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Flash Review 3, 1-31: Downtown Ballet? A Categorical Quest
Gleich Charts the Territory

By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2001 Diane Vivona

Julia K. Gleich, whose Gleich Dances Contemporary Ballet performed at Joyce SoHo over the weekend, has set herself an ambitious mission: to contemporize ballet. This is not an unusual goal(many attempt it), but it is an aspiration ripe with hurdles and roadblocks. Obvious questions such as "'When is a dance a ballet?" arise along with the corollary answer, a general property list that can be ticked off: pointe shoes, classical music, ballet vocabulary, traditional gender roles, formal proscenium structures. But, as easily as these categorical features come to mind, so too does an example of exception; and the faint memory of Martha Graham referring to her works as "ballets" echoes in strange denial of the whole thing. Gleich makes a neat pass through this thorny obstacle course, showing thoughtfulness, integrity, and tenacity. She believes in her quest and that is enough to draw us in.

The program, which had the overall title of "Whimsy and Wonder," began with "Candle Dances," a duet for Gleich and violist Eve Wickert. This work features an original score by the talented Alan Terricciano, who composes music that is hauntingly evocative of movements both physical and emotional. Wickert plays as though the sound were rising from the depths of her being, the notes released through the tips of her fingers. It is fun to watch her fluid use of the bow as well as her agile hands plucking the strings. Within this context, the function of playing becomes choreography. Gleich echoes this with her own dancing: walking her fingers against the floor, using her legs in bow-like glides and striking her toes in pizzicato rhythms. Particularly satisfying is the ending, when Gleich takes Wickert's bow away from her. Here is a moment of vulnerability, a kind of forced handicap, but Wickert is nonplused. In one gesture, the bow is replaced by Wickert's nimble fingers and the sound continues to its resolution.

"Ghost" presents a second duet, this time featuring Gleich and Jason Andrew, who is not listed as a dancer but rather as executive producer. Andrew is not a desk-type and he and Gleich move together with subtle sensitivity. This work could be a modern restaging of "La Spectre de la Rose." Gleich is remembering, fantasizing, reliving a relationship; Andrew is the spectre sweeping her off her feet, joining her for tea, caressing her arm, and following the smallest motion of her hips. There is humor as well as pathos in this work, as if poking fun at the cliches of relationships. A picnic includes a montage of romantic park events -- swinging and rowboats -- and is cleverly portrayed with Andrew as both boat and captain, swing and swinger. It seems Andrew, as a ghost, can be anything and herein lies the false sense of memory. Gleich's open face and softness of gesture evoke a naivete that is heartbreaking. Andrew leaves Gleich flat on the floor and her final gesture, an empty embrace, is as defiant as it is unrealistic.

"Sibelius Suite" presents Gleich's full array of dancers -- nine of them -- in pointe shoes and ballet skirts or slippers and tights, executing ballet technique with a disjointed assortment of gestural variations. The dancers appear perfectly comfortable with these strange fragments and filigrees. Their execution has a kind of matter-of-factness that is refreshing; they also unfortunately retain their balletic presentation, which makes the intimate setting of the Joyce Soho feel strained. The dancers perform with opera house aplomb and the effect is a cold distancing. We feel too close, or too human, to be in the dancers' ethereal space. But the movement is grounded and quirky and engages the eye. Gleich is a wiz at patterns and her quartet for two men and two women demonstrates her innovative structures. Here the dancers are all thrust and pull, extensions reaching to escape, and embraces pulling to confine; the physicality is the dramatic content. This is Gleich at her best, going from her gut and using form to portray emotion. Notable standouts among the dancers are the sprightly Gayle Gibbons and the statuesque Ilana Goldman. The cast included Claudia Aki, James Atkinson, Tomiko Magario, Maribeth Maxa, Claire McKeveny, Tara-Marie Perri, and Petr Zahradnicek. Philip W. Sandstrom provided the evening's sensitive lighting.

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