Milwaukee Ballet: 3 good dances, lots of great dancingApril 1st, 2011 |
Three good dances — one of them very good and an important premiere — brought out the best in the dancers of the Milwaukee Ballet Company Thursday night.
Animal energy, military discipline and brilliant invention combined to make Darrell Grand Moultrie’s new Frequencies Lit a smash hit. Moultrie’s number, to driving music by Rodrigo y Gabriela and Mikael Karlsson and Andreas Söderström, abounds with astonishing, original moves. Most of them have to do with the central idea of establishing a long beautiful ballet line, then breaking it down rapidly and rhythmically. The seven men and seven women approached this difficult concept and physical challenge from a high place.
As a company, they snapped into elegant lines then flexed feet or broke out the hips, knees, shoulders, head or limbs as needed instantly and precisely. Had they been anything less than pristine, Frequencies Lit would have been illegible. The dancers gave us big, bold letters with no fine print to puzzle out.
Moultrie gave almost everyone a solo moment, and everyone shone. Julianne Kepley and Rachel Malehorn had the most solo work, and they were fabulous. Moultrie stressed Malehorn’s gorgeous sinuous qualities and generous amplitude. He showed off Kepley’s remarkable, hard-edged clarity of shape and her uncanny ability to commence and arrest forceful motion instantly, with no visible preparation.
Moultrie’s insight into such qualities in dancers is one sort of choreographic intelligence. His grasp of dance syntax shows intelligence of another sort. He knows how to create expectation and to meet it in unexpected ways. For example, the lifts in his very creative and complex partnering begin like the big ballet lifts we’ve always seen, with both partners pulled up neatly and the woman building a little momentum to help with the heavy lifting.
But once off the ground, all bets are off. On the way to the apex, Moultrie injects all manner of shakes and squiggles and twists for the women, things we’ve never seen in such a moment. (The MBC men, unflappable through all this, are great partners these days.) These witty ornaments to the main thrust are rhythmic and athletic; they please in more than one way. They surprise within a familiar ballet context and thus keep the eye and mind engaged.
That’s the micro of dance syntax. The macro lies in group geometry and the geography of the stage. Here, too, Moultrie showed great sophistication in forming and dissolving subsets of the 14 dancers; in the play of ordered symmetry versus apparent chaos; and in the play of frontal, mass movement that overwhelm versus quiet moments that draw us in. When he swept everyone offstage as a single dancer came on far upstage right, it was as if a storm had subsided at just the right moment. Moultrie knows how to refresh the collective eye of the audience — a rare and important skill.
MBC’s own Petr Zahradnícek, after a number of tepid, generic efforts over the years, might have finally found his voice as a choreographer in Broad Waters. The key might be the music, Henryk Górecki’s a cappella choral work of the same name. In the past, Zahradnícek let the meter of the music push him around. Górecki’s pulse lies veiled beneath a placid flow of twining voices singing very long phrases. So Zahradnícek built independent rhythm into his dance. It relates to the music rather than merely responding to it; the dance stands eye to eye with the music instead of being its slave. Typically, the dance flows its own way during the music phrase before finally coming to rest in tandem with the music. The relationship is beautiful to see and hear.
After the angularity and drive of Moultrie’s dance, the gentle Broad Waters soothed. Long bands of blue fabric, made to undulate near the floor, represented the river now and then. Kepley, lighting in a bottle once again, flashed between Patrick Howell and Joshua Reynolds in her featured moment as a defiant member of a riverside community. Malehorn, gorgeous again, interacted placidly with three nymphs as a woman at one with the water. Luz San Miguel dropped roses into a charming stream of moving fabric to start a final bridal scene. But the narrative is wispy, barely there. Broad Waters is really about the partnership of music and dance as they flow in tandem.
Diane Coburn Bruning’s Ramblin’ Suite takes its cues from the Red Clay Ramblers, a North Carolina band that takes its cues from the Celtic flavor of Appalachian music. The dance figures — the circles and arm-chained lines — could have come from a Trinity Irish Dance program. The difference and the wit of Coburn Bruning’s piece lie in the mixing, mingling and contrast of ballet lines with the skittering feet of Irish/American figure dance.
Ramblin’ Suite, for seven women and six men, also brings to mind Twyla Tharp’s Raggedy Dances, casual, Americana-tinged works from the 1970s. Coburn, like Tharp, refers to popular styles, generally likes the limbs held loosely and isn’t too concerned about knife-edge ensemble. The company understood this and got into the casual spirit of the thing. Ramblin’ Suite was just the thing this program needed — a charming crowd-pleaser to bring down the curtain.
The earth-toned costumes, by MBC’s Mary Piering, added much to Ramblin’ Suite. The women’s little flared dresses moved around their bodies and fuzzed up the profile in a way very much in keeping with the spirit of the piece, and the men’s button T’s and chinos hit good ole hunky fella square on the head. Piering’s jazzier outfits for Moultrie’s piece were also right on. Well done, Ms Piering.
This program, given at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25-$89 at the Milwaukee Ballet website and at its ticket line, 414 902-2103.