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Ballet Festival 2019: Program D

The finest dancers from world-class ballet companies in new choreography. Mixed success, but an engaging, aesthetic experience and a treat for balletomanes.

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Sarah Lamb in a scene from Laila Diallo’s “All My Song,” part of The Joyce Theatre’s Ballet Festival: Program D (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

[avatar user=”Sheila Kogan” size=”96″ align=”left”] Sheila Kogan[/avatar]

For the last five years, the Ballet Festival has been presented at The Joyce Theater. It includes a variety of new choreography danced by the finest dancers from ballet companies around the world. This year, Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet principal dancers Lauren Cutherbertson and Edward Watson, and international designer Jean-Marc Puissant were each tasked with curating individual programs.

Program D was curated by Edward Watson and he performed in a number of the dances.

The first piece, titled “Qualia Pas de Deux” was choreographed by Wayne McGregor to music by Scanner. The original lighting was by Lucy Carter (with redesigned lighting by Carolyn Wong, who did most of the effective lighting throughout Program D). The dancers, Sarah Lamb and Edward Watson, were a beautiful, astonishing couple. Dressed in white underwear-looking costumes (by Vicki Mortimer), the two were well-matched and had a chemistry that was exciting despite the cool, quiet ease with which each moved. The sensual movement was sculptural, almost gymnastic, showing off their flexibility and strength. Lamb, who danced on pointe, had the most extraordinary flexibility. She was able to lift her leg to touch her ear as well as twist into the most difficult positions.

The second piece, titled “Assume Form” was a world premiere, choreographed by James Alsop, known for her commercial work on TV, movies and for videos. The recorded music was “Assume Form” composed by James Blake.  Robbie Fairchild, recently a principal of New York City Ballet and Tony Award nominee for the Broadway version of An American in Paris, was the solo dancer and he designed his own costume. Fairchild has such a strong stage presence and is in such command of his body that he is always a joy to watch. It almost doesn’t matter what he dances. But Alsop’s choreography was an interesting mix of small gestures and theatrical movement.

The third piece, titled “All My Song” was another world premiere. Sarah Lamb, barefoot, and wearing a white tailored shirt and grey pants (costume design by Jean-Marc Puissant) looked very different from the pas de deux she had danced earlier. The choreography of Laila Diallo highlighted Lamb’s dramatic ability, although it was more about mood than story. It seemed somewhat confusing to change the recorded music from “Les Pleurs” by de Sainte-Colombe (performed by Jodi Savall on viola da gamba) to Elvis Presley singing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

Robbie Fairchild, Edward Watson and vocalist/guitarist Dan Gillespie Sills in a scene from Javier de Frutos’ “3 with D,” part of The Joyce Theatre’s Ballet Festival: Program D (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

The fourth piece, titled “3 with D” was choreographed by Javier de Frutos and was the only performance that included live music. Patrick Gallagher was on piano in front of the stage and Dan Gillespie Sells sang and played guitar center stage, simply and straightforward, making the most of music, which was a compilation of songs by Ivor Novello, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter. Next to Sells were two chairs – something of a “set” compared to the other bare-stage designs. Danced by Watson and Fairchild, it was more of a drama than any of the other pieces. Although there was little linear plot, it was a gay love story. The familiar lyrics of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” had a different connotation when referring to two men. The two performers were such gorgeous dancers, and very similar body types, so when they moved in synchronistic unison, it created a beautiful effect.

After an intermission, “Cristaux” was presented. A dance split into three parts (a, b, and c), all were choreographed by Arthur Pita. “Cristaux – a” was performed by Lamb and Fairchild. Following so much modern dance, it was almost shocking when Lamb entered the stage on pointe in a short silver-crystal—embellished tutu. (costumes by Yann Seabra). They danced a classical style pas de deux to the recorded music “Dreaming and the Upward Sky” by Frank Moon.

Maria Kowrowski in a scene from Arthur Pita’s “Cristaux – b,” part of The Joyce Theatre’s Ballet Festival: Program D (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

“Cristaux – b” brought another surprise: Maria Kowrowski, New York City Ballet principal, appeared for the first and only time, wearing a sparkling, slip dress completely covered in silver crystals (designed by Lez Brotherstan), with her hair hanging loosely to her shoulders. She was lit dramatically by Carolyn Wong, and then was joined by Watson in a more modern pas de deux.

“Cristaux – c” was a strange solo for Watson. Danced to Bizet’s “Symphony in C,” he arrived on stage wearing a silverish mask that covered his entire head. Toward the end, he peeled off the mask and jumped off the stage into the audience. That caused a murmur of response, but it seemed a cheap (and awkward) trick that had little to do with the dance. When the piece ended, he simply climbed back on stage for the bows.

Overall, Ballet Festival: Program D was a great treat, covering a variety of styles and choreographic work. Because each piece was short, it provided a taste, but none was so long to risk being boring. Although some of the choreography was more engaging than others, it did give the dancers a chance to try new things and to show off their range. And they performed on the highest level. It can’t be over-emphasized how exquisite the dancers were. And how wonderful it was to be able to watch them closely – especially in a small theater like The Joyce where one can see the smallest gestures.

Ballet Festival: Program D (August 16 – 18, 2019)

The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Manhattan

For tickets, call JoyceCharge at 212-242-0800 or visit

Running time: one and a half hours including one intermission


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