BWW Review: Troy Schumacher's TRANSLATION at Skirball Hall, October 27, 2017
If I were to use one word to describe Troy Schumacher's BalletCollective, it would be "intriguing." So should I go a bit further in this analysis: weird, inspiring, frustrating, slow, pedantic, moving? Probably more. It's just that Schumacher evidently has so much talent, yet he's still at a crossroad in his career, at least as far as I can tell. He has a million ideas, some scattered, some focused, and he has not yet fused them together so as to present the true choreographer that he aspires to be.
Who is Troy Schumacher?
He is a magnetic soloist with New York City Ballet. For the past few years he has begun a second career as a choreographer, producing works for New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Perfoma, Dancspace and his own company, BalletCollective, recently seen at NYU's Skirball Center.
The theme of BalletCollective's engagement, "Translation," is described by Schumacher in the program's preface: "In many ways, translation is at the heart of BalletCollective's process: Groups of artists come together and try to speak a common language as they create. Our process brings us together by focusing on artistic creation as inspiration: the end product is not the same as its source, but could not exist without it."
So do we take inspiration and translate it into something else more palpable to meet our artistic needs? I don't know if that's something I can answer, and even presenting such a statement in a program sounds a bit ornate. Any work, especially in dance, will have to stand alone once it has been premiered. To explain it in such language already says "proceed with caution" to me. Yet, perhaps, that's being unfair to Schumacher.
Schumacher embraces other artists, writers, choreographers, musicians and invites them into his company where their talents are utilized to the utmost.
Then there are the dancers, some of the best to be seen today in contemporary ballet. And they don't look like glorified dancers: They look like people.
More than that, you can feel their commitment to Schumacher and his vision. When a choreographer is in charge, especially one who is committed to his artistic vision, and the dancers response is one of wholehearted enthusiasm, it illuminates and charges the performance. I can understand why anyone in the dance world would want to work with him. You feel elated after the performance.
On the evening I attended, three of the works were by Schumacher, the other was "Orange," a new commission by Gabrielle Lamb.
This is a work that I found interesting to watch, but ultimately lacking in any substance. If you were looking for a modern ballet, this was it. What were these people looking for? Staccato like movement, searching for a connection through the image of a bright orange box as conceived by Trevor Paglen with original music by Caleb Burhans. But where was it going and just what was its point? The dancers looked beautiful, but then dancers always do. I have not seen other work by Ms. Lamb, nor do I really think that on this first viewing it is fair to give an appropriate evaluation. I would say though, I found her work interesting, but that is all.
"The Answer, a study by architect Carlos Arnaiz of one of NBA's Allen Iverson's game to a score by Judd Greenstein, is a quick pas deux requiring exceptional technical dexterity by Daniel Applebaum and Ashly Isaacs, both accomplished artists of the New York City Ballet. That the two dancers could meet any technical demand set before them was not a problem. The dilemma was the contrast of their unflagging energy with the repetitive movement that was presented to them-they could have performed the pas de deux for another 30 minutes. But the choreography left them with nothing to do. What do you do in a pas de deux when steam runs out and you still have dancers performing? I think this will have to be addressed by Schumacher as he moves ahead in his career.
"The Last Time This Ended" is a pas de deux for two men. One might think there is a hidden agenda in this, but there is none. It is a tender, evocative dance of two men, perhaps as they are ending a relationship. Nothing is stated. It is just felt. There is much to admire in this ballet, especially as danced by Daniel Applebaum and Sean Suozzi. Yet, as in "The Answer," the dance and music, composed by Mark Dancigers, don't ignite. The point is made, but once it has been laid out, interest wanes. Perhaps there should be editing. That is not for me to say. What I can say is that the beauty of the dance dissipates after too brief a time. And it is too bad, because Schumacher has crafted what could have been his choreographic breakthrough with this.
The final work of the evening, "Translation," was probably the most interesting. A complete departure from the other works, Schumacher has choreographed what I would call "a millennial ballet." Set in semi-light while graphics slither all around the dancers, who can only be perceived in dark outlines, the ballet sets a tone of ambiguity, asking what does the world matter in times of darkness, especially now. Perhaps I am reading more into it than what Schumacher intended, but there is a time when the darkness and graphics stop and we are plunged into the light, where we can see the dancers onstage. It is one of the best moments I can remember in theater-going during the past year for the simple reason that it's so sudden, you don't see it coming. Perhaps that is what we can say of today's world. Whatever Schumacher meant, this was the highpoint of the evening, perhaps of Schumacher's career up to now. I really want to see it again.
After the performance I left the theater thinking about what I had seen that evening. My summation: This is a choreographer I have to watch. Whatever the bad is outweighed by the good. I just want to see how Schumacher will utilize all that is good in his future choreographic work.
It should be interesting.