Avi Scher & Dancers’ New York Debut

Marcelo Gomes and Ashley Bouder in Avi Scher’s Utopia, photo by Matthew Murphy

On Saturday evening, Avi Scher & Dancers made its New York debut at the intimate Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater.  Formed in 2008, the company performed six works by choreographer and founder Avichai Scher – a remarkable number for such a young group.  Even more unusual was the star-studded lineup of dancers, including American Ballet Theatre’s Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part, and New York City Ballet’s Ashley Bouder (a last-minute substitute for Sara Mearns), Savannah Lowery, Abi Stafford, Ralph Ippolito, and Christian Tworzyanski.  Although the program lacked an authoritative choreographic voice – the pieces covered a wide range of moods and styles without being unified in any way – watching these dancers up close was a rare treat.  Scher is lucky to work with such talented performers, and he shows great potential as a choreographer.

No Matter What explored community and alienation to the delicate sounds of Aphex Twin and Adam Lewis.  The seven melancholy dancers moved through formal formations that were dotted with intricate footwork and gestural language.  Similar movement was evident in Touch, which included a duet for Veronika Part and Arron Scott followed by an unrelated but absorbing trio for Ralph Ippolito, Savannah Lowery, and Eric Tamm.

Ralph Ippolito, Savannah Lowery, and Eric Tamm in Touch, photo by Matthew Murphy

Little Stories, a series of three duets set to music by pop singer Jason Mraz, never reached beyond cute or cliché.  The first playful duet lead to one with more romantic potential, and the third duet – danced powerfully by Savannah Lowery and Christian Tworzyanski – was outrageously aggressive and angsty as the dancers ripped off their shirts.  Unfortunately, Scher relied too heavily on Mraz’s cloyingly sentimental songs to tell the story.  Mystery in the Wind was similarly cliché-heavy with music from the soundtrack of Chocolat, but Marcelo Gomes was mesmerizing amid the dark, moody atmosphere and Veronika Part was beautifully expressive (as was Abi Stafford in the ballet’s trio).

Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part in Mystery in the Wind, photo by Matthew Murphy

The most memorable piece on the program was Utopia, a premiere for Ashley Bouder and Gomes, with music by Rachmaninov (played live by Melony Fader) and costumes by New York City Ballet’s Janie Taylor.  Structurally, the work was similar to Jerome Robbins’ Other Dances, which is also a duet with a pianist on stage, though Utopia had a bit more playfulness and pizzazz, and a lovely whirling quality.  Bouder worked her magic, balancing charm and remarkable attack, while Gomes offered lyricism and grace.  This wasn’t the first time that Bouder was an impromptu replacement in a principal role (she learned the title role of Firebird in a few hours while still in City Ballet’s corps de ballet), but she seemed relaxed and completely comfortable with the movement.  Furthermore, she has a unique way of using her breath (enjoyably audible in this intimate venue) that adds buoyancy and power to her dancing.  Together, Bouder and Gomes looked dynamite, and they were fortunate to perform the most choreographically intriguing work of the evening.

Sadly, the program ended on a sour note with the premiere of Inner Voices, featuring syrupy lyrics sung by Genevieve Labean, who also performed in the piece.  While the sweet, one-dimensional innocence in this work was evident elsewhere throughout the evening, the company’s debut also illustrated textured movement and maturity that is far more appealing and interesting.  The program suffered because of the tension between the two, without firmly rooting itself in one or the other.  As Scher continues to grow as a choreographer – and he undoubtedly will – hopefully he will gain clarity about what he wants his dances to convey to his audience, not only as individual works, but also as an overall reflection of his personal and choreographic explorations.

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