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Flash Review 1, 6-14: Reveal and Refresh
Brookoff Revisits and Revives the Ballet

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier

NEW YORK -- In a program titled "Misalliances and Other Dances," the Brookoff Dance Repertory Company swept into the Cunningham Studio last night with an evening of sophisticated new works and deeply satisfying older ones. Choreographer Matthew Brookoff is taking his place among a new breed of ballet makers who, instead of bucking the tradition, study it with loving attention and create dances that both reveal and refresh ballet's rich heritage. On the basis of several of the pieces seen last night, I'd say New York City Ballet would do well to keep an eye on him for its next Diamond Project.

"Stolen Dances," a work in three movements for thirteen dancers set to Bach's Violin Concerto in E, is one of those pieces. Completed in 1996 (the first movement was choreographed two years earlier), it is a marvel of distillation, fresh with the perfume of Balanchine, "Sleeping Beauty," Baroque painting, Greek friezes, and the Lindy hop, all of which play into but never dominate Brookoff's own idea. The first movement is a scurry of gazelle leaps and kicked-out lunges, courtly arms and hip-hop. Two fingers to the lips bring to mind both Polyhymnia's gesture in "Apollo" and a sharpshooter blowing on a gun. In thirty seconds' time, five women summon "Serenade" (heads tilting side to side), "Swan Lake" (coupes with arms linked as in the pas de quatre), and "Giselle" (chugs in arabesque) -- glimmers of Ballet Past which enrich the rush of movement Brookoff has in motion, letting us see where experiments with spacing and counterpoint have their roots, but never overwhelming his own experiment.

The second movement, a promenade of all the dancers from left to right across the stage, turns out to be (or so it can be read) a poem about the arabesque. A majestic architecture emerges bit by bit in little runs facing sideways, simple walks with arms raised as in a bas relief, flattened dimensions full of interior tensions. (A long penchee by Tasha Taylor, near the end, by then contains multitudes.) The groupings here echo the shape of Bach's music: sometimes it's one dancer moving across the stage, as in the steady bass line, other times it's four or five at once, bringing out the polyphonic structure inside the simple frame. The third movement unites the first and second in a myriad of circles, lines, and knots, spinning the dancers out into a concluding freeze-frame panorama worthy of Petipa.

The program's three premieres demonstrate the growing sophistication of Brookoff's craft. "Faun," set to Erik Satie's Gnossienne No. 5, summons Nijinsky and Jerome Robbins, both of whom made ballets on the theme of that narcissistic woodland creature. Brookoff's Faun, Brock Labrenz, is all animal instinct. Seated with legs coiled on the ground, he turns his head slowly, focusing like a tiger on some prey. Hungry for everything -- space as well as food and drink -- this faun stands nobly as the Sun shines on his bare chest, uses the ground as a catapult (after tapping it with his toe, quick as a cat's paw), and drenches himself in water (after, in a nod to Ovid, gazing at his reflection in it for a moment). Kristen Swiat, a nymph in pale green, gains his attention for a while -- and then he returns to his taut, silent watch.

Labrenz gives a performance even better than that smoldering one in "By Land and Sea Dream (A Bedtime Story)." One mark of Brookoff's talent is his attentiveness to impulses of his dancers. In "Faun," he showed Labrenz as a handsome young god, small, well-muscled, and ready to pounce. Here the dancer is a dreaming boy, a teenaged Wordsworth, blond hair tossed in a galloping reverie. Debussy's "Danse (Tarantelle Styrienne)" carries him along in darting brisees as he holds the reins of an invisible stallion; as the music softens, he extends his arms like wings and floats one leg around his body in a steady promenade as if balancing on a mountain peak. In a loose white blouse, he rockets into the air (with no apparent preparation), then slips along the ground as in the ocean's waves. Instead of "sentences," the steps make a vivid stream-of-consciousness flow of images. In "By Land and Sea Dream" Brookoff captures the rush of Debussy's music, the self-assuredness and free-for-allness of a gifted young artist, and the ecstatic flight one feels in the most wonderful dreams.

Another ambitious new work is "Fragile Spring," an idyll for two couples, set to Igor Stravinsky's "Serenade in A." It could be the eve of World War I, perhaps in Britain -- young lovers playing for the last time at the beach, the boys (Richard Decker and Stephan Laks) in brown, the girls (Robin Hoffman and Taylor) in light green frocks. Like a spring wind that rustles through the leaves, the dancers rush forward in each other's arms, wheeling into roundabout formations, meeting in a courtly square in the midst of Stravinsky's agitated rhythms. Hoffman and Laks break off in a tender, rapturous duet; Decker enters with a sad little jig, full of petit battement executed with soldierly precision. After the couples bid each other a strained farewell, Taylor dances alone, perhaps the only one of this group for whom the fragility of spring will be too much to bear. This is a skillful dance-drama whose emotional complexity -- explored through choreography that is at once turbulent and eloquent -- brings to mind the best work of Antony Tudor.

The Brookoff company's program also included "Shell Games," "Aphrodite's S(c)ent," "No More," and "Let's Step Out," all reviewed here last year and all performed last night with brio and a greater subtlety of feeling. Once again, Brookoff was blessed to have Body Wrappers donate many of the elegant costumes. In addition to those already mentioned, the dancers are Cynthia Cortes, Frank M. Dellapolla, Luz Marina Diaz, Audrey Harris, Yuka Kawazu, Kim Larimore, Tomiko Magario, Molly Phelps, Therese Wendler, and Cynthia Xavier. Brookoff Dance Repertory Company continues at the Cunningham Studio (55 Bethune Street in Greenwich Village) tonight and Saturday night at 9 pm. For more information, please call 212-924-0077.

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