Small But Mighty

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All photos by Eduardo Patino, courtesy Ballet NY

In their annual New York City season at the Ailey Citigroup Theater last week, Ballet NY, the company founded by Judith Fugate and Medhi Bahiri, presented three company premieres and revisited work from their current repertory. No small feat for the group of only eight dancers, several of whom performed in three of the program’s four works.

Medhi Bahiri’s In the Garden of Souls (Revisited) cites an Indian influence, which is most immediately noticeable in the music. The partnering between the work’s four dancers (Miriam Ernest, Katie Gibson, Michael Eaton and Taurean Green) is characterized by intricate lifts and positions. In one moment, a dancer is lowered into a bridge by her partner. In another, a dancer is lifted with her legs stretched in front of her, parallel to the ground. As she is suspended there, balanced on her partner’s arms, she moves her legs into different shapes. But to me, the moment that stands out most happens towards the middle of the work. Two of the dancers stand crouched in the center of the stage, close together, heads curved towards the ground. After a moment of stillness (and silence), their heads slowly curl upward, until they are both looking out at the audience. They look as though they know something we don’t know – almost like that moment in a movie when a character you thought you knew the whole time suddenly sheds her façade and reveals her true colors. As this happens, the music begins again, a deep chanting voice. The piece suddenly has a slightly darker mood than it did at the beginning.

In Dreams, a company premiere choreographed by Margot Parsons, the three dancers (Katie Gibson, Jessica Lawrence, and Amy Saunder) move busily around the stage, sometimes interacting with one another, sometimes seeming preoccupied by their own bustling tasks. There is a sense of hurrying at times, and in many moments they almost resemble clocks. Each of them, at one point or another, stretches one arm out straight in front of her like a minute hand and lets it lead her around the stage. The music, by Ai Isshiki and Steve Milton, sounds almost like a machine, as if we are in some sort of control room, adding to the sense that the dancers are creating or building something, hard at work. Sometimes the sounds – and the movement – seem to be in separate planes from one another (at moments I was reminded of a Merce Cunningham/John Cage collaboration). But there is still a definite relationship between music and movement, even if that relationship is characterized by something indirect.

Two other company premieres opened and closed the show. The program begins with Antonia Franceschi’s bold Kinderszenen (“Childhood Scenes”), with piano music by Allen Shawn performed live by Yoshiko Sato. The final work (danced by the whole company), Ginger Thatcher’s Urban Study-Excerpts, begins with a line of dancers shifting between a series of poses, hitting one pose on each beat of the music as though at a photoshoot. And in some ways the positions do resemble the typical stances people take when posing for a picture: standing tall with one hip out and one arm up over the head, for instance. Another pose repeated throughout the work is a crouched position with flat back, the dancer holding the arms outstretched like wings. The work is infused with a jazz flavor, and some of the most powerful moments involve the dancers simply walking, with purpose and a bit of swagger. In the middle of the dance, the music has a slightly more industrial feel, the lighting becomes darker, and the dancers group themselves into a clump in the back corner of the stage, limbs intertwined as if they are each part of a larger machine. As they spread out and gradually return to the poses from the beginning of the dance, we have a new understanding of what these poses might mean, or what might be behind them.

Overall, this program represented a wide variety of styles and influences, and the dancers transitioned smoothly between the intricacies and nuances of four very different works, demonstrating that Ballet NY has enough range to tell all sorts of stories. They may be small, but they pack a punch that is worth taking note of.

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