Ballet San Jose’s Spring Revolutionary Program

30 May

For the 2013 Season finale, April 19-21,  Ballet San Jose featured contemporary choreography, including a pas de deux choreographed by Karen Gabay as part of her final appearances with the company she has served for three decades.  Part of the draw was Merce Cunningham and a premiere by Jessica Lang, plus Jorma Elo.

I have written about Gabay’s Amour Gitan in her Gala finale; by what must have been her fourth performance April 21, she had hit her stride.  Coming after Merce Cunningham’s Duets to John Cage’s esoteric sounds it was quite a jump.

Duets comprised a dozen dancers or six pairs. One pair danced and another arrived towards the end, then there were two pairs, three and briefly the entire dozen dancers, arriving and departing unexpectedly.  The original choreography must have required the dancers to move barefooted; here they moved in soft shoes which displayed the upward thrust of ballet technique.  Merce
Cunningham’s dancers not only emphasized the level nature of their bodies, but also the weight and texture derived from the contact with the floor.

It’s hard for classically-trained dancers in a ballet company to alter their stage presentation.  They smile;  and except for dramatic situations, are required to exude good cheer, health and all’s right with the world.  Cunningham asks nothing of that; he wants neutrality,certainly not the front and center most classical abstractions somehow built in to the phrasing.  One could quickly see why this work would be attractive to a ballet company wanting to stretch dancers and repertoire.  What was needed is a massive re-education of performing premise, doubtless something the artistic direction of Ballet San Jose did not have time or resources to supply this season.

Jorma Elo’s Glow Stop was another the works from American Ballet Theatre brought in to fit the overall program title, aided by  juxtaposing Mozart’s Symphony 28 in C major and Philip Glass’ 2nd movement from the Tirol Concerto for Piano and Music.  While stager Christophe Dozzi commented on Elo’s desire for speed and the need for precision in the intricate motions, only classically trained dancers are capable of hitting the arabesque on pointe and then wiggling the line trying to  resemble a pretzel;  undertake an turn of the torso bent at the waist under an outstretched arm,grasping the turner’s arms while on pointe, then coming out to stretch the torso elegantly before buckling it from an  efface.  My degree of interest, having seen two or three other Elo works, and with Boston Ballet where he is its resident choreographer, was what kinds of distortion Elo utilized to what kind of phrases.

Jessica Lang’s premiere of Eighty-one, with its lighting and raised level where composer Jakub Clupinski directed the music, couldn’t have been further in theme than her extended pas de deux Splendid Isolation III danced in 2012 to Gustav Mahler’s extended adagietto, where the woman was swathed in white and the man had to reach over the expanse of train to reach her.
Where that was ghostly  lit,  Eighty-one was sci fi, with music to match, the composer changing the action with gesture and the start and stop of movement, classical in quality.

The dancers were required to move in geometric patterns with frequent lighting adjustments; at several points in the procedure, I half expected to see the hull of a space ship move behind the composer.  Whether Eighty-one will invite the enthusiasm given it at this premiere performance in a second season only repetition will tell.

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