Review: ELEMENTS at Newport Contemporary Ballet

A top-notch evening of dance.

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ELEMENTS, a program of five unique premieres, is the first under Island Moving Company's new name, Newport Contemporary Ballet. And given the artistry and superb skill that is demonstrated throughout the evening in this style of dance, this rebrand is more than fitting.

"Grazing Steel Edges" is a world premiere for choreographer Caleb Mitchell. Inspired by the element of iron, or more specifically how iron sharpens iron, this dance showcases crisp pointework and dynamic partnering which plays into this theme. In the second half specifically, a pair of two women, followed by two men, followed by a male-female pair support each other in leans, promenades, and turns - obviously not possible on one's own.

The most striking number of the evening was the pas de deux "Light Rain," expertly danced by Isabelle Ramage (a company trainee) and Edgardo Torres Estremera. The Rhode Island premiere of this work, with permission of the Gerald Arpino Foundation, is set to piquant, Eastern-tinged music that perfectly fits the often erotic tone of this dance. Their bodies often in close contact, sharp stops often turn into languid leg extensions, impressive backbends, and a sequence of splits that Ramage melts into and out of effortlessly. This would not, of course, be possible without the deft partnering by Torres Estremera, especially during a dizzying sequence towards the end.

In the choreographer's program note for "A Fine Line," Juan Rodriguez states that this dance "[uses] the idea of reacting or reactions...and possibility for chance to exist." This world premiere demonstrates just that, as the dancers, clad in black leotards and tights, both make contact with each other and contract away. At times their movement is almost confrontational, but then softens, bending into and away from each other. We see them acting as a group, but also very much as individuals, in line with the choreographer's vision.

"Skeleton Crew" is the creation of Newport Contemporary Ballet's own Artistic Director, Danielle Genest, having its live audience premiere. With six dancers in plain, grey outfits, set against the background of an abstract image that at times seems to breathe with the tonally haunting music, the main feeling expressed is one of groundedness. At times twisting and entwined, the dancers literally fold over each other or fall back into the support of others. As the choreographer's note states, "Stripped away. Pared down. Worn out. What remains is all we have, yet somehow everything we need, to move forward." Even when the movement becomes less earthbound, movement continues, but often remains off-center.

The evening's final piece is a world premiere of Yoshito Sakuraba's "Aion." While the concept of time is listed as the major influence, connection also feels like an appropriate theme - as with all of the program's previous dances. Set to music punctuated by the occasional lines of spoken word, pulsating noise, or the sound of crickets and thunder, the entire company appears in costumes inspired by regular clothing. Individuals who crawl away from the group appear to be consumed by or pulled back in by the rest, until someone else begins crawling away. The group gives way to a more traditional pas de deux before building back into a group piece, in which the individual dancers scroll off stage, until everyone appears at the end once more.

While Elements' final performance took place on March 25th, Newport Contemporary Ballet's season continues later in the spring and culminates with the Newport Dance Festival this summer. Following the exceptional technicality and artistry exhibited during Elements, this company's work is not to be missed.

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