BWW Review: MONTE, MOLISSA, MARGO, MULLER at New York Live Arts

Seiko Fujita and Elijah Laurant in "Working Title"
Choreographed by Jennifer Muller
New York Live Arts
Photo Credit: Julie Lemberger

Times are hard for choreographers, which is why Elisa Monte, Jennifer Muller, Molissa Fenley, and Margo Sappington have banded together to present their full-length works at New York Live Arts. What one might not be able to afford, four are more than capable of shouldering. While a solid business idea, the results as seen on Wednesday June 15th, 2016 were decidedly uneven. It's not that the works were too different in tone, it's that the quality was rarely of top caliber.

Christiana Axelsen, Rebecca Chaleff, & Molissa Fenley
Molissa Fenley and Company
Photo Credit: Shinichi Iova-Koga

Few people attend the theater to be bored; if you do then Molissa Fenley's dry affair is for you. In "The Third Coast" two dancers - who possessed very nice feet - performed simple ballet patterns with incongruous high battements thrown in at random. Pam Tanowitz is so much better at this sort of thing and is twice as inventive. Twelve minutes in, the pair switched out for a no longer physically compelling Ms. Fenley. With her expression permanently set on "bored bus driver", she performed the charmless solo "Mali". The only reason that we knew that the piece was over was that the lights faded to blackout. I kept wishing that Carmen de Lavallade would take over and show us how rapturous simplicity can be when one invests in it. At least David Moodey's lighting was nice.

Thomas Vavaro
Elisa Monte Dance
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Why does Elisa Monte continue to choreograph? For the past few years her premieres have been less than interesting and her poor dancers look miserable performing them. It gives me no pleasure to write this. Ms. Monte is a legend and in the past has created work that stands out as remarkable. But "Dextra Dei" - while clearly of the Monte style - is tepid at best. Ms. Monte's obsession with repetition becomes almost perverse in this compilation of flashy lifts and poses. What is impressive once is diminished twice and even less beguiling in its obvious variation. The most interesting feature of this performance was the fact that Thomas Vavaro - a dancer of extraordinary physical range and stretch - so ably partnered his fellow male dancers despite his slight build. Why Ms. Monte felt compelled to present "Dextra" is a mystery. How much nicer it would have been to have seen a revival of "Treading".

What a relief then to see Margo Sappington's "Entwined". Here was skillful choreography and dancing worth writing home about. Though initially emitting the whiffs of perfumed prose steeped in oriental exoticism - foggy dreamscape that put one in mind of the opium scene from "La Bayadere" included" - "Entwined" took off once the dancers of Dance Theatre of Harlem invaded the stage. I say invaded because they completely usurped their bland counterparts from Pennsylvania Ballet. Silken Kelly is built like Sara Mearns and possesses a talent to match. For those "out of the know", Ms. Mearns is one of the most admired ballerinas at New York City Ballet. The wit, sensuality, and sense of play that Ms. Kelly exuded - think exquisite perfume - raised the heat five notches and pulled the entire audience out of its torpor. Her choreography was a collection of moving allegro phrases that suddenly suspended or elongated with a surprising rhythmic change that defied expectation. In less capable hands it would have been disappointing. One longed to see Ms. Kelly continue to burn up the stage in the same way that no one ever wanted Ann Miller to stop twirling during one of her mammoth turning sequences. In defiance of this longing, Ms. Kelly's hesitation effect brought unexpectedly new

Jennie Somogyi and Charles Askegard
Studio Photo of "Entwined"
Choreography by Margo Sappington
Photo Credit: Gene Schiavone

dimensions to the proceeding dance phrases; rather than getting lost in the movement one was able to savor and reflect. My only quibble was with her frequently downcast eyes. This affectation is difficult to pull off and reads instead as coy. Perhaps it was simply the performer; Chrystyn Mariah Fentroy had no problem successfully executing said look in the slightest. Indeed I thank God that she kept her eyes averted for most of this ballet. Had she looked up more often, the entire audience would have been obliterated by her radiance. Ms. Fentroy is a star ballerina with DTH who dances at the level of a leading soloist with American Ballet Theatre or NYCB. I am aware that she had a partner who ably kept her suspended and saved her from crashing headfirst to the floor - Ms. Fentroy made numerous death-encouraging lunges - but to my eyes she was floating in the air. With Ms. Fentroy onstage, no one else existed. Her dancing gave me - and numerous other audience members - goosebumps. This pas de deux allowed for a number of titillating effects including a pique pitch turn into a long arabesque lean en pointe as well as a lift in which the ballerina pulled her legs up into a tight pas de chat and was then rocked back and forth before being lowered into the lap of her cavalier. Alessanda Ferri is the only ballerina I can watch perform Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet". I don't think that I can ever watch anyone other than Ms. Fentroy perform this duet.

Sonja Chung in "Working Title"
Choreographed by Jennifer Muller
New York Live Arts
Photo Credit: Julie Lemberger

How do you solve a problem like Jennifer Muller? With better music. While I always appreciate live music, pop songs with MIDI backing accompanied by live playing - in this instance from violinist Yut Chia and cellist Shayne Lebron Acevdeo - are cringe inducing. Like many of Ms. Muller's musical selections these pieces called to mind the worst of music from the '80s. Even then, never did I ever expect to hear instrumental versions of Lana Del Ray's "Young and Beautiful" or Adele's "Hello". Unfortunately, "Working Title" taught me that such travesties were possible. Known for creating athletically gorgeous movement that revels in virtuosity, "Working" finds Ms. Muller in a dolorous mood of lingering poses replete with angst. For all intents and purposes this middleweight contribution to the repertoire is a soap opera whose allure relies upon its performers. Veteran company member Gen Hashimoto - a stylish dancer with strong characterizations, light jumps, and tight footwork - is usually to be relied upon to bring great clarity to Ms. Muller's work, however at this concert his performance was marred by a few patches of sloppy dancing and zero chemistry from his partner Shiho Tanaka. Thank goodness then for Seiko Fujita, Elise King, and Sonja Chung. Their trio stood out as gripping drama with Ms. King and Ms. Fujita exerting a mollifying force on the almost too wild Ms. Chung. Eventually the three melded into a gorgeous display of womanhood at its nurturing best. Bravo to Ms. Chung for embracing her ferocity and kudos to Ms. King for standing as the solid bedrock of support. Ms. Fujita is the true find of this company. She is currently the strongest dancer in the company and the person to whom we look to understand Ms. Muller's style. I would guess that this world premiere is still a work in progress. If that is the case I would suggest that it be re-worked to focus on these three dancers. They truly elevated the evening.

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