It is hard to know where to start with “Baroque’d”, Ballet Next’s latest season, but it’s safe to say Something Sampled, one of the program’s three world premieres, is, for better or worse, what most people will talk about.
And where does one start: with the track-lit costumes, the tie-dye tutus, the space leggings, the disco-meets-”Tron” costume, or the ballet-versus-urban-dance-competition in which the work culminates?
Using the full six-member company, Something Sampled stars company founder Michele Wiles (a former ABT principal) and Jay Donn – an accomplished, Brooklyn-based urban Flex dancer, and concludes with their inevitable battle. Before the dance-off, Wiles and fellow collaborators – listed as Donn and composer and musician Chris Lancaster – force several meandering movements upon the audience.
While stagehands rig up neon Cheerio lights and assist Lancaster with his pedal-enhanced cellist set-up, Donn wanders around in winged black sneakers and a metallic drop-crotch discoball-meets-“Tron” jumpsuit. He marvels and gasps, acting like a dumb innocent that has just landed to earth. Lancaster – sporting a modest rat tail mullet and green glitter eyeshadow – teases Donn with cello experimentations. Donn’s body jerks in the robot-like moves Flex is known for, as if he is controlled by the music to the point of putting his body into shock.
This goes on for an eternity. More movements follow, with increased accompaniment from Lancaster and the company – wearing space leggings and neon, tie-dye, track-lit tutus. There is a vague attempt at narrative, connecting bodies to the music – Donn is controlled by it, then controls the dancers, then loses this capacity. At one point the dancers create a knotted cluster and face the cellist: a dancer raises her leg to her nose, and the performers “play” her limb, as if it is a cello. One dancer, Grace Huber, seems to die in her bright pink tutu, after her faces freezes in a silent scream.
Wiles, who is largely absent for the preliminaries, is a permanent presence in the final third, wearing a “wet-look” turtleneck and grey tutu. Her arms are swanlike, her presence balletic. Perhaps in connection with the muddled narrative, she runs in a circle and pushes everyone away, collapsing on the floor. If it was a Giselle reference, it was ill-placed and ill-timed.
The battle, which is heavily referenced in Ballet Next’s marketing materials, could have risen above the high-versus-low-art, “Dancing With The Stars” cliche had it been choreographed better, but it wasn’t. In fact, it made multiple, highly dubious visuals.
Wiles just so happens to be long-limbed, blonde, and blue eyed. She also just so happens to poke, prod, push, kick and actually walk on Donn, an African-American male. At various points, Donn chases after not just Wiles but the other ballerinas, his head near their nether regions. He strokes Wiles’ legs. He mimes a ring coming out of a box and a proposal. She laughs at him and refuses. He mimics a charging bull and goes after her. His choreography is animalistic while she continues to refer to an imaginary crown on her head, a symbol of power and privilege. If this is an attempt at satire, it is in poor taste. She whips out fouettees, he does a few flashy steps, but the choreography never merges and remains superficial: he in his world, she in hers.
Choreographically, the highlight is a pas de deux in Ushuaia, choreographed by Wiles and set to a Biber partita. There are some pleasing sequences and lifts, but the work is cluttered with frenzied hand gestures, which don’t serve any significant mimetic, musical, narrative or aesthetic purpose. Surfacing again in Something Sampled, it could be a choreographic tic of Wiles’ which it would be better to check.
Outswirl, the opening piece by Peter Quanz, is an assemblage of influences set to sensuous Corelli concertos. It reads like an early Forsythe exercise in angles, tilts and speed, but also calls heavily on Balanchine and even Ratmansky. There is Mr. B’s “Ring a Ring of Roses, Pocket Full of Posies,” hand holding, pedestrian passages, but there is also the sharp, downward accents and bent angles of Russia’s latest choreographic zeitgeist. The hard-hitting, bent-knee piques and gravity-embracing jumps combined with the loud stage make for a cacophonous collage of aural and visual stimulation.