For several years now, Benjamin Millepied, a 28-year-old principal dancer at New York City Ballet, has been choreographing and directing programs that feature his own work as well as pieces by other choreographers. Mr. Millepied is ambitious and well-connected, and he attracts firstrate dancers, from both NYCB and American Ballet Theatre.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Millepied's company began a week's run at the Joyce Theater with a program that consisted of "Closer," a new duet by Mr. Millepied that he danced with ABT's Gillian Murphy, as well as world premieres by Aszure Barton, Adonis Foniadakis, and Luca Veggetti. Though all four choreographers showed talent, the choreography could have used better editing. But the high-gloss dancers were certainly worth watching.
The program opened with Mr. Veggetti's "Silence Text: A Ritual in the Art of the Dancer," performed to an arrangement by Paolo Aralla of gearstripping sounds and snatches of breathy recitation written by the 14th-century Noh playwright Zeami Motokiyo. The piece consisted mostly of slow-motion movement, contrasted with sudden, rapid spurts.
The dancers all came from NYCB: Tyler Angle, Ellen Bar, Teresa Reichlen, Alina Dronova, and ex-member Alexander Ritter.The women were on pointe. The ensemble's configurations dwelled on contrasts between coupling dancers and independent outriders, as well as the occasional trio.
Microphones suspended from the ceiling dominated the stage, and the dancers kissed, palpated, and propitiated them, cuing an immediate response from the soundtrack. Mr. Veggetti populated the stage skillfully, but the sound effects were acutely uncomfortable in the small theater, which functioned like an echo chamber. There was perhaps more to see in this work than the soundtrack permitted.
Mr. Millepied's "Closer" was performed to Philip Glass's "Mad Rush," played live by pianist Pedja Muzijevic. The kinetic pace heeded the mu sic's cyclical repetition, building to agitato, subsiding, and beginning anew. Throughout the piece, I was aware of Mr. Millepied's debt to such choreographers as Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown who have used minimal scores; this is partly because any attempt to work cooperatively with a Glass score will to a large degree dictate a particular vocabulary.
"Closer" began with a solo danced by Mr. Millepied, which he originally choreographed for Ethan Stiefel, who bowed out of the Joyce concert due to injury. He rippled and flopped, surrendering, Harlequin-style, to the movement rather than compelling it in the more traditional balletic manner.
Ms. Murphy then danced a solo that included furious spins, inverted arms, and dribbling feet. She wore flat ballet slippers and showed once more her ability to transform her customarily emphatic virtuoso balletic style. Ms. Murphy sometimes comes off as a shy performer, so it seemed like an adjustment for her to be performing so close to an audience. (The Joyce is a fraction of the size of the opera houses in which ABT plays.) But she achieved poise and transparency that suited the material and the venue. Mr. Millepied reappeared, and they began a duet for which he supplied a seamless and unstrained plenitude of steps.
Ms. Barton's "Short-Lived" used a score primarily by the Cracow Klezmer Band, with some ancillary interjections by Baroque composer Jean-Marie Leclair. The performers were modern dancers Charissa Barton, William Briscoe, and Ariel Freedman, together with Mr. Ritter.
The primacy of rhythm informed everything: Ms. Barton manipulated tango rhythm and sometimes tango vocabulary. We saw the floor-dragging feet of the tango, as well as a softly sinking walk that suggested clam-diggers. The dancers went in and out of cones of light on a dark stage designed by Burke Wilmore; there was a beautiful moment when beams seemed to be pouring in from transom openings stage right. Staggers and split-second falls to the ground abounded. There were ideas in the piece, but it jammed on too long.
Mr. Foniadakis's "Phrases Now" was performed to a soundtrack by Julien Tarride that employed the same kind of earsplitting ambient and Musique Concrete sounds that accompanied "Silence Text," as well as some garbled choral fragments. This piece also began with a cone of light, here sheltering Ula Sickle; a quartet of NYCB men - Mr. Angle, Mr. Millepied, Craig Hall, and Sean Suozzi - soon joined her.They related to her and to each other like a collegial team of acrobats. Black sequin tops on the dancers turned them into holographic figures on the dark stage.
Mr. Foniadakis sent his dancers bobbing, weaving, spiraling, and plunging into one-handed cartwheels. Finally they all huddled together before falling down. The dancers appeared to relish the opportunity to perform aerobically challenging material that nevertheless allowed them to slip the stringent shackles of ballet.
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