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Letter from New York, 8-6: Watching the scene go by
Speed demons from McIntyre; Simultaneous vision from Ratmansky and more at ABT

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2009 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Trey McIntyre is a very tall man, but the physical speed of his ballets leads me to suspect he choreographs with the music at 33 1/3 rpm and has his dancers perform it at 78 rpm. In the debut of his Trey McIntyre Project at the Joyce Theater, June 2-7, the three dances on the concise program show that he knows well how to move bodies around onstage and to create smartly inventive movement. But all the dancing looks shot from guns.

McIntyre has been freelancing for such companies as American Ballet Theatre, and he was a regular at Houston Ballet. But after 18 years of freelancing, he wanted a company of his own. The easy accessibility of McIntyre's ballets, set to listenable music and generally light in mood, have made the troupe a good fit for Boise, ID, where it has gained popularity in the brief three years since its founding there.

"Leatherwing Bat" -- a suite titled for one of the songs performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary that accompany it -- opens with John Michael Schert in a spotlight, center stage. He's the leader of the pack, tall, sturdy, hyper mobile in every joint, and wearing booty shorts and a faux biker jacket. In his astonishing solo, he preens and stretches, lunges and lopes, his articulate limbs stretching out like some mythic creature marking its territory.

When Brett Perry, Annali Rose, and Dylan G-Bowley begin their subsequent trio, it takes a moment for us to readjust to human scale. But these are personable, skillful dancers who race brightly through their paces like video game action figures. According to McIntyre, the piece is a recollection of "a really sad time as a child," and the dancers could be read as a family with Schert being both father and child, Virginia Pilgrim, Rose, and Lia Cirio as mother and sisters, and the other two men as brothers/sons. A tender male duet for Schert and Perry is open to multiple interpretations about their possible relationship.

Two trios by Henry Cowell back the second work, "(serious)." Cowell's music was pretty radical in the 1920s, but now it's just right for skittering, shuddering, twitching solos, a duet, and a trio for Perry, Jason Hartley, and Chanel DaSilva. The ballet is pure movement without dramatic content. The performers render its clever lifts and odd physical connections deftly, but they pass so quickly, we don't have time to savor them.

Selections from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band liven a New Orleans funeral celebration in "Ma Maison." Skull masks by Michael Curry conceal the dancers' faces, but their bodies, dressed as skeletal pirates and wenches by Jeanne Button, bounce and frolic like drunken voodoo dolls, unaware of their ghoulish appearances. The contrast is provocative.

All Prokofiev & something new at ABT

Perhaps it's fitting that ABT's new guest artist, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, should make his first ballet for the company Russian-based. The all-Prokofiev program also included the perennial "Prodigal Son" by Balanchine and "Désir" by Canadian James Kudelka.

On the Saturday evening performance, June 6, Angel Corella was a dramatically mature Prodigal, less uncontrollably exuberant than he used to be -- or was this welcome restraint born simply of boredom with the role? And Kristi Boone gave the Siren a coolly detached ruthlessness that made her quite convincing.

Kudelka chose waltzes from Prokofiev's "Cinderella" and "War and Peace" to create "Désir," a plot-free suite of passionate love duets. The men manipulate their partners in a torrent of spinning, swooping lifts and carries. Created for Kudelka's farewell as resident choreographer of Les Grand Ballets Canadien, the ballet is a virtual orgasm of luscious partnering. The cast here included remarkably organic performances by Carlos Lopez with Misty Copeland, Cory Stearns with Isabella Boylston, and Roddy Doble with Simone Messmer, whose climactic second duet left us craving a virtual after-sex cigarette.

The event of the program, "On the Dnieper," built on a libretto by Serge Lifar and composer Sergei Prokofiev, sports a set of fresh moves by Ratmansky. The tale strains credibility, to say the least: A soldier, Sergei (Marcelo Gomes), upon returning from war, realizes that he's fallen out of love with his fiancée, Natalia (Veronika Part) and in love with Olga (Paloma Herrera), the fiancée of another man (David Hallberg). After a confrontation between the two men at a party, the noble, jilted Natalia not only gives up her lover Sergei to Olga, she even helps them elope.

On that unlikely tale, Ratmansky hangs some of the most articulate choreography we've seen in a long while. His vocabulary combines classical steps with keenly observed dramatic gesture and an uncanny ability to counterpoint simultaneous actions so skillfully that you don't miss a thing, as in the scene where Gomes and Part duet, downstage right, while Herrera and her parents interact up center, and Hallberg solos down left.

In Gomes's opening solo, there are subtle jokes, like a tiny sauté de chat, followed by a giant one, and little skitters at the ends of chassés that diffuse the momentum, like Buster Keaton putting on the brakes. In his angry solo, Hallberg sizzles in a blistering, dazzling folk-dance-based explosion of footwork.

In addition to his skill at animating emotions by reanimating the classical canon, Ratmansky demonstrates in corps passages his facility with pattern and design, as he buoyantly manipulates them in every possible permutation -- men together, women together; four same gender quartets; four mixed gender groupings -- switching seamlessly between arrangements; it is truly visual music.

Simon Pastukh's scenery cleverly shapes the stage with picket fences that the dancers slide around into different configurations. Lighting by Brad Fields and projections by Wendall K. Harrington make celestial phenomena mirror the emotional trajectory of the plot, as when the big moon glows blood red during the men's fight and then does a spectacular total eclipse with fiery corona. Despite the ballet's lame scenario, it's gratifying finally to see exciting choreography for ABT that has the potential to match the extraordinary artistry and skill of its dancers.

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