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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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