerful was Lallone's character. A telling gesture: when she finally handed over the handkerchief to her husband, she flipped it to him as if to say she was bored with toying with him. By contrast, Eames' characterization of His Friend's Wife was of a young woman controlled by the sexuality of her husband, which made her grief at Desdemona's death more genuine.

The Piano Dance was just as wonderful and delightful as it was last week, but the dynamic changed a lot with this cast. This was the first cast, and as Paul Gibson said in a post-performance Q&A, the first cast is on whom he "sees" the ballet. (He said that it was harder to cast the second cast, which he does against type. The example he gave was that for Kaori Nakamura's part he chose a lyrical dancer, Jodie Thomas, in the second cast, in contrast to a jumper. He did mention that because Nadeau and Maraval weren't available at first, he worked out their choreography on second cast members Lesley Rausch and Casey Herd.) The individual contrasts were a bit brighter, but the dancers looked a little less like an organic community.

As striking as the final pas de deux is -- Gibson said that the inspiration was watching a show on insects on the Discovery Channel, to which Nadeau responded, laughing, "which made you think of me" -- it was to the quiet Chopin centerpiece that Nadeau and Maraval brought a whispered lushness that was breathtaking.

Lambarena was the closing ballet, with two important cast changes from last week. I hadn't read the program carefully, and when I recognized Jordan Pacitti as the dancer in the first male solo, I almost did a :blink: , as he shone so brightly in the movement's secondary role last week. He moved with a combination of earthiness and lightness, and had an almost boneless quality to his undulations, in contrast to his striking opening and closing poses. Rachel Foster had the energy of a cyclone in the second pas de deux, while maintaining the crispness and clarity of the choreography. The entire cast seem more energized and "on" than last week.

I inadvertently didn't mention Casey Herd's dancing last week; tonight he was as impressive in his legato rendering of the "classical" solo in movement VII. Like Pacitti, he has a strength and pliancy in his phrasing, and he was terrific in the first pas de deux with Imler.

It might be a function of my subscriptions over the years, but it seems to me that Carrie Imler is often partnered with Bold, at least in classical roles, and that Louise Nadeau with Christophe Maraval. Maraval showed what a wonderful and unusual pairing Nadeau and Bold make in his piece for the Choreographer's Workshop, O to music by Satie. It wasn't quite as obvious in The Moor's Pavane, but the clarity in her movement contrasts beautifully to the sinuousness and buoyancy of his dancing. Imler and Herd dance beautifully together as well, as their smoothness and strength complement each other so well.

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This afternoon was the last performance of this program. I saw it again from the back of the Second Tier, and I was able to compare performances of The Moor's Pavane and The Piano Dance to the ones I saw last week (same cast from Orchestra) and last night (different cast from similar location in the Hall.)

Quick Time was beautifully danced again this afternoon, followed by The Moor's Pavane. My initial thought yesterday was that the piece lost something by being seen from the top of the house, but while I missed seeing the facial expressions, if anything, the cast -- Jodie Thomas (Moor's Wife), Jeffrey Stanton (Moor), Chalnessa Eames (His Friend's Wife) and Christophe Maraval (His Friend) -- looked even more balanced, the characterizations more distinct, and the drama more episodic than they did from the Orchestra. Eames' Friend's Wife was a plausible friend to The Moor's Wife, while in last night's cast, Ariana Lallone' His Friend's Wife looked like she was about to devour Louise Nadeau's Moor's Wife. Stanton's Moor was slowly poisoned, his confidence shattered, but his pride intact, while Batkhurel Bold's Moor played more volatile and angry. Maraval's performance of His Friend had nuance and range that projected as well to the back of the House as it did to the back of the Orchestra.

Because his personas ranged from quicksilver to imposing, portraying a character who was not afraid to appear "weak" in contrast to Stanton's Moor's wall of pride, if it furthered his manipulations, Maraval didn't dominate the performance. This took me by surprise, because he was a dominanting presence in last night's performance of The Piano Dance. In today's performance of The Piano Dance, the cast was the second cast for the ballet, and, like the casting for The Moor's Pavane, I thought it was more well-balanced. The dancers (Rausch/Herd, Foster/Pacitti, Thomas/Moore, and Eames/Spell) again performed as if the ballet was nourishment, and they looked like stars in it.

One note I forgot last night: the lighting for The Piano Dance, which looked so great from the Orchestra, was a bit shadowy from the top of the House in the first few pieces. It was a bit disconcerting to see the downstage left woman's face go from shadow to light as she was lifted a bit upstage and then back to shadow again on the next lift, and then back to light. There seem to be some "wells" of darkness around the stage. (This doesn't include the opening tableaux, which elicited applause from the audience all three times.)

Lamberena had a largely different cast, with Lallone and Maraval dancing the leads, and Noelani Pantastico/Jonathan Porretta and Lesley Rausch/Jordan Pacitti in the secondary leads. In each lead trio (men/women), there were two dancers that could have been movement siblings, with the third a close cousin. Lallone and Rausch had a long-limbed, angular quality, and Pantastico performed this role with crispness that looked right in place, although she isn't the same body type. (With Imler and Vinson, she looked like the "formal" cousin, and in other casts, the men looked unrelated.) Maraval and Pacitti share the same groundedness; when they plie, you can feel the movement to its roots. Maraval is taller, but they are both muscular dancers who move the molecules around them. Porretta can change between qualities of lightness and gravity, and he and Pantastico sparked off of each other in the second pas de deux, after he opened the movement with an explosive solo. Maraval is one of the few whose presence is as imposing and compelling as Lallone's when she is in full throttle, and as a result, their pas de deux was a joy to watch. Pacitti's performance of his solo was as wonderful as it was last night.

Because of the balance of casting in each ballet, I think today's program was as close to perfect as a mixed bill of disparate styles can be. It's not that there weren't other dancers who were equal in these roles, but the alchemy of each combination made the whole more than a sum of its parts.

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