“Caprice,” “Leise, Leise,” “Emilia,” “Spieglein,” “Slow Dancing to Kurt Weil,” “Ghost Story”
New Chamber Ballet - Program 3
City Center Studios
New York, New York
February 11, 2012
By Michael Popkin
Copyright © 2012 by Michael Popkin
New Chamber Ballet’s evening of six short works – four by company director Miro Magloire and one each by Emery LeCrone and Constantine Baecher – was a refreshing counterpoint to big company ballet. The works use classical dance unpretentiously to tell stories, seasoned by good music and the appeal of attractive dancers. In the close-up space of City Center Studios, the audience sits in five rows of folding chairs right on top of the performance space, and the immediate experience of music and dance carried the day.
In addition to good dancers, strong young musicians are employed to play good modern and contemporary work, and the shows draw a music audience in addition to that for dance. On this weekend violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Taka Kigawa played selections that ranged from Michael Nyman to Luciano Berio; Karlheinz Stockhausen to Kurt Weill; and Morton Feldman to Handel.
LeCrone’s “Caprice” led off the evening with a solo for Sarah Atkins to selections from Nyman’s “Zoo Caprices for Solo Violin.” During the arpeggios, Atkins faced the violinist and breathed quietly, carrying eloquent gestures through her back and into her arms. You experienced her feeling the music; elsewhere the choreography was across the melody at a slower pace than the score. You can see why LeCrone’s getting attention; her use of stillness was poetic in a dance that existed independently of the score, yet was linked to it.
Baecher, an American-born member of the Royal Danish Ballet, danced in the duet about a lovers’ quarrel he contributed to the program, called “Slow Dancing to Kurt Weill,” for himself and Elizabeth Brown. The score was two Weill songs (“My Ship” and “Lonely House”) orchestrated for violin and piano. Baecher was stripped to the waist and the appealingly dramatic Brown wore a black evening gown. Holding each other close before the music started, their duet moved through sexual aggression to end in reconciliation. With the audience leaving their seats to watch it in the round, the social dance based choreography was frankly sensual. It would have been trite on a proscenium stage (though no more so than Twyla Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite”), but the attractive dancers and informal presentation made it feel unpretentious and the audience loved it.
Magloire’s own four ballets on the program were in a simple classical dance style occasionally informed by dramatic gestures. All posited a psychological or physical situation and set the dancers to act it out. The simplest was “Spieglein,” a new work, where Victoria North danced to Handel’s “Violin Sonata in G Minor.” The dramatic situation had you imagine the dancer surrounded by mirrors (indeed the title means “little mirror” in German); and the dance was so arranged that pas-de-bourrées ended in reverences to the front in all four quarters, as North saw herself reflected in each direction amidst choreography that delicately suggested the French Baroque.
“Leise, Leise” (“Softly, Softly”) was a family portrait where Atkins, Holly Curran, and Katie Gibson portrayed three sisters straight out of Anton Checkhov. The score was piano etudes by Berio. Curran, a lovely dancer with long arms and an expressive face, played the odd girl out. A second premiere, “Emilia” (to piano by Stockhausen), had Atkins and Gibson playing men, while Brown was a woman in a scarlet evening dress buffeted between them in a love triangle.
In “Ghost Story,” ending the evening, Atkins, Curran and North alternately hid behind a piano set in the middle of the dance floor, or emerged from behind it to do solos, duets and trios. Who the ghost was, and who was being haunted, was vague; but the dancers made the work absorbing, particularly a passage where Atkins hovered over Curran and the two moved their arms in unison, as if by sympathetic magic. Throughout the piece, Curran used her eyes and face brilliantly. The score was a duet for piano and violin by Feldman entitled “Spring of Chosroes.”
Magloire’s dances run together thematically and stylistically, and that helped the evening succeed. The brevity of the works made them unpresuming and the lack of overblown ambition let the appeal of the dancers carry things. Magloire trusted his performers and put simple dramatic material to complex music. The combination worked; sitting back, you let the flow take over. Ballet does not have to be high budget.
Photographs by Kokyat: (Top) Sarah Atkins in “Caprice”; (Bottom) Elizabeth Brown and Constantine Baecher in “Slow Dancing to Kurt Weill.”