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Flash Review 1, 9-18: "Evening Stars"
LeBlanc, Maynard, & RhythMEK Shine

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2000 Alicia Mosier

"Evening Stars," the week-long celebration of dance held last week at the World Trade Center, concluded Saturday with an evening called "...And Rising Stars." A good crowd ventured out into the chill to see a rather extraordinary mix of performers: members of the San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, Ellis Wood, Sean Curran Company, and RhythMEK (in its NYC debut), dancing everything from Balanchine's "Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux" to a solo for a man wearing heels. I can't say I was led by these "rising stars" (some of whom are already established stars, thank you) to too many profound thoughts about the future of dance, but the inspiration of profound thoughts isn't necessarily what a late-late-summer festival is for. Here, the point was in the mix. It was more than sufficient to sit in that quiet little pocket beneath the gorgeous vertical sweep of lower Manhattan, marveling at all the ways dancers can move, and can move you.

For sheer freshness it would be hard to beat Catherine Baker, Tina LeBlanc, Katita Waldo, Gonzalo Garcia, and Parrish Maynard from SFB doing William Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude." This 1996 ballet -- energetically classical in form, set to the "Allegro Vivace" from Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C Major -- looks hard enough to dance under normal conditions; when you factor in the makeshift stage, the temperature (55 degrees!), and the very cool but tights-less costumes by Stephen Galloway (for the women, moss-green tutus shaped rather like the caps of portobello mushrooms), the potential for disaster -- or at least something hesitant and lackluster -- becomes much greater. Not for these dancers. It was full-out, dynamic classicism all the way, Forsythe's devilish switches and sly moments of calm providing the perfect match for the SFB dancers' pure, clear technique. These are classy men and women, not show-offy in the slightest, though they have every reason to be. Maynard was so perfect in his sharp, fluid solo that I started to get a little giddy. And it looked like the most natural thing in the world for LeBlanc to spin and balance like that; and so, in SFB's world of fine, fine art, it was.

Music and dancer came together in a not entirely different way in the premiere of Ellis Wood's "Canary II." (That's the magic of seeing such a mix of dances; the language can be radically different, but the art is the same.) In her once-flirty, now disheveled light pink dress (by Christian Grant), running around and around the stage to Sinead O'Connor's wailing and looking out at the audience with a crazily dopey "I'm free!" smile, Wood resembled a little girl imagining what it would be like to be at the end of love. I'm not at all qualified to judge a specific modern dance language, but Wood certainly seems to understand the jolt of separation and the tender emotions (both wistful and painful) involved; her dance was one of desperately willing herself both to free herself and to be happy about doing so. Her choreography was jerky, full of sobs and catches of breath and the insane joy of independence. Not sophisticated in the slightest, or even entirely coherent, perhaps, but real and affecting.

There could have been less coherence in Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky's performance of "Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux" (which replaced the pdd from Act III of "Sleeping Beauty" that was originally scheduled). These two exquisite Russians from ABT were in beautiful form and full of energy, but they were all bounce and control in a piece that needs risk and raw silk. The Balanchine tricks looked, in their hands, like tricks; the showstoppingness of those exuberant lifts and leaps was too obvious, it didn't sneak up on you like it ought to. We got ear-high kicks and a four-beat balance in arabesque from Dvorovenko, but she and Belotserkovsky wussed out on those two last death-defying dives, the same ones that had the audience gasping at NYCB last spring when Damian Woetzel caught Wendy Whelan mid-hurtle, her nose an inch from the floor. These dancers just didn't seem to understand the style the piece demands. Later in the evening they were appropriately tortured in M. Chemengiller's "The Wall," set to morose music by Mozart (all the music was on tape, by the way). This ballet is an example of that peculiarly passionless, alabaster eroticism that seems to be so beloved by the French. Even with Belotserkovsky in his skivvies and Dvorovenko in a barely-there unitard, both of them writhing around and falling all over each other ... well, frankly, it was deadly boring.

From Balanchine and ABT, the program zipped to the Sean Curran Company doing "Abstract Concrete," a work with a boinging, banging percussion score by the aptly named Tigger Benford. Curran, of course, has lately become a big hit as a choreographer, known for mindblowing syntheses of styles and high-energy performances. This piece was certainly high-energy. I kept thinking "pajama party" meets "Sex and the City" -- happy primary-colored costumes, chorus lines and witty, tangled group formations that unraveled one by one, a couple of men with unhinged heads, and relationships lacking any tenderness except what was suggested now and then by a tilted head or a peek around a shoulder. There were also (surprise!) girls lifting boys and girls lifting girls and boys lifting boys, all of which, along with the falling and the getting up and the falling again, gave the impression that although everybody was working just as hard as everybody else, nobody was really getting anywhere. The dancers -- Amy Brous, Marisa Demos, Tony Guglietti, Peter Kalivas, Catey Ott, Jeff Rebudal, Kevin Scarpin, Donna Scro Gentile, and Mikey Thomas -- were indeed hard-working, and there was an atmosphere of "crazy fun!" around the piece. But, as the weak applause from the audience confirmed, the fun was more exhausting than refreshing.

The final piece of the evening was far and away the most interesting; two days later and I'm still thinking about it. It was the premiere of Donald Byrd's "One An Other," performed by Michael Thomas, Elizabeth Roxas, and Karine Plantadit-Bageot, the fearsome threesome who are the founders of RhythMEK. (Again, I'm not really qualified to make a judgment about the success, qua modern dance, of this piece, so I'll just set down my impressions.) On a stage punctuated by three yellow chairs (and, below, television monitors on which the dancers' faces appear throughout the piece), to the grinding, molasses-slow, intoxicating music of Perry Riley, the three dancers emerge one at a time from the wing wearing luscious, filmy orange and fuschia costumes by Miguelina and -- only on the women, for the time being -- seriously sexy high heels. They each slink over to a chair (Thomas carrying a mysterious brown paper bag), and for a good long while not much happens at all; they're sitting, sort of flexing, jabbering silently, curling up sideways, changing places, more or less resembling forlorn folks in a late-night subway.

Then suddenly the shoes are off (it's the slinkiest shoe-strip ever), the music explodes, and the women start a turf war that's about the most exciting piece of dancing I've seen in a long time. Strutting, mincing, jabbing, and embracing, they're both challenging each other and winning each other over. And Roxas and Plantine-Bageot are fierce, with a wit and a knowingness that only heightens the delicious tension. When Thomas takes out the black patent contents of his paper bag, then, and starts in on a half-desperate, half-funny imitation of their dance (that brutal mincing step and everything), you can hear the question: "Is this it? Have I understood you?" And when, at the end, he offers one shoe to each woman, and they reluctantly, smilingly accept, the question becomes whether these women will accept this man's understanding of them. And they do, halfway at least; they put their one shoe on and walk back to join him (now in the oxfords he came in on) -- and with that one-shoed understanding they come together and sway.

Sound like the usual stuff about how if we could only stand in each other's shoes (as it were) the war between the sexes would be over? It may be just that, in the end -- like I said, I'm still puzzling over it. One could get tangled up in postmodernist wordplay here, but Thomas is of course both "one" (as in, the only man) and "other" (as in, interlocutor), just as the two women become "other" to each other and at the same time "one" in their feral duet. Et cetera. But the current of strain and humor and effort and loneliness and joy that runs under this piece makes it, I think, much more than a cliche. There's an almost filmic sense of direction and time here; a good deal of the interest comes from suspense and unknowing. And how *human* these three dancers are! Go out and see "One An Other" if you can -- the very fact that it makes me want to say "let's talk about it" is maybe just what Donald Byrd and RhythMEK intended.

Cheers to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and all its smart supporters for a great week of dancing, and for the incredible array of rising stars -- more like shooting stars, really, on whom we make the wish that they keep on shooting.


Alicia Mosier studied with Moscelyne Larkin and Roman Jasinski and performed with Tulsa Ballet Theatre. She now works as a writer and editor in New York.

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