BWW Reviews: LEGENDS & VISIONARIES Amuses at Schimmel Center

The short two-day run of Legends & Visionaries by New York Theater Ballet drew a warm showing from the public, apparently enticed by what was a soft opener to the upcoming season of live arts at the Schimmel, a fine venue at Pace University.

Around the corner from the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Schimmel at Pace nests into a contiguous array of revitalized neighborhoods. Ethnic and American fast food chains fill the bellies of star-struck students and suburbanite parents, peeling back the very stubborn time-honored character that resists the ongoing, and manifold gentrifications throughout New York.

This class confrontation is a dance of peoples, times and places. While not nearly as graceful as the choreography featured by Legends & Visionaries, there is a mutual lesson to be had in the present simultaneity of both the gentrification of lower Manhattan and the vision behind New York Theater Ballet.

Project Lift is the word on the street. New York Theater Ballet is also a proud charitable organization that educates children from New York's homeless shelters in the self-discipline of classical dance. Invaluable as the Project is beautiful, NYTB offers scholarships, mentoring, tutoring, medical care, clothing and even touring opportunities.

In the delicacy of ballet tradition, choreographer Pam Tanowitz mused on themes in Sonata in D Major Opus 28, II Andante by Beethoven, for her piece, Double Andante, with all ten dancers from the company in performance on the evening. The wonder behind her choreographic precision was in the slow perfection of timed movement, exuding a kind of language in the form of the human body.

As a flower blooms, people dance. In this way humanity is naturally expressed, and as in beautiful language, this is where relationships form. Tanowitz resurged ballet as a pastoral exercise in harmonizing the human form with the magic beheld in nature.

Merce Cunningham, on the other hand, has electrified the urban mind to a fever pitch with his scintillatingly truthful modern choreographic vocabulary, single-handedly transforming dance in America and the world. For Legends & Visionaries, NYTB performed a justifiable rendition of Cross Currents, contrasting well with Double Andante.

NYTB set Cross Currents to Rhythm Studies for Player Piano, an intoxicating score utilizing the sort of mixed media approach to 20th century composition that could only be conceived by such as the ingenious, expatriate Conlon Nancarrow. Musically, the piece reflected a well-informed respect to the philosophical context, where the human form is shot through with a viscerally transcendent modernization.

After performing the first two essentially pure dance works, NYTB then spoke to the namesake of "theater ballet" with There, And Back Again by Nicolo Fonte and Three Virgins and A Devil by Agnes de Mille.

There, And Back Again is stronger for the wonderfully effective costume design by Sylvia Taalson Nolan, and live musical accompaniment by Michael Scales on piano, and Margarita Krein on violin. Yet, Three Virgins and A Devil only proved to reveal the immaturity behind the NYTB image.

Although a literary adaptation, from the book by Ramon Reed, and in continuity with over seventy years of tradition in the world of ballet theater, NYTB simply failed to capture the pith of the story beyond a puerile rendering fit for a school field trip matinee.

Meanwhile, the final summer nights of the trendy Seaport District began to fade under the East River façade, where gangster toughs and street kids once waited to jump the unassuming, inebriated drifter.

And in the unseemly fissures between the LES revival and the gleaming financial district, the namesakes of a gritty Lower Manhattan still writhe in the drinkable air. The ash-smeared walls of the 19th century tenements stare through blackened windows, bespeaking the unlivable horrors that have forever scarred the American conscience.

As for the past four decades, convenience stores blink with garrulous Latin and African-American patrons, where the occasional Caucasian drunkard schemes to pilfer a 40oz, and the teenager lights up a loosie. In such haunts, as in the 24hr delis pockmarked along a trash-strewn, broken sidewalk, the original inspiration for theater lives on despite the gentrified parodies of the arts world.

Photo Credit: Richard Termine

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From This Author Matt Hanson

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