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Ballet Festival: Program A

A pleasant look at contemporary ballet curated by Kevin O'Hare, the director of The Royal Ballet.

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Joseph Sissens in Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” in The Joyce Theater’s Ballet Festival (Program A) (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]

The Joyce Theater is presenting a two-week Ballet Festival, four programs under the artistic direction of Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet.  Each program is curated by a different dance expert, the first by O’Hare, himself.

Program A was divided into two parts, the first the more sedately classical, the second showing newer, more contemporary fare.  It was a fascinating, focused study of the state of ballet today, featuring, appropriately, two works by the British master of classical ballet, Sir Frederick Ashton.

His “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” to the music of Gluck, was a calm, stately solo performed by the intensely self-contained Joseph Sissens, bare-chested in white tights.  (Sissens showed other facets of his talent later in the program.)  Slow walks, prayerful gestures marked this solo, one of Ashton’s simplest.

The other Ashton work, the last ballet on the program, was his lovely charmer “Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan” originally choreographed for the deliciously sensual Lynn Seymour (Kenneth MacMillan’s original Juliet in his now ubiquitous Romeo and Juliet).  Romany Pajdak, her hair in a loose Isadora do, performed to Kate Shipway’s brilliant musical interpretations of the Brahms works.  She managed to dance the movements prettily but did so with a stony face, never communicating the ecstasy associated with Duncan’s style.  Perhaps, in time, her body and emotions will combine in a beautiful interpretation.

Calvin Richardson and Romany Pajdak in Liam Scarlett’s “Asphodel Meadows Pas de Deux” in The Joyce Theater’s Ballet Festival (Program A) (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

Liam Scarlett, an established British choreographer, provided “Asphodel Meadows Pas de Deux” danced by the well-matched Ms. Pajdak and Calvin Richardson dressed in John McFarlene’s simple, body-hugging costumes.  Theirs was a cool relationship colored by matching angular arm gestures performed above simple ballet positions.  They never quite made a romantic connection.   Somehow, Scarlett—and, perhaps the two young dancers—purposely presented a relationship that never was meant to gel.  The gentle, rolling Poulenc score was handled perfectly by Ms. Shipway.

Rounding out part one were established ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s Two Duets from “Within the Golden Hour,” one for two men (Messrs. Sissens and Richardson, supporting and avoiding each other in equal measure) and the other for a man and a woman (Sarah Lamb and Marcelino Sambé, in a cool love duet) all supported by a score consisting of Ezio Bosso and Antonio Vivaldi).

The neo-classic “Concerto Pas de Deux” choreographed to part of a Shostakovich Piano Concerto was meant to be a cool, clear demonstration of ballet poses and partnering.  Lauren Cuthbertson (the curator of Program B) and Nicol Edmonds were appropriately understated yet technically perfect, their lines perfectly matched.  Again Ms. Shipway provided support in her playing of a piano reduction of the full orchestra score.

Messrs. Richardson and Sissens, both bare-chested and in loose Japanese style pants, one red and one black, opening the program’s second part, competed in undulations, big jumps, extensions and turns in “Obsidian Tear” choreographed by yet another established English choreographer, Wayne McGregor to a juicy score by Esa-Pekka Salonen.  It was a draw.

Mr. Sissens tried to make some sense out of the stop-and-go choreography of “jojo,” contributed by Charlotte Edmonds and danced to “Pandi Groove” by Chinese Man.  That his joy in being on stage alone put “jojo” over is a tribute to his dedication.  This kind of work is done better by the Ailey and Complexions troupes.

Edward Watson and Sarah Lamb in Wayne McGregor’s “Qualia Pas de Deux” in The Joyce Theater’s Ballet Festival (Program A) (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

The final work on Program A was another ballet by McGregor, “Qualia Pas de Deux” to electronic-sounding music by Scanner.  The entire theme of “Qualia,” danced by Ms. Lamb and Edward Watson was who could get their legs higher than the other.  Mr. Watson won!

Mr. O’Hare clearly has a personal vision of ballet and fairly well-rounded one.  The dancers on this program were all fine, beautifully trained and eager, but most haven’t yet integrated their personalities with the steps.  The program was more a showcase of enacted to exquisitely performed steps which is always entertaining.

The Ballet Festival gets more starry as famous guests make their appearance in other programs.

Ballet Festival: Program A (August 6-18, 2019)

The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit

Running time:  90 minutes including one intermission

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About Joel Benjamin (561 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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