Friday, October 23, 2015

NYC Ballet Performance on Friday Evening, October 9th -- Part 2


POLARIS (new Myles Thatcher ballet)

THE BLUE OF DISTANCE (new Robert Binet ballet)
COMMON GROUND (new Troy Schumacher ballet)
JEUX (new Kim Brandstrup Ballet): Mearns, Hyltin, Ramasar, Danchig-Waring; music by Claude Debussy, "Jeux"; [Conductor: Capps]

The second half of the October 9th program consisted of Kim Brandstrup's new ballet 'Jeux' which had premiered the previous evening.

Kim Brandstrup, 58, is from Denmark where he studied film at the University of Copenhagen before moving on to the London School of Contemporary Dance where he studied choreography.  Most of his creative life has taken place in Britain.  He founded Arc Dance Company there in 1985 and choreographed many works for them.  In 1994 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as the choreographer of Benjamin Britten's 'Death in Venice' which featured Jeffrey Edwards as Tadzio and Karin von Aroldingen as his mother (non-speaking roles).  Brandstrup had previously choreographed 'Death in Venice' for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1992.

Kim Brandstrup (center) in the studio creating 'Jeux'  with Jonathan Stafford, ballet master, Harrison Ball and Indiana Woodward.
Photo by Paula Lobo for NY Times
'Jeux' uses a score of that name that Claude Debussy composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1913.  Nijinsky's ballet to the score was set at a tennis game and concerned a menage a trois.  It was completely overshadowed when a few weeks later Nijinsky's 'Le Sacre du Printemps' to Stravinsky's ground breaking score received a tumultuous reception.

The French 'jeux' is commonly translated as 'play' or 'game', but also has connotations of play-acting, masquerade or deception.  It even figures in phrases of the French casino, such as 'faites vos jeux' (make your bets) and 'les jeux sont faits' (the chips are down).  For his 'Jeux' Brandstrup has created a scenario that takes all of these possible translations into account.

Sara Mearns with Sterling Hyltin & Amar Ramasar (right) and ensemble.  Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

As the curtain opens, Amar Ramasar is tying a blindfold over Sara Mearns eyes as Sterling Hyltin and the five couples of the ensemble watch.  Sara and Sterling are wearing 'little black dresses' while the other women are in dark street dresses with the men in business suits with loosened ties -- some have even shed their jackets.  They seem to be in an empty industrial building with a single dangling light bulb and a single square black column separating a narrow area on the right side of the stage from a larger area on the left.  The lighting is murky until a black back curtain rises halfway to reveal a white wall that is lit with a glaring, sometimes pulsing (and annoying) white light.
Sara Mearns with four ensemble couples in Kim Brandstrup's 'Jeux'.  Photo by Andrea Mohin for NY Times

Amar and Sterling with the ensemble proceed to force Sara into a game of blindman's bluff, taunting Sara and always avoiding her searching, outstretched arms.  It seems that Amar and Sara have been romantically involved, but Amar is making moves on Sterling while Sara is blindfolded.  After some ensemble dancing including what are known in pairs figure skating as 'tabletop' lifts -- spectacular from some couples, merely adequate from others -- the six couples leave Sara alone groping for contact. 

Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Kim Brandstrup's 'Jeux'.  Photo by Andrea Mohin for NY Times

The party crowd is replaced by Adrian Danchig-Waring as a young jock in jeans and T-shirt with a soccer ball.  Initially intrigued by the blindfolded woman, Adrian avoids contact with Sara -- ducking under Sara's leg extended in several extravagant turns. Then he comes to her rescue when she is about to fall and begins to partner her in a sensual, athletic duet.  Here's a link to a brief video clip from the Company of their pas de deux in 'Jeux':

Sara removes her blindfold (or maybe Adrian pulls it down) and Sara tosses his ball into the wings with disdain.  

Adrian Danchig-Waring and Sara Mearns in Brandstrup's 'Jeux'.  Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

As Sara and Adrian leave the stage Sterling and Amar return to dance a romance tinged duet.  Sara sneaks back to spy on Sterling and Amar before confronting him in a jealous rage.  Sara and Sterling fight for Amar's attention.  The ensemble swirls around them.

Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Kim Brandstrup's 'Jeux'.   Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

Or so it seemed to this observer.  But, who are these dancers?  why are they in this sinister space?  what are their connections before and after these dramatic encounters?  Brandstrup gives us few clues and no compelling reason to search for answers.  

This work strikes me as a descendant of Anthony Tudor's oeuvre.  Unnamed characters engage in unexplained interactions to sensuous, mysterious music.  With the right dancers (and these are the right dancers) this can be highly dramatic.  We're in a kind of post-modern lilac garden where four dancers engage in self-destructive behavior to satisfy carnal impulses.   As  'she who is cast aside' Mearns is indelible -- by turns needy, unstable, sensual and implacable.  Ramasar as 'he who moves on' is part matinee idol, part callous cad and always consummate partner.  Hyltin as 'she who seduces' is by turns alluring and flirtatious.  Danchig-Waring as 'he who hooks up' is wholesome, inquisitive and intense.

The ensemble are 'they who join in the game'.  In the ensemble, I was particularly struck by Emilie Gerrity, Rachel Hutsell and Lauren King among the women and Preston Chamblee and Russell Janzen among the men.  Rachel is still an apprentice and Preston joined the corps only last January.

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Whether 'Jeux' or any of the other four new works on this program will hold up to repeated viewing, they do provide a showcase the Company's dancers and an opportunity for them to expand their horizons with interesting choreographers.   Mearns and Hyltin shine in very different ways in 'Jeux' and 'The Blue of Distance'; Tiler Peck added cool diamantine sparkle to 'Polaris'; Ramasar provided leading man charisma and assured partnering in 'Jeux' and 'Common Ground'; Preston Chamblee in 'The Blue of Distance' and 'Jeux' stood out for his strong partnering; Russell Janzen in both the 'Jeux' ensemble and in 'Common Ground' is a very tall man who can move with speed and partner with grace; Claire Kretzschmar blazed brightly in 'New Blood' in her female-female duets with Kristen Segin and then Lauren King; and Lauren went on to stand out in the 'Jeux' ensemble; Meagan Mann with Ashley Bouder and Daniel Applebaum with Andrew Veyette held up their end in 'New Blood' duets with the Company's technical dynamos. 

There's always a lot to absorb in an evening of all new choreography, but the vivid dancing of the entire Company taking on new roles helps to point the way.  We're already anticipating Justin Peck's new ballet and to seeing more of these Fall Season premieres during the Winter Season. 

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