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Flash Review 1, 7-31: Shining Stars
Stars Brighten Up DanceGalaxy's Universe

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2001 Alicia Mosier

With its interest in presenting various facets of ballet -- classical, neoclassical, and contemporary -- to a wide and not necessarily balletomaniacal audience, DanceGalaxy shares a mission with many of the country's regional companies. But this is a chamber company with a difference. Under the leadership of former New York City Ballet principal Judith Fugate and her husband, veteran dancer Medhi Bahiri, DanceGalaxy brings together eleven dancers (not counting the directors), many of whom have had illustrious careers with companies such as American Ballet Theatre and Boston Ballet. DanceGalaxy also enjoys connections that enable it to offer, for instance, a premiere by NYCB artistic director Peter Martins set to music by his son, Nilas, who is also an NYCB principal. This new work, called "Reflections," was just one of the extra treats served up last night at DanceGalaxy's opening night gala at the Joyce Theater. The program also included a premiere by Stanton Welch, a reconstruction of Choo San Goh's 1984 ballet "Beginnings," and guest appearances by several members of New York's dance royalty.

As Sandra Aberkalns noted in her Flash Preview on Friday, "Beginnings" has not been seen in New York in 18 years. Originally choreographed for Joffrey II, the ballet is a simple, lyrical quartet set to gorgeous music for strings by British composer Lennox Berkeley. While too syrupy at times, the piece contained several striking elements. Hands were flexed in classical port de bras or gently held at hip level. Complex phrases ended in a static pose. A duet for two men (Fabrice Herrault and Francois Perron) recalled the men's duet in Balanchine's "Agon" (though here the music gave no excuse for contrapuntal steps). A duet for two women (Belinda Hernandez and the excellent Bonnie Pickard) featured a wonderful balance-challenge: a pique into passe that pivoted almost imperceptibly outward before shifting into a high developpe. A final double duet concluded with a most unconvincing "trees in the breeze" passage that the women do facing the men, their arms waving to and fro. By the next performance the dancers should be relaxed enough to give the ballet even more of a sense of twilight calm, and perhaps Hernandez will shed her unwavering smile.

The prolific Welch presented "Orange," one of a series of ballets that explore different emotions through the colors of chakras. Although it was set to music by Vivaldi, one had the impression that the piece could have been set to any number of other musical works; as is often the case with Welch's ballets, this one had the music very much as a backdrop. The mottled lighting and vivid costumes -- orange gauzy skirts and unitards by Welch and Holly Hynes -- were more memorable than the choreography. That said, the ballet really moved, with darting patterns and whirling spins to the floor and three long (too long) duets for six dancers. Cornel Crabtree's hands kept snapping up to his head, while Marcella Figueroa pried them off; as he carried her offstage, her hands grasped *her* face. Christina Fagundes gave her rich dances energy and authority. Welch has a fondness for pretty things -- those ballroom spins, for instance -- and also for downright stupid things, like heads that bobble in time to an oboe's tooting and arms that go squawk-squawk in the middle of a perfectly beautiful dance phrase. If these ridiculous elements are meant to undercut the supposed seriousness of what Welch is going for, then I don't quite get either the seriousness or the irony.

"Reflections," the new work by Martins pere et fils, was by far the most sophisticated on the program. At first it looked like it could be another of your old-school Jock Soto/Heather Watts duets. But something in Nilas Martins's music -- a three-quarter-time quartet for violin, cello, piano, and saxophone, unapologetically inspired by Bach but with jazz flavors adding shadows to the fugues -- kept his father's choreography at once more melancholy and more playful than usual. (These are emotional colors that seem to interest Martins pere more and more these days anyway; see "Morgen," his recent ballet for NYCB.) The duet, danced to perfection by Fagundes and the marvelous Alex Lapshin, was full of variations on the arabesque. In whirling lifts, the two dancers (in shimmering indigo unitards by Angela Kostritzky Haws) coasted and spun around each other with arms extended. Several times Lapshin perched Fagundes on his right hip; her crossed legs were lifted behind him as if she were caught in the air in a cabriole. After an extended surge of speedy partnering, the stage went black and the music leaped out alone into the house. The lights came up again on twisting, bounding solos for both dancers, and Fagundes leaped down into Lapshin's arms to end the piece. Both father and son seemed delighted during their bows with the dancers -- as well they should have been. "Reflections" is a fine collaboration.

There were two bonus performances last night that, alas, won't be seen again during DanceGalaxy's run at the Joyce. Ethan Stiefel was originally scheduled to perform a new solo choreographed by Twyla Tharp and former ABT dancer John Selya, but due to injury he was unable to appear. In place of that solo, we had the pleasure of seeing the legendary Christine Dakin (of the Martha Graham and Buglisi/Foreman companies) and Stephen Pier (also of Buglisi/Foreman) in Donlin Foreman's "...ssion," set to the Piano Sonata No. 2 by Johannes Brahms. Dakin simply flowed up from the floor and all around Pier's body in this turbulent love duet. She can make you sweat with a single contraction, a single stretch of a foot. We also had the joy of seeing Wendy Whelan and Peter Boal of NYCB in the pas de deux from Balanchine's "Rubies" (the second movement of his ballet "Jewels," set to Igor Stravinsky's "Capriccio"). These two great artists had a great old time with this sassy pas de deux. In their loud Karinska red, they were straight out of the red-light district; Whelan's dancing was especially full of glitter and attitude. She laughed as Boal dropped her into off-kilter under-arm pivots, and gave him a naughty look as she slapped his hand on her way into a luscious penchee. There's something of the little girl in Whelan, but she can play at Eve with the best of them.

The evening concluded with Adam Miller's "The Flow Bear Waltzes," a harmless bit of amusing Francophilia set to a medley of Bal Musette music (accordions and whatnot). Without the guest appearances, DanceGalaxy's program at the Joyce will be rather more monotone; the four contemporary ballets differ from each other more in mood than in choreographic substance. It's not clear that the company has entirely found a solid niche in the dance scene in New York, but in providing seasoned dancers with the opportunity to explore works new and old, it's an enterprise worth supporting.

DanceGalaxy performs at the Joyce through August 4. Please visit the Joyce website for more information.

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