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Richard Penberthy
Performance Reviews
The Joyce Theater

Benjamin Millepied & Company - Momentous Dark, With Brilliance

by Richard Penberthy
March 19, 2006
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

Benjamin Millepied & Company - Momentous Dark, With Brilliance

presented at
The Joyce Theatre
175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

Richard Penberthy
March 19, 2006

Benjamin Millepied & Company are appearing at the Joyce Theater March 14-19, and all four dances they present were premiered on opening night, March 14. These dancers are skilled and acknowledged widely; most are in or have been in major companies or have won major ballet competitions. It is a pleasure to see them close up on the Joyce stage rather than from the distance of seats (even if only over the orchestra pit) at the Metropolitan Opera or the New York State Theater.

The night opened with "Silence Text", choreographed and costumed (plain black tights and tops) by Luca Veggetti. The dance is performed by five dancers, in repetitive gesture and interaction. The women sometimes balance en pointe in second position. They are carried in long stage-devouring strides right to left and left to right by individual men. Several of the lifts also involve rolling over the backs and legs of two men, coming to rest with the third. There are shards of ballet - separate bits of choreography - that seem to relate not at all until…well, until they do, as if at random. With four movement-sensitive microphones suspended at varying heights over the stage, all within reach, and one with a tubular bright light that also ignites when swung, the dancers are, to some extent, also in control of the clanging, roaring music, and of the lighting. This is a lively, loud beginning to the evening, an enticement to marvel at the fine skills of each dancer.

"Closer" was choreographed and performed by Benjamin Millepied, with Gillian Murphy of American Ballet Theater, to the music, "Mad Rush" by Philip Glass, played by pianist Pedja Muzijevic. Undeniably, Mr. Millepied has made the best of this dance for himself, for his unique skills and strengths as a romantic dancer who thoroughly enjoys himself in the modern vocabulary as well. The dancers' costumes are soft and flowing, an implication of pale blue pajamas, but Mr. Millepied has choreographed high-energy, high-leaping passages for their solos. When they join for the duet, it too is athletic, with rapid turns and high-speed above the shoulder lifts. The final section of the dance is performed with the dancers sitting or lying side by side or lying on their sides, parallel on the floor. There are some innovative moves, with Ms. Murphy being lifted and repositioned by her sitting partner, and there are moments when the two rise on one knee and shift positions together, almost dancing. But this long side-by-side on the floor portion is not among the better moments of the ballet.

The third dance, "Short-Lived," was choreographed by Aszure Barton, to the an odd combination of music: The Cracow Klezmer Band and Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764). It is a brilliant combination! The costumes by Deanna Berg (who also costumed "Closer" and works for the New York City Ballet - See an article about a presentation she gave), read on the two women as somehow naughty - between the short dark red violet skirts overlaid with black net and the bra tops, is what looks like a mid-20th Century seamed stocking, with seams front and back. William Briscoe is shirtless, and over his leather-look trousers wears a corset with black-sequined vertical lines, whereas Alexander Ritter wears a top matching the women's costumes in color and the black-sequined corset. The dance is absolutely engaging and challenging to the audience. The dancers engage in somewhat frenetic episodes with each other, then inward - still more frenetic - dialogues with themselves. In their exchange with other dancers, one dancer takes power over the other. Mr. Ritter lifts Mr. Briscoe, and Mr. Briscoe becomes a stiff figurine, with hands and feet contorted until he is on his feet again. And when he moves, his leg angle is adjusted, his thigh touched before he may move. Similarly, between Mr. Briscoe and Ms. Freedman, control becomes the theme, and sexual power, even sexual touching, is implied (not actuated). The solo dancing is at once heartfelt and puzzling, but not in the sense that the audience feels put off so much as that the audience sees itself in the puzzlement - it's a mirror of how social relationships develop and play out. The dancers physically correct themselves - "chin up" - or jar themselves to alertness. Burke Wilmore's lighting is wonderful, raking bars of light across stage rear and clouded, diffuse atmosphere. This easily the standout piece of the evening.

The fourth and last dance, "Phrases, Now," is choreographed by Andonis Foniadakis. It is a dark and loud (music by Julien Tarride) dance that speaks violence, then shouts survival. Four men and one woman all wear sparkly blouses; the men wear black trousers, not tights, and Ula Sickle wears a black skirt. Perhaps because of its rough and tumble choreography, it is not crisp. It seems a fight that has neither cause nor resolution. The murkiness of the black stage and the sparkling shirts draw the audience, and there seems fury onstage, but it ends. It serves as an endpaper to the loud and dark, but more rewarding, opening dance of the evening.

Benjamin Millepied Company
Photo courtesy of Arthur Elgort

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