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Flash Review 2, 11-7: Bring on the 'Boyz'
George Piper DANCES

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- It's tempting to take George Piper Dances for a marketing ploy -- the company almost demands it. Its founders, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, are known as the "Ballet Boyz," words spray-painted rebelliously on their promotional images, and they run sassy video documentary / travelogue segments during costume changes. But as seen in the troupe's New York debut at the Joyce Theater Tuesday, their technical skills as Royal Ballet alums and their savvy at choosing repertory and dancers say we would be wise to take this chamber-sized company of five quite seriously.

Between Ballett Frankfurt's season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, American Ballet Theatre's recent presentation of "workwithinwork," and now GPD's rendition of the1984 work "Steptext," New Yorkers have been veritably wallowing in William Forsythe's choreography this fall. In "Steptext," Forsythe at first pulls apart the disparate elements of a dance: house lights remained up, stage lights dark. After a soundtrack of chattering voices, snippets of Bach switched on and off, sounding more like noise than music, while two isolated men whirled and positioned their arms (seen separately on video being marked dutifully by Trevitt in his hotel bathtub after a rehearsal with Forsythe, also shown). The lights assumed their "proper" roles for a moment, and Oxsana Panchenko entered, all business, clapping her forearms together like a chalkboard or a dire warning of some kind. The partnering focused on aggressive tugs of war and violent yankings into deep penches and angled front extensions. Trevitt, in a strong solo, showed his feline power, alternating big arcing jumps with whipping pencil turns. The wiry Panchenko demonstrated complete body control in even the most violent of moves, although she externalized her facial emotions a bit hotly for Forsythe's cool, analytical tone. They were joined by Hubert Essakow.

The company danced the New York premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's "Mesmerics," set to sonorous Philip Glass music. Wheeldon has a fundamental respect for ballet vocabulary, leaving it largely intact while making small but cumulative forays. Simple things took on emotional weight -- a woman tendued through a standing man's legs, establishing closeness. Or she stood on pointe in a wide second, and allowed her tipping self to be caught. And in another scene, a man danced with a phantom partner, his arm shaping around her absent body. The dancers -- Trevitt, Nunn, Panchenko, Essakow and Monica Zamora -- later moved in canon, sliding through arabesques; plie-ing in second, they wheeled their arms and flicked their loose hands to one side. The music set a serene tone, but toward the end of the work, it seemed as if Wheeldon strained to match its ponderousness move-for-note. Julius Lumsden designed the work and the red-piped short unitards made of black and sheer panels.

Russell Maliphant's 2002 "Torsion," in its New York premiere, provided a keen example of how ballet training equips certain dancers for just about anything. A video clip screened just prior to the piece warned us that we were about to see some pretty hard stuff -- precarious balances between Trevitt and Nunn, both powerhouse dancers, who were having hilarious difficulty on the video. Obviously they figured it out, and on stage impressively executed Maliphant's style which, once movement was initiated, flowed seamlessly. (He tends to create "event phrases," between which the dancers walk casually.) Moves within a phrase used energy from the previous move to create a continuous stream, as in capoeira. Maliphant smartly intuits the laws of physics in his dances -- seen in the aforementioned upside-down balances, or in action/reaction chains in which one performer's hip buckled, and the following moves fell into place in consequence, like dominos. Toward the end, one man leveraged the other's stiffened body, pointing him at the audience like a rocket launcher, which suited their prison-style indigo costumes by FCUK. These were skilled dancers interpreting provocative choreography, and the result was hypnotic. Richard English provided the varied, percussive score; Michael Hulls lit this work and "Mesmerics."

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