Dancers in Emery LeCrone’s Five Songs for Piano, photo by Matthew Murphy
In 2007, a group of former professional dancers studying at Columbia University were frustrated by the lack of ballet opportunities on campus. They took matters into their own hands and founded the Columbia Ballet Collaborative (CBC). Each semester the student-run, student-directed group offers free weekly classes to the Columbia community and rehearses for an end-of-semester performance, which was initially held in a studio at Barnard College or City Center. Last year the group made the leap to Columbia’s Miller Theater, where they once again presented their spring performances on Friday and Saturday night. The company has demonstrated technical and artistic growth each semester, and this weekend’s program – featuring six works by as many choreographers – was the most well-rounded to date.
Victoria North in Five Songs for Piano, photo by Matthew Murphy
The pieces were predominantly somber in mood, with brighter moments emerging here and there, but they were so choreographically diverse that it was hardly a depressing evening of dance. Five Songs for Piano, a premiere by CBC’s Resident Choreographer Emery LeCrone, was structurally marvelous as the five women – all excellent – moved through gestures and striking images that indicated an internal struggle. In solos or duets set to a melancholic quintet of piano works by Mendelssohn, the dancers broke free from a horizontal line across the back of the stage. Rapidly switching their legs from turned out to parallel, abruptly slamming their palms and extended arms to the floor, and moving between angular movement and more graceful, balletic lines evoked inner turmoil, while sophisticated costumes and eerie lighting contributed to the fragile ambience. LeCrone might still be considered an emerging choreographer, but superb work like this suggests that she has already emerged, and she’s here to stay.
Craig Hall in Monique Meunier’s Solid Ground, photo by Matthew Murphy
Monique Meunier’s Solid Ground featured a classical rock score and fast-paced movement for five women and one man, Craig Hall of New York City Ballet. Although the work included complex lifts and a continuous morphing of formations, it tended to look formulaic or trite. And unfortunately, it lost momentum as it dragged on for slightly too long. Excursions, a new piece by Claudia Schreier set to a slow piano score by Samuel Barber that evoked summer haze, consisted of three women in a series of duets with guest artist Don Friedewald. The dancers seemed slightly strained by the challenging partnering, but their commitment to the ballet was impressive.
The darkest work on the program – in terms of both mood and lighting – was John-Mark Owen’s Ah, Mio Cor, set to Handel’s score. The five dancers were poorly lit and the unflattering costumes included tuxedo pants and frilly green tops with a high neckline. Owen’s lackluster choreography did not reflect the emotion heard in the music’s opera singing, but Navarasa, created by Lauren Birnbaum, displayed movement that was as varied and nuanced as the global sounds heard in the score by Osso and Sufjan Stevens. Individual dancers stood out among the group of nine, but this work primarily examined the changing collective emotions of a community.
Dancers in Lauren Birnbaum’s Navarasa, photo by Matthew Murphy
Enjoy Your Rabbit, a lovely duet created by Justin Peck for himself and Teresa Reichlen (both are dancers with New York City Ballet who study at Columbia and Barnard, respectively), also featured music by Osso and Sufjan Stevens. The first half was full of heartache and longing, with seemingly endless extensions suddenly broken by sharper, edgier movement. The intricate partnering eased into more lively jumps and brighter individual sections for Reichlen as the piece progressed. Peck’s choreography had wonderful breadth and musicality, and both dancers exhibited remarkable fluidity. This brief duet deserves to be expanded upon, perhaps at CBC’s performances next fall.
Teresa Reichlen and Justin Peck in Enjoy Your Rabbit, photos by Matthew Murphy