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Flash Flashback, 10-3: Breathless for Buffy
Ballet Tech's Miller Becomes the Music

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000, 2006 The Dance Insider

(The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Flash Archive. This Flash was first published August 2, 2000. Today is Steve Reich's 70th birthday.)

Less heralded than the Bolshoi's return to New York this summer, and yet no less a cause for rejoicing, is the return of veteran Buffy Miller to Eliot Feld's Ballet Tech, particularly in her patented virtuoso turn, "Ion," to the music of Steve Reich. If you want to know what it feels and looks like to be inside the music, you've got to see Buffy Miller in this Feld dance, as I was blessed to be able to do last night at the Joyce.

"This is the best dance I've ever seen," said my companion, and I'd have to put this artist at the top as well. Miller's feat here rivals not only that of fellow Reich interpreter Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker, but, I can imagine, that of the first ballerina who ever used her awareness of body and hyper-awareness of music to enter another plane and take us there with her. I reference De Keersmaeker because, like that choreographer dancing to Reich in "Fase," Miller's physical gifts take on a supernatural dimension. She seems to be doing things no ordinary human would find possible, and with this physical magic transcends the corporeal and becomes an element -- an ion -- in the music.

The dance starts simply enough, with Miller cutting horizontally across the stage in near total darkness, spinning in the lush velvet Willa Kim costume nearly grafted on her as a second skin, arms bent at 90 degree angles, and then repeating this motion further and further upstage. By the end, she is operating on several levels at once; tilting her head with an ardent glistening face, regarding the musical moments lovingly, out of nowhere whipping up a leg to a quick and easy six-o'clock extension, bending her limber torso, all while still reconnoitering around the stage. And just when you think she is spellbound to continue circling the stage, she eases down in the middle, sits, spreads her legs, knees bent, arches her torso and juts her head back -- and then starts stomping her heels.

She sweats, yes, but not in a way that slows her exertion one iota. In spirit Miller seems almost removed from her body, maintaining the same serene poise no matter how impossibly twisted her body gets, as she burrows into the music. Like the Sufi twirlers, she has transported herself to another plane. We're watching wonder, materialized.

This is one of those performances that lives and lives with you forever -- even its simple gestures. Not that the dance is simple, and that's probably another reason it impresses; Miller has been dancing it so long, as supernatural as it seems, to her it's second nature. Five years on from the first time I saw her perform it, I can still remember the first time I saw that lilting tilting head, lovingly regarding the currents of the music.

And the music -- man! Last night -- and he'll do so again Thursday -- Mark Stewart played Reich's deceptively simple "Electric Counterpoint," all on one guitar. If Miller infuses Reich's repetitive music with warmth, Stewart's playing makes it downright elegiac. The result was that, five years later, Miller was even better, more in love with the music than I remember. And making us more in love with her being in love with the music.

Continuing through August 12 (this program through August 11), the Ballet Tech Summer season is officially a "preview" season and thus not open to review. I was so thrilled to hear that Miller was back for the Summer that I obtained a special dispensation on condition that I stuck to just commenting on her. Which is to say the absence of comment here on the rest of the dancers should not be taken as a dis'!

However, I don't think anyone would object to my reporting on another famous returnee, Mucuy Bolles. Dancing with the Alvin Ailey company for the better part of the last six years, Bolles was dance's version of basketball's sixth man. As any b-ball fan knows, a versatile sixth man is much more valuable than a tall center or a splashy guard. But he doesn't always get the recognition warranted by his utility. Given center-stage (and when not on center-stage), Bolles was always radiant. But she was not one to elbow others out of the way to take the center. Or to hog the ball.

Last night, opposite Jason Jordan in the main duet of Feld's ambitious 1990 "Contra Pose" (to C.P.E. Bach), Bolles, more confident than I've ever seen her, claimed the spotlight, emphatically and with brio. She seemed looser than I'd ever seen her, her body and smile fluid, especially in a witty central duet with Jordan - to whom she also gave a heretofore underdeveloped, adult dimension. And she also got to display her ballet chops in a repeated gesture of lifting the right leg up to the ear, circling her arm around it, and holding.

Bolles was clearly in charge of the 18-member 'Pose' posse who, themselves, seemed masters of the rather complex, Balanchine-echoing (classical dancing, tweaked) choreography. This company, a group of youngsters if ever there was one, is maturing. And I finally get what Feld was aiming for when he declared a couple of years ago that henceforth, all his dancers would come from his public dance school. They seemed a little green in the soul, if fleet in the feet, at first. But now they, too, are starting to burrow into their director's dances, seeking and unearthing the complexity often lurking beneath the phrasal glibness.

Seeing Bolles and Miller, tho, older sisters elevating the stakes of the whole enterprise, I couldn't help but think -- and can't help but offer this one comment on the whole -- that this alchemy of the suppleness and subtlety of 'older' dancers and the pure strength and boundless energy of younger is a perfect combination and vessel for Feld's choreography, bringing out both its overt athleticism and its latent mystery, and making an evening at Ballet Tech a dramatically well-rounded one indeed.

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