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BWW Review: New York Theatre Ballet's LEGENDS & VISIONARIES is Disjointed But Versatile


The New York Theatre Ballet (NYTB) is different from your typical ballet company. It's a chamber company of 13 dancers, performs in smaller venues and is usually accompanied by live music! Director and founder, Diana Byer, focuses on restaging classic works and commissioning up-and-coming choreographers to present performances that are both inspiring and affordable for audiences.

Legends & Visionaries was a program that featured five unique pieces: Jerome Robbins' minimalistic Rondo, Antony Tudor's timeless pas de duex from Romeo and Juliet, Richard Alston's contemporary Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms, José Limón's theatrical The Moor's Pavane, and Pam Tanowitz's innovative Short Memory.

The first act began with Rondo, featuring dancers, Amanda Lynch and Amanda Treiber, dressed in plain pastel leotards with attached mesh skirts. Coupled with classical piano accompaniment, the simple costumes and atypical partner work (one dancer sitting and watching the other, phrases of unison scattered with moments of discord) resembled the harmony - and slight competitiveness - of two dancers in a ballet class.

Antony Tudor's pas de deux from his 1943 one act Romeo and Juliet followed. The pas de deux itself is simplified in terms of movement; dancers, Elena Zahlman and Philip King, revert to minimal but meaningful gestures such as touching Juliet's cheek versus grand lifts and assisted pirouettes, accentuating the tenderness the two young lovers feel without resorting to choreographic pyrotechnics.

Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms was a new contemporary ballet work choreographed by Richard Alston. The pas de deux was confined within a large lit rectangle on the stage that kept shrinking throughout the piece until it was a tiny box. The partner work of dancers Rie Ogura and Steven Melendez alternated between ardent and aloof. At one moment Melendez would wrap his arms around Ogura, but then the pair would forcibly break away, illustrating the complexity of close encounters.

In the second act, José Limón's The Moor's Pavane proved to be the most theatrical piece of the evening. The very condensed version of Shakespeare's Othello is told through dance and pantomime. While Limón was a "modern" choreographer, The Moor's Pavane is reminiscent of early ballet during the time of France's King Louis XIV, with grounded partnering and physical storytelling.

Act II also included a brief conversation between dance critic, David Vaughn, and choreographer, Pam Tanowitz. As a modern choreographer Tanowitz described her experience working with a group of professional ballet dancers. She met and got to know the dancers before creating the work, Short Memory. In the piece, the four female dancers wear brightly colored pointe shoes as rhythmic and visual tools that accent the live piano and violin music. Tanowitz explained how she was fascinated by ballet and was inspired to create a balletic piece "through her contemporary lens."

While the variety of the evening illustrated the versatility of the NYTB dancers, the connection between the works was as vague as the title implies. The first act was an interesting comparison of three pas de deuxs from different decades: 1980, 1943, and 1997 respectively. Though I am not sure if putting these three pieces together was intentional, I wish they had been presented in chronological order so as to illuminate evolutions in dance, choreography, and storytelling over time. And while the five works were diverse and exciting, the evening lacked a connective theme that would have made the disjointed recital into a cohesive and moving concert.

Photo credit: Dariel Sneed
Photo 1: Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms
Photo 2: Rondo
Photo 3: Short Memory

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