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New Chamber Ballet Dances “Stray Bird,” a Tribute to Ursula Mamlok

by Bonnie Rosenstock
October 14, 2017
German Academy New York
1014 Fifth Avenue (between 82nd and 83rd Streets)
New York, NY 10028
Ursula Mamlok (1923-2016) spent most of her adult life in New York as a pianist, composer and well-respected professor of composition and music theory. The German-born Jewish Mamlok fled the Nazis following Kristallnacht in 1938, but was denied entry into the U.S. due to immigration quotas and spent a couple of years in Ecuador with her family. She immigrated here alone in 1940 at age 17 (her family followed later), as a result of a full music scholarship to the Mannes School of Music based on her compositions.

She composed works for small chamber ensembles, orchestra, piano, guitar, oboe and voice with songs, to name a few. However, she didn’t achieve significant recognition until the 1960s when her music began to be performed regularly. Her music defies clear definition. It is considered avant-garde, minimalist and dissonant (think Schoenberg, Webern and Berg), but it can also be light, emotional, expressive and playful. At 83, following the death of her husband Dwight Mamlok in 2006, she returned to Berlin, where she became an important figure in contemporary music circles. She died at age 93, a revered icon.

German-born Miro Magloire, founder and artistic director of the New Chamber Ballet, who is also a trained composer and dancer, is known for his collaborations with musicians and cutting-edge contemporary music. So it was a perfect fit for him to honor his compatriot with “Stray Bird, Dances to Music of Ursula Mamlok” (October 5 and 6, two performances each evening). It was presented at the German government-owned magnificent landmark building at 1014 Fifth Avenue, across from the Metropolitan Museum, which you can see from the balcony windows.

The program opened with a Prologue in the White Salon (walls being white) of “Five Intermezzi” for solo guitar, which Mamlok composed between 1984 and 1990. It was skillfully performed by Daniel Lippel. According to the program notes, it is “a symmetrical structure in which a central long movement is framed by two shorter pieces on either side.” It was a series of jarring thrums, plucks, strums and taps, but also intense, lyrical, slow and soft.

The dance portion of the program, a little over one hour without interruption, was remarkable, from the setting in the wood-paneled Main Salon to the choreography, New Chamber Ballet dancers, live music by the Momenta String Quartet and soprano Cree Carrico. “Bagatelles” choreographed by Rebecca Walden and Mara Driscoll, was performed by the Company’s five female dancers, barefoot and wearing variations of white lacy dresses or pants (costumes by Sarah Thea), accompanied by Carlos Cordeiro on clarinet, Alex Shiozaki on violin and Michael Haas on cello. It featured swaying dreamlike in place, trembling, stillness, a dancer splayed out on the floor and many exits and reentries through the room’s wide doorway.

Magloire’s “Sintra” was a superbly executed duet by dancers Elizabeth Brown and Kristine Butler. It featured Magloire’s hallmark moves: gentle lifts, body wrap-arounds, fast and slow movements, stillness, accompanied by Mamlok’s three-part composition for alto flute, played by Margo Cargo, and Hass on violoncello.

“Haiku Settings” and “Stray Birds” introduced voice, sung with sublime perfection by Carrico. The former, a dance quartet with flute, and the latter for flute and violoncello, with solo dancer Traci Finch. For both, Mamlok used English translations of Asian poetry for its structure and expressiveness, which harmonized with her particular style. In “Haiku Settings” the repetitive phrase was one dancer on the floor touching the other three dancers’ legs.

In “Stray Birds” (verses by Nobel laureate Rabindrath Tagore), Carrico is an integral part of the solo dance. At first, she sings at Finch. Then she leans on her, leans on top of her, they hold hands and slowly lower to floor, their bodies sway together, they move their arms gracefully together. It was a lovely well-executed piece.

“String Quartet No. 2” featured all four musicians and Butler and Amber Neff wearing ballet shoes. This long three-movement work went from moderate speed to dirge-like to a driving rhythmic motion. The dancers demonstrated their balletic proficiency with long-legged turns, leaps and graceful arms and pliable torsos.

The last piece, “From My Garden,” choreographed by Walden, is a brief duet, almost a coda to the program, danced by the able Sarah Atkins and Neff, accompanied by Griffin on viola. Written from 1983 onwards, it was dedicated to Mamlok’s husband and their summers in a pastoral setting in California, a respite from New York. The main tempo is calmness, with short, quick energetic bursts. The dance is first a solo and then the other dancer enters. There is whispering, staring, they walk around each other, they make contact, they dance together.

Ursula Mamlok’s body of work has been compiled in five CDs by the New York label Bridge Records. Her compositions are published by Edition Peters and by Boosey & Hawkes/Bote & Bock. The New Chamber Ballet will reprise “Stray Bird,” conceived by Miro Magloire, at the Jewish Cultural Festival in Magdeburg, Germany, October 14, 2017. For more information about other upcoming performances of the Company, visit www.newchamberballet.com.
New Chamber Ballet's Elizabeth Brown (center) in 'Stray Bird.'

New Chamber Ballet's Elizabeth Brown (center) in "Stray Bird."

Photo © & courtesy of Arnaud Falchier


New Chamber Ballet's Kristine Butler in 'Stray Bird.'

New Chamber Ballet's Kristine Butler in "Stray Bird."

Photo © & courtesy of Arnaud Falchier


New Chamber Ballet's Amber Neff and Kristine Butler in 'Stray Bird.'

New Chamber Ballet's Amber Neff and Kristine Butler in "Stray Bird."

Photo © & courtesy of Arnaud Falchier

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