Between February 19 to 23, 2019, BalletNext performed at New York Live Arts, a small jewel of a theater in Manhattan.
The program began with the world premiere of “Birds of a Feather”, choreographed by Wiles to Haydn’s last piano sonatas and beautifully played by Dr. Vedrana Subotic on the piano on stage. The pretty costumes, designed by Stephanie Jones, reminded me more of morning glories than birds – dark blue-green chiffon edged with white (as if in dipped in color) – but they were elegant and finely made. The ensemble of women danced in patterns, highlighted by small gestures that often paralleled the music. The plotless ballet was a charmingly sweet piece, feminine and pleasant. Conor Mulligan designed the effective lighting for all the dances.
After an intermission, Danielle Dreis and Tia Sandman danced “La Follia,” a piece that had been choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti in 2011. The Vivaldi composition (“La Follia”) was performed wonderfully on stage by Omar Abboud (piano), Angela Kim (violin), Stephanie Liu (violin) and Eunhye Park (cello). Closely following the rhythms of the Vivaldi music, the contemporary choreography was dramatic, edgy and sculptural. The two women, dressed in short, black unitards, often matched their movements, dancing in unison.
Following was another piece choreographed by Bignozetti (in 2012). Dr. Subotic played the familiar composition of J.S. Bach, “Sheep May Safely Graze”, on the piano onstage. Although the BalletNext company is comprised of fine young dancers, they don’t reach the level of the international stars, Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar. These two extraordinary ballet dancers performed the complicated, tortuous, ferocious choreography with calm control. Although their bodies were twisted and knotted in complex formations – a difficult relationship between a man and a woman – the dancers never lost their balance, never hesitated, and with steely strength made the entire ballet seem to be one uninterrupted movement. They were breathtaking.
It only highlighted how sad it is that we won’t be seeing Ramasar with the New York City Ballet in the future. Without suggesting that his behavior didn’t deserve the consequences of his being fired, it seems that we, the audience, are the collateral damage of the whole sordid affair. We will be deprived of seeing his special artistry, his special star quality. It is such a shame. But as always, it was thrilling to see him perform.
The evening concluded with “Hey, Wait,” recently choreographed by Michele Wiles in 2018. A change of pace from the classical music of most of the evening, this music was a jazz piece composed by the legendary trumpet player Tom Harrell and performed by Harrell with jazz pianist Luis Perdomo (the Tom Harrell Duo). The music titled “Vibrer” can be heard on the 2017 album titled Moving Picture. The ensemble of eight women dancers wore appropriately jazzy, full-length black unitards, each decorated with a couple of brightly colored stripes – a different color for each dancer.
Wiles choreographed a variety of patterns, with different numbers of dancers entering and exiting, ending with the whole company onstage. What seemed like the end, with bows and accepting of applause, turned out to be a cleverly original theatrical device. The women looked at one another as if something might be wrong. Then, instead of exiting all together, each performed a short solo, one at a time, after which, only she left the stage – until there were none.
Although the dancers of BalletNext are still students, they are already good dancers, and so for ballet fans, the performances provide an opportunity to see classically trained ballet dancers on pointe close up, which isn’t always possible in the huge houses of Lincoln Center. For fans of live music, both classical and bluesy jazz, it is an opportunity to hear really fine musicians playing beautifully. And having the opportunity to see Kowroski and Ramasar – simply amazing. So, all in all, the evening was terrifically satisfying.
BalletNext (February 19 – 23, 2019)
New York Live Arts, 219 W. 19th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.balletnext.com/calendar