Ballet NY’s 2015 season offered a mixed bill of promising diversity. Featuring works by Medhi Bahiri, John Butler, William Forsythe and Stanton Welch, the program’s end result was sadly two-dimensional.
Butler’s Othello feels like it’s straight out of the mid 1960s, though it dates from 1976. The splayed hands, heavy, weighted aesthetic and blunt choreography had overtones of Grigorovich’s Spartacus but without the spectacle. The compressed Ailey Citigroup stage doesn’t aid a work with such high histrionics, which was set to the robust strains of Dvorak.
Giovanni Ravelo, as Othello, for all his efforts, was a bit flat, rotating through a handful of facial expressions. Brent Whitney, as Iago, was more compelling, but then, Iago is the more interesting character. Butler had a penchant for male-on-male choreography, and gives Iago and Othello plenty of it. Iago wraps his body around Othello’s like a conniving gargoyle, sowing seeds of deceit and treachery, his manipulation of Othello fully embodied. Coreen Danaher as Desdemona doesn’t get the best choreography, and her high shoulders and stiff epaulement don’t help. While there were some flaws in execution, the troupe tried to give this their all, but Butler’s Othello remains a crude and clunky reduction of the Bard’s complex tragedy.
Medhi Bahiri’s What Ever is a lengthy, nondescript pas de deux set to Barber’s Violin Concerto. The music, combined with the all-white costumes of leotard and tights for the woman, a unitard for the man, smacks of City Ballet redux. Largely a vehicle for the female dancer, in this case Xiaoxiao Cao, What Ever doesn’t give the male dancer much to do bar the basic partnering moves, performed Thursday night by Jesse Campbell. While the work could be considered some sort of tribute to the Balanchine and Martins legacy, not just in the costumes but in the steps – many manipulations of the female body, lengthy extensions, neoclassical poses – it was performed with such pretension as to be ignorant rather than reverential. Perhaps it was Cao’s dramatic facial expressions paired with Campbell’s stony face, whatever the reason, What Ever comes across as something striving for iconic relevance but without choreographic clarity or identity.
Katie Gibson and the buoyant Brent Whitney performed a faltering Slingerland Duet. Forsythe is not easy on his dancers, and Gibson moved as if in fear of the steps. At times a briskly paced piece, Slingerland, like many Forsythe works, is subject to dancers moving from one step to the next without completing the move or the line; such was Gibson’s fate on Thursday night. She raced across the steps rather than dancing them, and was uneasy throughout, despite Whitney’s grounded solidity. She also has an unfortunate habit of opening and closing her mouth at irregular intervals, as if chewing gum, and her eyes blinked as if she had allergies. Perhaps it was an off night, but these distractions aside, her extensions and rotation appeared limited, and not in conjunction with Forsythe’s long, limb-lengthening aesthetic.
Stanton Welch’s Orange was the joyous reprieve of the evening. An ensemble work for six dancers set to Vivaldi, it had Kate Ann Behrendt as the standout performer, which begs the question why she wasn’t cast earlier. Her line is excellent, her warmth palpable, and her musicality is on form. Whitney again exhibited his duality of flight and stability, while Gibson rushed through steps, landing flat footed instead of rolling through the feet. Campbell finally exhaled, merrily smiling throughout his petite allegro sequence. Choreographically Orange is not the best of Welch’s Color ballets, but it is a pleasant, exuberant work which shows off his gifts for balanced ensemble movement.