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Of Dark Elegies & Short Memories: New York Theater Ballet’s Legends and Visionaries: Program A….

June 25, 2013
New York Theater Ballet’s Amanda Lynch & Steven Melendez in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by Darial Sneed

New York Theater Ballet’s Amanda Lynch & Steven Melendez in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by Darial Sneed

New York Theater Ballet presented the second installment of Legends and Visionaries: Program A on April 19-20 at the Florence Gould Hall. The evening featured works by Richard Alston, Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, and a new piece by Pam Tanowitz that was commissioned by the New York Theatre Ballet.

Amanda Lynch and Amanda Treiber performed Jerome Robbins’ Rondo. Choreographed in 1980 and set to Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor, the work had not been seen in NYC since 1982. Accompanied by Michael Scales on piano, Ms. Lynch and Ms. Treiber did the work full justice. The dancers portrayed both camaraderie as well as a slight competitiveness as they flowed through lyrical moves with grace. Often mirroring each other in movements and timing, they were a joy to watch.

New York Theater Ballet’s Amanda Lynch & Amanda Treiber with Michael Scales on piano in Jerome Robbins’ Rondo. Photo by Darial Sneed

New York Theater Ballet’s Amanda Lynch & Amanda Treiber with Michael Scales on piano in Jerome Robbins’ Rondo. Photo by Darial Sneed

Antony Tudor’s one-act Romeo and Juliet is one of the many great works of earlier years that is rarely performed today. Created for Ballet Theater (which later became American Ballet Theater) in 1943, Mr. Tudor’s version is set to the music of Frederick Deluis instead of the expected Prokofiev score. Staged by Diana Byer, Mr. Tudor’s choreography stands out by his use of the music in regards to his combination of steps and movement phrasing, this giving the duet an unexpected freshness. There is simplicity to Mr. Tudor’s choreography; he does not need the pyro-technical flash associated with today’s balletic versions of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

Richard Alston’s Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms, created in 1997 was a contemporary duet for Rie Ogura and Steven Melendez. In very soft light, Ms. Ogura and Mr. Melendez are seen moving together, she’s wrapped in his arms as he careful lifts her by the waist. A coy relationship exists between the two, subtle touching, slight flirting. They explore each other’s boundaries with a slight caress or a hand held just a moment too long, and then move away is if it never had occurred.

Lighting Designer Charles Balfour created a square of light as if we were watching the performance through a window. The work speaks of another world, where a sharp division existed as to what could be expressed emotionally and what could not.

New York Theater Ballet’s Rie Ogura & Steven Melendez in Richard Alston’s Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms. Photo by Darial Sneed

New York Theater Ballet’s Rie Ogura & Steven Melendez in Richard Alston’s Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms. Photo by Darial Sneed

Mr. Melendez is a strong dancer as well as an excellent partner, Ms. Ogura exhibiting complete trust in him which resulted in wonderful chemistry between the two. That chemistry developed into an intimate conversation spoken in a language of motion.

It was well done, but Richard Alston’s Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms is not a fast paced work, but remains a slow, sedate statement throughout. The duet is in opposition to today’s trend in dance, which is be less subtle and more overt, in expression of statement, musical choices and the use of the body in space.

Antony Tudor, who is perhaps best known for Jardin Aux Lilas, considered his 1937 ballet Dark Elegies as his favorite ballet. Performed to Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”) by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), the work expresses “the raw emotion of a tight-knit community faced with the inexplicable loss of their beloved children”.

New York Theater Ballet’s Rie Ogura in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by

New York Theater Ballet’s Rie Ogura in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by

Set in two scenes, the first scene is entitled Laments of the Bereaved and is composed of Five Songs with lyrics by Friedrich Rückert. It was first performed in London by Ballet Rambert in 1937 with the original cast including Peggy van Praagh, Anthony Tudor and Agnes de Mille. While Nina Stroganova and Lucia Chase danced in the U.S. Premiere which was made by Ballet Theater (American Ballet Theatre) at New York’s City Center in 1940.

The First Song was for Rie Ogura and the Chorus, Alexis Branagan, Mitchell Kilby, Carmella Lauer, Maya Oguri, Melissa Sadler and Amanda Treiber. You can feel Ms. Ogura’s grief which is even more poignant since the Boston Bombings occurred just days before the performance.

In the Second Song Amanda Lynch and Steven Melendez are a husband and wife who find solace with one another as they slowly comes to terms with their loss. A poignant moment was created when Ms. Lynch, while en pointe would arch backwards into the arms of Mr. Melendez who would then rock her in comfort.

New York Theater Ballet’s Amanda Lynch & Steven Melendez in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by Darial Sneed

New York Theater Ballet’s Amanda Lynch & Steven Melendez in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by Darial Sneed

Elena Zahlmann, in the Fourth Song was excellent as she danced a solo of remorse and abandonment as the other women stood with their backs to her as if fearful to acknowledge her desolation.

Women fall to the floor succumbing to despair, the dancers hold their arms outward and stiffly as if waiting/hoping something will drop in to them and occasionally you will see them cradling themselves then reach up to heaven as if seeking an answer.

There is a simple beauty in Dark Elegies and its vision of loss. That a ballet created in 1937 can uncannily mirror the universal grief felt by the nation during aftermath of the Boston Bombings is the genius of Tudor. His works speak of the greater truths and struggles that color the inner landscape of the human nature.

New York Theater Ballet’s Rie Ogura, Alexis Branagan, Mitchell Kilby, Carmella Lauer, Maya Oguri, Melissa Sadler & Amanda Treiber in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by Darial Sneed

New York Theater Ballet’s Rie Ogura, Alexis Branagan, Mitchell Kilby, Carmella Lauer, Maya Oguri, Melissa Sadler & Amanda Treiber in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies. Photo by Darial Sneed

For Pam Tanowitz’ Short Memories, Michael Scales was joined by violinist Pauline Kim Harris to perform the music of Lou Harrison and Henry Cowell on stage. Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan costumed the dancers in an all black tight bodysuit with each dancer wearing different colored shoes.  Ms. Tanowitz explored point work with an unusual combination of classical steps as well as body placement.

The work is abstract in nature and has seeming nod to Merce Cunningham. Ms. Tanowitz use of space was as vital to this work as was the lighting and music, for it is interwoven in such a way that she uses it to enhance her statement. She would have the dancers in varying places doing different things simultaneously.

New York Theater Ballet in Pam Tanowitz’ Short Memories. Photo by Darial Sneed

New York Theater Ballet in Pam Tanowitz’ Short Memories. Photo by Darial Sneed

But this grew thin quickly, Ms. Tanowitz use of the body was not all the time attractive, nor was her attempt at the unusual combination of steps always successful, when something obviously did not work she forced it to anyway. The music and movement seemed at times two separate entities, when the music was rhythmical the choreographer was not and vice-versa.

I appreciate what Ms. Tanowitz is attempting, but it seemed she was trying too hard to make a statement; the choreography was too cerebral and lacked continuity.

New York Theater Ballet Company is not a large company, more of a chamber company, but the works this company holds within its repertory is rich with history. Dana Byer should be congratulated on looking beyond those trendy choreographers who twist the body into a pretzel and instead reviving ballets from our rich dance history.

The importance of the work that the New York Theater Ballet is doing must not be downplayed. The company’s willingness to pull dusty ballets that have not been seen in years and place them on stage and again in the spotlights, is vital to not only the city’s dance scene, but to the world of dance in general.

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