“She Holds Out Her Hand,” “La Chatte Matamorphosée en Femme,” pas de deux from “Such Longing, ” “L’Après-midi d’un Faune,” “ “Tickling Titans (Parts II & III),” “Light Moving”
New York Theatre Ballet
New York Live Arts
March 1, 2017
by Gay Morris
copyright © 2017 by Gay Morris
New York Theatre Ballet is known for presenting chamber works by both major and emerging choreo- graphers. As such it is a boon to New York cultural life, giving audiences the opportunity to see works that larger companies might neglect. The current season (through March 4) is typical of the range and variety of the company’s offerings, from a revival of Nijinsky’s “L’Après-midi d’un Faune,” to new ballets by Pam Tanowitz and Steven Melendez.
Amanda Treiber and Steven Melendez in the pas de deux from Richard Alston’s “Such Longing.” Photo by Rachel Neville
Interesting, too, was a little solo by Frederick Ashton created for Royal Ballet principal Meryl Park for a gala in 1985. Entitled “La Chatte Matamor- phosée en Femme” (with music by Offenbach), it featured Elena Zahlmann, who first appeared reclining on a chaise. She wore a beguiling cat cap with ears and a calf-length dress ornamented with fur, all in white. The dance includes the kind of terre à terre movement for which Ashton is famous, with many bourées and other swift, small steps. The dance also shows Ashton at his most whimsical, while revealing his talent for capturing the essential features of animals (think of the chickens in La Fille Mal Guardee). At one point the cat rolls on the floor and scratches the furniture, as cats are wont to do, and throughout, her claws are as much in evidence as her charm. The dance ends with a mechanical mouse running across the stage as the cat’s eyes grow large with avid attention. Zahlmann gave the dance just the right combination of sweet piquancy and danger.
The most ambitious undertaking of the evening was L’Après-midi d’un Faune, in a reconstruction by Ann Hutchinson Guest, made with Claudia Jeschke from Nijinsky’s notation system, transposed into a Labonation score. Both Guest and Jeschke are well-known in the dance field and Guest has had long experience (she is in her 90s) with dance notation and mounting works from it. Nevertheless, the ballet did not fare well on opening night, in part because of technical difficulties, but more generally because the dancers seemed to have little idea of the context or style of the ballet. It was as if they had been asked to perform a ritual from an exotic society they knew little about. I have seen “L’Après-midi d’un Faune” by various companies over the years, and success seems to rest on absolute precision of body placement and gesture, coupled with confidence in the choreography. The Theatre Ballet dancers were unable to achieve anything like it. They weren’t helped by a rickety outcropping of rock, on which the Faun must rest at the beginning and end of the work, or by the fact that the backdrop looked to be a photographic image rather than a painted cloth. On Wednesday the leading Nymph also could not release her scarf from her shoulder (essential to the narrative) so had to unceremoniously take it off over her head. This shattered whatever mood had previously existed.
More successful was Pam Tanowitz’s “Light Moving,” set to music by David Lang. It is a jaunty trio danced on this occasion by Joshua Andino-Nieto, Amanda Treiber, and Elena Zahlmann, which saw them continually breaking out of and returning to a triangular arrangement. The movement is sharp and quick, enhanced by costumes in bright Mondrian-like colors that emphasize the geometry of the dance.
Also included on the program was Antonia Franceschi’s “She Holds Out Her Hand,”a group work to music of Claire van Kampen. Written notes said the ballet was about loss, but the narrative element was never brought into focus in relationship to the movement, at least for this viewer. Steven Melendez’ strangely titled “Tickling Titans (Parts II & III),” was a solo danced by Mayu Oguni. It had sequences of movement that looked promising, but it was difficult to decipher any kind of larger structure in the piece. Melendez also chose music by Shoenberg, which was an added challenge.
New York Theatre Ballet director Diana Byer is to be commended for using live music in the company’s performances, in this case piano scores, with the addition of violin in “Light Moving.” Michael Scales, the pianist, did a masterful job of playing the very large range of music called for in the program.
Photo above: Elena Zahlmann in Frederick Ashton’s “La Chatte Metamorphosée en Femme.” Photo by Rachel Neville