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BalletMet Columbus

by Jennifer Wesnousky
May 31, 2004
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

BalletMet Columbus

www.balletmet.org

presented at
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
www.joyce.org

Gerard Charles, Artistic Director
Cheri Mitchell, Executive Director
Stanton Welch, Artistic Associate

Company Dancers: Erin Barnard, Reid Bartelme, Adrienne Benz, Daryl Brandwood, William Cannon, Olivia Clark, Adrina DeVitre, Jamie Dee, Matthew Geiger, Justin Gibbs, Patrick Howell, Allison Jay, Christine Mangia, Hisham Amardien, Jimmy Orrante, Christina Ortiz, Sara Rifkin, Rebecca Rodriguez, Dereck Sakakura, Dimitri Suslov, Tracy Thayer, Richard Tullius, Hiromi Ushino, Randolph Ward, Sonia Welker, Carrie West, Angela Wetzstein, Elizabeth Zengara.

By Jennifer E. Wesnousky
May 31, 2004

Like any art, each of the three ballets performed by the BalletMet of Columbus, Ohio at their recent performance at the Joyce Theatre, is open to interpretation. However, the remarkable aspect of the BalletMet is that it encourages the audience to do just that. These dancers did not "just dance", although dance incredibly well they did. What impresses most about this company lies in their obvious commitment, not only to technique and challenging choreography, but to what these elements- when accompanied by the right combination of talented performers and thematically complimentary costumes and music- have the potential to portray.

Choreographer Deanna Carter's "Colores del Alma" (Colors of the Soul) employs a score of Spanish music, tinged with Jazz and Middle Eastern influences, to explore multiple facets of the relationships between men and women. The allusion to fire is established immediately when, the chiseled, black mesh-sheathed backs of the seven male danseurs are illuminated with orangey light, enhanced by the entrance of the eight flowing, corseted ballerina's dresses in various shades of oranges and reds. Movements range from controlled, balletic takes on Flamenco to acrobatic rolls and leaps. During the "La Llorona" (The Crybaby) segment, one woman is lifted continuously and creatively between two men, between whom she appears to struggle to choose. Later, as the music acknowledges its Arab undertones, the movements of five intertwining couples turn serpentine. The women, who acknowledge their sensuality openly in this scene, seem to enjoy some secret upper hand. Not so in another section in which a couple appears at war with one another. Despite obvious dysfunction between them, and the not-so-subtle hint of male dominance and even violence, their compulsion towards one another is demonstrated choreographically by the fact that they remain in physical contact throughout the piece. A chorus of five women dancing in unity behind them seems to represent a sort of sisterly system of support. Carter's success lies in leaving no stone unturned in her exploration of the male-female dynamic. While the tension between the aforementioned duo could leave one feeling slightly ill at ease, the entrance of an additional couple to the stage reminds us of the joy and power which romantic passion can bring. These varied portrayals of men and women experiencing life together, in all of its "colors," allow the audience to experience the same.

The second ballet, choreographer James Kudelka's "Gazebo Dances," is as thought provoking as it is compelling to watch. The movement, which ranges from cartoonish bravado to mechanical, doll-like steps, seems to suggest a sort of ignorance in bliss. The dancers impishly frolic and skip, engaging even in thumb-sucking prior to beginning to play warlike games. Denis Levoie's all-white costumes, the purity of each interrupted with a flash of blue or red- serve to reiterate this unsettling turn of events, especially in a playful piece in which one character dons an Uncle Sam-like hat. Despite this apparent foreshadowing of traumatic events, the children dance on, gleefully unaware. Yet, the entrance of a distraught couple, who seem to be in mourning, interrupts the cheerful tranquility of the previous scenes. The couple exudes the feeling of having discovered some hideous truth that is yet to be revealed to the others. This brilliant choreography is unlike any I have ever seen in that the couple maintains their horrified expressions throughout the entire piece. Through complicated series of leaps, pirouettes and lifts, the couple's hands remain woefully plastered to their faces. Another of "Gazebo Dance's" poignant moments, in which childlike personas kiss one another and then wipe their mouths in disgust, makes the audience wonder whether they (and indeed we) are ever really ready to leave our innocence behind.

The backdrop of choreographer Stanton Welch's "Play," is the techno/hip-hop inspired Moby album of the same title. As the piece opens, the dancers appear transfixed to the static of imaginary TVs, before reluctantly going through their daily motions- from the brushing of their teeth to the dressing of their exquisite physiques in "business casual" fare reminiscent of a commercial for the Gap. Linear segments in which the cast appears to be crossing one another on a city street bring out the multitude of ways in which people interact on a daily basis; some seeming brainwashed in their haste to arrive at their destinations while others experience emotions ranging from attraction to repulsion towards their fellow passersby. An energetic section in which men in suits appear to vent their work-day frustration brings a collective smile to the audience's face. Despite the dancers' extremely youthful appearance, Welch's unusual choreography, a sassy meshing of modern ballet and hip-hop, brings out the maturity of the ensemble. Most compelling about "Play," and indeed about the BalletMet itself, is that there is no proverbial "weak link." Instead, one witnesses an ensemble in which the strength of each and every character stands out, creating a unity within the very chaos suggested by the piece.

Had I one word to describe my impression of the BalletMet Columbus upon seeing their New York City debut at the Joyce Theatre on Saturday, May 30, 2004, I think I would choose "intelligent". That there was never a dull a moment during the three half-hour ballets performed by the company was due not only to innovative choreographers and the dancers' technical strength- requirements for any corps de ballet- but in the BalletMet's extraordinary aptitude for storytelling. The fact that, at each of the two intermissions, the woman next to me wished to discuss both the physical and psychological components of each vignette, is testimony to the success of this company to compel audience members to grapple with the thematic implications of their work.


BalletMet
Photo courtesy of Will Shively



BalletMet
Photo courtesy of Will Shively

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