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Urban Ballet Theater - New York Spring Season 2007 - La Llorona, Tangoed, Spin

by Robert Abrams
March 15, 2007
Abrons Arts Center at Henry Street Settlement
Harry du Jur Playhouse
466 Grand Street
New York, NY 10002

Featured Dance Company:

New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet (office)
New York State Theater
20 Lincoln Center
New York, NY 10023

The first dance of the evening told the story of La Llorona: a story of a young woman who drowns her children and wanders the rivers looking for them. Daniel Catanach, the choreographer, grew up being told this story as a way to get him to behave. There was much to like here. The use of cloth to represent a river is a time tested device and was interesting to see here, especially with the images of many people printed on the cloths. Jessica Perez as La Llorona/Maria showed off nice en pointe holds. The dancers' spins were good too. The poses were confident. The presentation was beautiful and visually interesting. The characters were bold. The main problem, for me, was that about half of the time I wasn't quite sure what was going on. For instance, at one point I thought that La Llorona had a suitor who she got into a fight with so that the suitor left, except that doesn't really fit the story line as I understood it. I have said before that sometimes story ballets seem to be designed for people who already know the story. This is a legitimate approach to art because if you are confident your audience already knows the What of the story, you can concentrate on showing them how you see the How and Why of the story (see Bertolt Brecht for more on this concept). People who do not know the story are at risk of getting lost. From this first viewing, it is clear that both the story and Mr. Catanach's interpretation of it have a richness that would support further development. There might be a way to make the story clearer to people like myself who are hearing the story for the first time, while preserving the nuance intended for repeat audience members. Perhaps some narration could be added. It would give Mr. Catanach's students another way to stretch themselves without taking anything away from the dancing. Or a prologue that tells the whole story in five minutes at the start and then lets the dance play out without narration. I know Mr. Catanach doesn't shy away from a challenge, so I look forward to seeing what he might do with this challenge.

In the next work, Tangoed, Mr. Catanach took up the challenge of combining Argentine Tango with Ballet. In the first section, Ashley Bouder, special New York City Ballet guest artist and star of ExploreDance.com's still photography ballets, was very sharp. Her angular postures formed a Ballet interpretation of Tango. Tango is often easier to imitate poorly than to adapt well, but this was well done. For instance, the music was nicely marked, which is a feature of Tango. Of course, it didn't hurt that Ms. Bouder has a commanding presence and is an all-around superb dancer.

The second section of Tangoed featured a fight over a knife between four men. The style of the dance was more Tango than Ballet in this section. The dancers were good, but not as good as Ms. Bouder. They were strong, but not quite as sharp. The movements in the second section were not quite as cleanly finished.

In the third section of Tangoed, Amar Ramasar, who is also a special New York City Ballet guest artist, moved with assurance. He was enjoyable to watch. His partner in this section, Chloe Reynolds, was also quite good. She didn't look out of place. There was a nice blend of Ballet and Tango style partnering. The catch and release with a twist was amazing.

This ballet, according to the program notes, was supposed to be about the worlds of men and women and the relationships between them. This was apparent in the dance, but I thought it was like a half finished sentence. I liked the first and third sections very much just as abstract dances. I liked the second section, but was a little uncertain about it and thought that maybe there was too much focus on the knife. All in all, the ballet was worth seeing. Ms. Bouder and Mr. Ramasar gave Mr. Catanach's somewhat less seasoned, but still quite good, dancers a standard to aspire to.

The final dance of the evening, Spin, gave Mr. Catanach's students and protégés a chance to let loose and have fun. It was set in a current day club. It was full of hip hop style party-time exuberance, but it had serious messages mixed in too. For instance, it made clear that black people can be cowboys or ballerinas (and by extension, anything else). That ought to be clear in this day and age, but sometimes it still needs to be said explicitly. (I will leave it to a future Catanach production to answer the question of whether black people, or anyone, can be cowboys AND ballerinas, unless I am forgetting and he addressed this question in his previous show, The Kid, which is possible.) The dancers came in sets performing everything from classic breakdancing to classic ballet. I have never seen people in pointe shoes at clubs, but it seemed to fit here. The spins and lifts were powerful. There were some elements of the number that were not to my taste, such as rapping that included the N-word, but generally I thought this dance was a good way for one generation of dancers to reach out to others of their generation and younger who might be convinced to become dancers and dance fans.

Between the three works on offer tonight, Mr. Catanach and company made it worth the trip to the Lower East Side.
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