BWW Review: Brooklyn Ballet and Norte Maar Present Balletic Collaborations in COUNTERPOINTE 2016

Women lack opportunities to choreograph in ballet. It's one of those social issues that people love to discuss but to do little about. Not true of Brooklyn Ballet. The company has partnered with Norte Maar (a multimedia studio) to present "CounterPointe 2016" featuring new work created by seven female ballet choreographers in collaboration with seven female visual artists. Though admirable in intent, the results as premiered on April 8th, 2016 at the Actors Fund Art Center showed little sign of collaboration or cohesive vision. Given that most of the works used generic music it is hard to see how anything interesting could be communicated. Despite the lack of musical dynamics, one would have hoped for something more than the listless performances that plagued this evening. Rarely have I attended a concert wherein the performers spent more time looking down at the floor than out at the audience. Perhaps the dancers were unsure about what they were supposed to be communicating. Whatever the case, it made for a spectacularly uninspiring evening.

The program opened with choreographer Eryn Renee Young's collaboration with Amanda Browder, "The Edge of Sunset". Ms. Browder's contributions included a colorful patchwork quilt-like backdrop (which devoured three feet of much needed performance space) and costumes with tribal like geometric patterns painted on them. Set to what sounded like flavorless elevator music, this piece suffered from polite performances that lacked charge or bite. The dancers (nine in total), though blessed with wonderful facility, moved as if they feared that they would crash into one another should they display any vim or vigor. Even when the stylish dancer Isaac Owens dashed on to perform a sweeping pas de deux, the mood remained strangely muted. Where was the collaboration, the invention; the excitement?

Sadly, this level of flat engagement and uninspired collaboration among artists struck the tone for the evening. Thank goodness then for the choreographer Ursula Verduzco (presenting Benjamin Briones Ballet) and her collaboration with the sculptor Sarah Bednarek. "Let me be Clear" felt like what the saucy French choreographer Maurice Béjart would have created had he been assigned a carnival scene to choreograph for an MGM movie musical (though without his bravura technical flourishes). This fun piece called for a madcap "Alice in Wonderland" level of zaniness that the performers more than delivered. Each dancer gave a technically flawless and delightfully charismatic performance even as the piece continued on for three minutes longer than it should have. But then everyone was having so much fun that it was hard to begrudge Ms. Verduzco, especially when her movement continued to evolve in inventive patterns all the while revealing new things about the dancers. Best of all was Ms. Bednarek's contribution: sculptures attached to the dancers' costumes that made comically rude noises when squeezed.

Equally noteworthy, "spring is almost here" (choreographed by Janice Rosario) opened with projections (created by designer Jessica Weiss and video artist Zander Padget) of a dancing 3D rendering of the soloist, Sarah Rodriguez. This 3D rendering retreated as Ms. Rodriguez entered the space bedecked in a flower covered dress that put one in mind of a dreadful bridesmaid gown (designed by Ms. Weiss). Combined with Ms. Rosario's inventive use of the pointe shoe, this was the most fully realized piece of the evening. There was a particular moment in the ballet that continues to play games with my balance: Ms. Rodriguez sprang to full pointe then slowly rolled down to bent knees before launching forward into an unexpected stop; from here she dove into a fantastic sequence of turns that flew across the floor. In spite of these choreographic merits, the performance felt too safe. It was like Ms. Rodriguez was performing a pop song when the material was a dramatic aria. Rich as the choreography was with its exploration of levels, use of hips, and a lovely lament that flowed seamlessly into an exciting scherzo section, the performance felt like a delicious meal delivered by a less than enthusiastic waiter.

Overall that is the best way to characterize "CounterPointe 2016": a promising meal, poorly presented. Perhaps next year will feature artists with distinct voices and commitment to actual collaboration.

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From This Author Juan Michael Porter II

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