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James Sewell Ballet - Dance Philosophy and a Phunny Bone

by Richard Penberthy
April 6, 2006
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

James Sewell Ballet - Dance Philosophy and a Phunny Bone

Performances April 4-9, 2006

The Joyce Theater
175 8th Avenue (at 19th)
New York City
(212) 242-0800
www.joyce.org

James Sewell Ballet exclusive tour representative is Siegel Artist Management, LLC, www.siegetartist.com

Richard Penberthy
April 6, 2006

The Sewell Ballet presents a varied program of three dances at The Joyce. The final ballet of the three is the best: "Guy Noir", based upon a humorous Garrison Keillor radio plot, is a delightful presentation, well choreographed and danced. Keillor himself is the (taped) narrator. The role of Guy Noir, a private eye with an eye for the ladies, is danced with masterful tongue-in-cheek cheekiness by Benjamin Johnson. The plot revolves around a contest whose winner will receive a million-dollar prize. Advertising agencies will be glad to have such a clever tool-marketing idea, as the contestants must dance with a tool. That's right, a tool. One dances with a chain saw, another with an electric drill. For the sponsor of the contest is the Acme Tulle Company (Mr. Sewell, the choreographer IS a dancer after all!). Suffice it to say that the company might be better named 'tool and die', because true to the private eye, LA noir genre, there is mystery, a damsel in distress (albeit faked distress), and someone dies (also a fraud). The costumes are by Mary Hansmeyer, and one contestant wears a rotary saw blade as a tutu! This an immensely enjoyable end to the evening.

The first ballet, "Anagram," was in the romantic mode. Mr. Sewell began the piece with a solo, followed by the rest of the company of dancers in three movements of Franz Schubert's "Sonata for Arpeggione and Piana in A Minor." This was a somewhat strained effort, the dancers seeming not entirely confident. (Two of the women were substitutions, possibly contributing to the tentativeness.) The men's costumes were somewhat puzzling, yellow, knee-length tights, but with an apron of sorts around the back of the knee. It was unclear what this was meant to indicate. Partnering - lifts and turns and footwork - seemed insecure, and the women were far off vertical in pirouettes. Likely, with a return to the usual cast, this will be a charming ballet. It is an interesting intellectual exercise as well, as the program indicates that, "although "Anagram" is danced in these performances to the music of Franz Schubert…the choreography has been designed in modules that permit the movement to be reset to different music in a matter of days. The modules can be sequenced in any order and connected by Improvisational structures…for different dance artists with their own feelings and meanings."

The second dance, "Involution," brought all the dancers to the stage in a fog of stage smoke. They wore bodysuits, rather like shiny green frog skins with metallic streaks. The dance was narrative but overlong. Program notes indicate that "using dance metaphor, this ballet is tracing the evolutions of individuals and a small culture - how they evolve from fractured individuals into a place of unified being," and that it grew out of energy work (yoga and Qigong). Clearly, the choreographer approaches dance as a cerebral exercise as much as a physical performance.

Without a doubt, the third dance, "Guy Noir," was the star of the evening.



James Sewell Ballet - Involution
Photo courtesy of James Sewell



James Sewell Ballet - Benjamin Johnson in Guy Noir: The Ballet
Photo courtesy of Erik Saulitis

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