BWW Dance Review: Ashley Bouder Project, July 5, 2018.
Do you know the lyrics to the Rodgers and Hart song, "Babes in Arms?"
"Why have we got our arms?
What have we got our sight for?
Play day is done
There's a place in the sun
We must fight for!
So babes in arms, to arms!"
OK, the people of the Ashley Bouder production are not babes. They're women with a mission: to bring female choreographers, composers, and minorities to the forefront of the dance world, a place where males have dominated from time immemorial.
Even at Bouder's home turf, New York City Ballet, the pickings are slim. In 70 years the company has presented works by female choreographers Ruthanna Boris, Martha Graham, Gloria Contreras, Miriam Mahdaviani, Twyla Tharp, Violette Verdy, Susan Stroman, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Melissa Barak, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Lauren Lovette, and Gianna Reisen.
Not a great track record. Most of the ballets of these choreographers have long since disappeared, so for new audiences it's hard to judge just what was going on.
Or needed to be changed.
There are others besides Bouder who have joined the fight. Many are making progress, but it will take time. There is only one reservation that I have, and there's no reason to go into detail because I don't want to debate right now. Don't forget the men. The arts need us also. So let us co-exist peacefully side by side. And let talent prevail and lead, not our gender.
That would be the greatest tragedy of all.
I was especially looking forward to Lauren Lovette's Red Spotted Purple, music by Stephanie Ann Boyd, a solo for Ashley Bouder that opened the evening. The program note, one of many that accompanied the evening read: "A fresh collaboration between three strong female artists with original music composed of three movements, this experimental solo plays with the idea of an inner battle between a dancer's physical person and the music that drives her feet to dance."
OK. Bouder does that, and stupendously well. But did we need that note? And what was Lovette trying to prove? I know she's talented. But did this piece tell us more about Lovette? Could I glean something different?
Her steps built on Boulder's almost rapid gunfire movements, allowing for time to chill and reflect, yet there was no light to shine on Lovette. We knew one thing: Bouder is a sensational dancer.
Perhaps I was hoping for something in the manner of Lovette's recent Not Our Fate, a ballet I consider a seminal work for the millennials. While I was disappointed, I am looking forward with anticipation to Lovette's next ballet. I hope it will prove as astounding as Not Our Fate.
Liz Gerring's Duet, music by Anna Webber, came with the note in the program: "Originally choreographed as a female/female duet, this work is being repurposed for its original intent as a work of gender neutrality in movement."
So I asked myself if it would smack of sexuality this time around, having seen it last year with Sara Mearns and Bouder. That was two females. But this time...
I thought it a good piece of dance craftsmanship, if a bit long. The intent of two people of the same gender together on stage, only touching for about three seconds, did not give it a new spin. The space, the stage, was like a neutral ground, the dancers in a world of their own, all removed from feeling or thought.
So what could this male coupling bring to it?
Well, it had Taylor Stanley, one of New York City Ballet's principal dancers, whose elegance, pure line, and physical presence made all the difference in the world. There is something enormously erotic about Mr. Stanley, and it's not something that is overly projected. Rather, it is quiet, withdrawn. This makes it all the more alluring and palpable. It's no secret, but a lot of men and women in the audience were going gaga over Mr. Stanley. During intermission, they were talking of nothing else.
I only tell; I don't judge.
Along with Damien Johnson, Taylor made each and every move count. The two men were a pair of bodies, alone, seemingly unaware of the other. They had a story to tell.
While I don't think this was Ms. Gerring's intent, two men on stage tell a different tale than two women. Neutral or not, male bodies do some clicking.
Alas, choreographed by Abdul Latif-the only male choreographer of the evening-took its cue from the newly orchestrated music of Vivaldi, Purcell, Abdul Latif and Ron Wasserman, who also conducted his wonderful New York Jazzharmonic ensemble for the evening-costly, I would imagine, when you decide to have live music. There was an air of celebration about it, momentum building with the dancers merging with the music. It was funny, it was cute, it was inconsequential. Even with Mr. Latif vocalizing on stage, there was a curious lack of excitement about it. The dancers were trying their best to build excitement, to bring the audience to its feet. But trying too hard only induces weariness in an audience. And I was probably the only naysayer there, because the rest screamed and gave it an ovation.
Annabelle Lopez -Ochoa's Symbiotic Twin, danced by Bouder and Stanley, was accompanied by the program note: "We are dual creatures made of contrasting energies such as male and female. What if our awareness of it would create less division? What it our intertwined bodies would create shapes that carry new hopes."
Sounds pretty; means nothing. It was already too many notes. Why all the explaining? Couldn't the dances stand alone?
It was starting to get on my nerves.
A short dance that paired Bouder and Stanley-both so outstanding together in Balanchine's Square Dance--it presented a couple that could bond together yet still be so removed from each other. What could be combative was brought down a few notches. They existed in a void, seeking nothing, going nowhere but into their own worlds, their own bodies, intertwined, yielding, leaving-nothing.
This was a nice, effective piece, one that I can see Bouder keeping for the future in her company.
The program closed with Bouder's In Pursuit Of-no program note-although with a little blurb about the dance being based on 4 equally distinct dance forms.
Unfortunately, my program was stuffed with flyers that dropped out immediately when I looked at the first page. So I was in the dark.
Whatever the intention, the dance reminded me of a somewhat millennial Dances At a Gathering. It was fun, it was pleasant, and for all the humor and bubbly spirits, it somehow missed the mark. It was also too calculated. But that doesn't matter. This is as good a closing dance as one could ask for, and I believe Ms. Bouder should keep it in her repertoire for a long time.
So that was the evening. I wish someone would choreograph a ballet to Schubert's Fifth Symphony for Bouder and Stanley. I think it would be smashing. But I'm not a choreographer, so I'll leave that to someone else.
Photo © Diana Mino