Mark Morris Dance Group in Grand Duo, photo by Marc Royce
Expressions of civility and primitivism were evident throughout the penultimate Fall for Dance program last Thursday. In many instances, tension between the two created an intriguing, unconventional dynamic.
Ballet West performed Bronislava Nijinska’s 1924 Les Biches – meaning “the darlings” and “the hinds” – as part of the festival’s tribute to the Ballets Russes. Considered to be one of the first feminist ballets, this satire is set at a 1920s party in the south of France. A corps of women in candy pink flapper dresses frolicked about, performing demanding but unexciting movement in which they angelically framed their faces with their arms and hands. When a trio of muscular male athletes appeared, the women became the predators as they eyed the men and showed eagerness to pounce upon them. This gender type reversal was also evident when the teasing Hostess twirled her long string of pearls at the athletes as she seductively waltzed around the room. In spite of the provocative female characters and this ballet’s direct response to more conventional works created around the time it premiered, Les Biches did not stand the test of time. Similar to Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, it is tame by 2009’s standards, and the overly long work did not sustain the audience’s interest, partly due to the lack of a focused narrative.
Ballet West in Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Biches, photo by Andrea Mohin
Perhaps audiences will have to wait another eighty-five years to see if the second work on the program is timeless, but for now, Dendy Dancetheater’s Afternoon of the Faunes (from Dream Analysis) should be praised for its innovative concept and driving energy. In 1996, Mark Dendy drew upon Nijinsky’s revolutionary 1912 ballet Afternoon of a Faun (performed by Boston Ballet on the first Fall for Dance program) and a section in Nijinsky’s diary about running to create a work for two men. Set to Debussy’s slow, dense score, Dendy’s dynamic interpretation showed the bare-chested Lonnie Poupard, Jr. and Alex Dean Speedie in an idiosyncratic jog with pumping arms. Two-dimensional gestures, reflecting Nijinsky’s Faun, were woven into the work, which shifted between boyish playfulness and erotic, animalistic interactions. At one point, the men gradually pressed their bodies together, starting at their heads and working their way down to their knees. The final, tender embrace extended beyond the music, and their delightfully awkward jogging continued against the silence, echoing a line from Nijinsky’s diary: “A mysterious force was driving me forward.”
Dendy Dancetheater’s Afternoon of the Faunes, photo by Michael Wakefield
Another compelling work was Mark Morris Dance Group’s Grand Duo, a dramatic exploration of the primitive urges of sixteen dancers, accompanied by Lou Harrison’s “Grand Duo for Violin and Piano.” Michael Chybowski’s lighting and Harrison’s score, played by Jesse Mills on the violin and Colin Fowler on the piano, combined to create a haunted, eerie effect as the piece began with the dancers moving slowly, randomly, from one pose to the next. As the pace quickened, the audience witnessed a series of combative group dances and refined solos that grew increasingly rigorous with the music. In one section, two groups alternately lunged at each other with intensity that matched that of the varying piano chords. It demonstrated Morris’s ability to beautifully illustrate music through movement. The dancers’ precision and musicality was impeccable throughout the performance, but was most thrilling and memorable in the final polka section.
An equally musical work was Jerome Robbins’s 1974 ballet Four Bagatelles, performed by New York City Ballet dancers Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia. At the piano, Nancy McDill played the four Beethoven pieces of this gem of a ballet. Peck’s strong but delicate quality matched the sweetness of the music, while Garcia’s movement was buoyant and generous. In both the solos and partnering, they showed sensitivity to timing and strong command of the work’s nuances. On a program that displayed voyeuristic women, a thrilling reinterpretation of a classic ballet, and the animalistic qualities of humans, Four Bagatelles was the freshest, purest, and most refined work of the evening.
Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia in Four Bagatelles, photo by Paul Kolnik