BWW Reviews: ARB's SIGNATURE DUETS Surveys the Wide World of Ballet
For a crash course in short-form ballet, you couldn't do much better than the American Repertory Ballet's latest showcase. With Signature Duets: Dances of Daring and Devotion, the company delivered a medley of costume, motion, and style that defies easy synthesis: a whimsical take on Bach followed by a modern-day dark romance, a melancholy response to Beethoven followed by a festive tambourine dance, and more. I could try to find a running theme or a clever motif to link all this together, but I'd rather remember and savor the pieces in Signature Duets one-by-one, without struggling for connection. Though there was, to be sure, a duet of some sort in every piece, the show was more often a display of the ARB's diversity of tone, mood, and technique.
The evening's entertainment began with Fantasy Baroque, the "whimsical take on Bach" that I brought up earlier. Choreographed by ARB Ballet Master Mary Barton, this ballet uses costumes that recall the 18th century at the height of its wigged-and-ruffled exuberance. Three male dancers (Stephen Campanella, Mattia Pallozzi, and Marc St-Pierre) and three female (Monica Giragosian, Shaye Firer, and Nanako Yamamoto) flirt and cavort their way through boudoir-like scenery. This much whimsy is a risk, but it's a risk that both makes sense and pays off--novels like Tom Jones and Dangerous Liasons alert us to what a fun, seductive era the Age of Reason really was, and Barton's kinetic dance (complete with a short masquerade) performs much the same trick.
Dreams Interrupted, which followed, was a radical shift away from such flippancy. Romance in Fantasy Baroque is sexually-charged, but still winning and harmless; romance here is either seems like an impossible dream or comes close to nightmare. Set to Pierre Bohemond's pounding music and choreographed by Trinette Singleton, Dreams Interrupted places an innocent young woman (Alice Cao) between a harsh seducer (Jacopo Jannelli) and a possible savior (Cameron Auble-Branigan). Such archetypal characters keep the piece coherent--and as the beleagured center of it all, Cao registers disdain, pain, and fragile optimism. Her performance is physically graceful, yet she shows you just how much grace under torment can hurt.
After a brief intermission, the troupe returned with Afternoon of a Faun, which the ARB also danced for its recent McCarter Theatre program. This story of an amorous faun (Mattia Pallozzi) and a demure nymph (Karen Leslie Moscato) requires dusky lighting and little more, so the total impact changed little from venue to venue. Still, I'm happy I gave Afternoon of a Faun a second look. Though Kirk Peterson's choreography isn't show-stopping (and isn't meant to be) it does take us into a mythical world that--though we inhabit it for only a very short time--can seem quite fully imagined. The Fauns in this short ballet, for instance, have a preference for solemnly regular arrangements, struck poses, and acts of challenge--gestures that almost add up to an animalistic language when taken all together.
This otherworldly air carried over into the next selection, Tears of the Moon. Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata Pas de Deux" is the score for this tender duet, with Kirk Peterson once again providing the choreography. Though Tears of the Moon features only two dancers (Samantha Gullace and Edward Urwin), it is a fine occasion for studying their gestures, their personalities--thanks in part to the close quarters of the Hamilton Stage. ARB devotees may remember Gullace from variety of confident, controlling roles; this time, she balances some of her statuesque assurance with hints of vulnerability that might have been overwhelmed in a longer routine or a large ensemble.
Well and good, but why not end in a livelier fashion? That is exactly what happens with Confetti: three female dancers in pastel tutus (Karen Leslie Moscato, Monica Giragosian, Alice Cao), three male dancers in something like toreador costumes (Joshua Kurtzberg, Stephen Campanella, Marc St-Pierre), Gerald Arpino providing the choreography and Rossini's "Semiramide Overture" for the score. The delivery is precise, jubilant, and unironic--making Confetti a nice counterpart to the equally lively, more tongue-in-cheek Fantasy Baroque. That's all for the ARB's latest, which begins with Fantasy Baroque's flurry of wigs and pillows and diaphanous veils and ends with Confetti's flurry of tambourines.
Photo Credit: Leighton Chen