NEW YORK THEATER BALLET
March 8, 2022
The latest iteration of New York Theater Ballet’s Legends & Visionaries, program featured three dances, beginning with Merce Cunningham’s 1967 Scramble. Made up of eighteen sections that can be performed in nearly any order, the dance has become emblematic of Cunningham’s style. This company certainly lives up to Scramble’s reputation, executing the classic choreography with all the humor, drama, and dedication to line and color that an audience of dance lovers could expect.
In Pam Tanowitz’s 2013 Short Memorya playful contemporary ballet, dancers don neon pointe shoes, working with and against the conventions of the form: a ballerina is held in a virtuosic arabesque—-the idyllic image of an evening at the ballet—-as the other dancers lay in a lovely line across the floor, legs upstretched and toes pointed save for the wry flex of Julian Donahue’s green-clad foot.
Here Alexis Branigan shines from the ensemble, pas du chat-ing with the hint of a smile, cluing us into the wit of the precise ballet vocabulary. Michael Scales plays a piano upstage, which mirrors how the choreography tests the edges of balletic form when he stands and strums the piano’s strings like a harp.
The program closed with Toulouse’s Dreama commission that marks NYTB’s first foray into multimedia dance. Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer’s choreography and video projection certainly delivered the lush dreamscape of post-impressionist French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The projections were sometimes clumsy, light bleeding around the edges of dancers’ bodies or vaguely distracting shadows, but much more often beautiful moments were conjured, such as the stunning image of three dancers letting their hair fall forward over a bolt of aquamarine fabric, sharp elbows silhouetted on the wall behind.
Below them, Toulouse (played by NYTB’s artistic director Diana Byer!) laid, as projections of the dancers in crisp suit tails tread carefully over his stomach. The costumes by Anna-Alisa Belous were a triumph: pale skirts cascaded and shuffled along with the roiling choreography, becoming stages for the projections to alight upon, and providing the atmosphere of the Parisian brothels that Toulouse is famous for painting.
Toulouse’s Dream is ambitious and effective, and exactly the kind of multimedia dance that makes me want to see what exciting and innovative projects these artists will create next.
This, together with Tanowitz and Cunningham, made for a rich and dynamic evening that earned all of its applause and more at the Florence Gould Hall.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Noah Witke Mele