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Review: Review:  OPERA BALLET VLAANDEREN BRINGS CONTEMPORARY DANCE TO NYC at Joyce Theater Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Artistic Director of Ballet Vlaanderen (Flanders) since September 2015, has steered the company in a diverse and versatile direction, uniting forty dancers from over fifteen countries. Cherkaoui bridges the gap between ballet and contemporary dance by bringing in some of today's respected contemporary choreographers. On the program currently showing at The Joyce Theater are three contemporary ballets by Akram Khan, Chrystal Pite, and one of his own pieces. This is an exciting program to bring to NYC. I, too, was excited to attend the opening night performance on March 3rd.

Faun to original music by Nitin Sawhney inspired by Claude Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'une faune, is a creation of Cherkaoui's. I found this piece to be most sensual and touching. In this version, "the faun meets his female counterpart in a complex game of animal attraction". The dancers, Philipe Lens and Nicola Wills danced with passion and fluid flexibility. Lens was particularly impressive with his lithe acrobatics and beautifully defined calves and feet, combining strong physical and artistic performance qualities. First, they each danced alone, later coming together to create mesmerizing movements that often found them dancing as one. The projection of a dark woods' scene was projected on the backdrop, set and lighting design by Adam Carree. Lens wore grey trunks and Wills wore a lighter grey half leotard and camisole top, costume design by Hussein Chalayan.

Acclaimed choreographer Pite choreographed Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, which "offers a highly personal take on the themes of rescue and desperation". Lens, again, stood out as one of five dancers in this work, joined by Matt Foley, Laura Fransen, Teun Van Roosmalen, and Wills at this performance. All danced well. While I did enjoy the performance, I am put off by bright lights shining in the eyes of the audience, lighting design by Jim French. Perhaps these lights were intended to be search lights. Whenever faced with such lights I wonder why the choreographer has chosen to punish the fans who have eagerly come to see the performance. The street clothes attire was designed by Linda Chow.

Highly acclaimed British-Bengali choreographer, Khan, is responsible for Kaash, which is Hindi for 'If', to original music by Sawhney, with a predominance of drums, which set the tone. The fourteen dancers wore long black skirts, the men with bare torsos, costume design by Kimie Nokano. Khan presents his own vision of Shiva via his own powerful movement idiom, rooted in the Indian dance form Kathak. It seemed to me, however, that many of the dancers did not embody the true feeling and passion of the dance. Their upper bodies seemed less than strongly committed to the power which seemed necessary as they performed a series of arm movements through the compelling rhythmic structures. (The passion of Khan's own company performing this piece seemed to be more fully committed. No doubt it was this that made the work seem overly long.)

Ballet Vlaanderen will be at The Joyce Theater through March 7th.

Photo credit: Filip Van Roe

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