Buglisi Dance Theater at the Joyce

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I had the great pleasure of spending my Wednesday evening at the Joyce Theater for a performance of the Buglisi Dance Theater. BDT is legendary in the modern dance world, but this was my first time viewing the company or any of Ms. Buglisi’s work.

The evening started out with Requiem, which premiered back in 2001. The piece pulls the audience in from the very beginning; a stunning onstage tableau of 5 billowing pillars of fabric. In the downstage left corner a dancer’s back starts to emerge and take shape amongst the drapery. Vertebra by vertebra each dancer rolls up through her spine in a slow ripple with a suppleness that is astounding. To merely state that this simple articulation of the back is stunning does not give the moment justice.

Requiem has the distinct feel of an Italian Renaissance painting come to life, which is fitting considering the piece’s initial inspiration came from the female Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (I recommend a really beautiful novel by Alexandra Lapierre called Artemisia, which is a fictional depiction of her life). Artemisia was a rarity in her time and had to overcome oppression to win the respect of her fellow male colleagues. The 5 female dancers (Terese Capucilli, Rika Okamoto, Jeanene Winston, Lauren Jaeger, and So Young An) move as if they are pushing through a sea of molasses; each movement is drawn out, displaying resistance yet strength. There is a hint of feminism in the message. After the travesty of 9/11, Buglisi used the despair and remorse from this catastrophic event to develop Requiem into the dance it is today. Christina Giannini’s costumes were works of art in themselves – backless dresses with layer upon layer of delicate fabric, highly feminine and complex. They were integral parts of the choreography. The lighting by Clifton Taylor was equally exquisite. These onstage moments, when everything comes together in perfect harmony, are what make audience members come back for more.

Second on the program was the world premiere of Letters of Love on Ripped Paper. This ballet featured the entire company, as well as a guest appearance by former ABT star Martine van Hamel. Letters of Love . . . also displayed gorgeous costume and light design (this time the lighting was done by Jack Mehler). It utilized live accompaniment and spoken word. On a personal level, I have never been a fan of dance to spoken word, and while I think that Ms. Buglisi did this well, my attention was still lost during these intervals of poetic love letters. This ballet was noticeably longer in comparison to Requiem. It could have been shorter and equally as effective. However, there were moments of unison dancing, utilizing every company member, which showcased the strength and intensity of Ms. Buglisi’s choreography and dancers. Drama appears to be a key element in her work and she intertwines human emotions and dance vocabulary seamlessly; never seeming to sacrifice one for the other. The honesty and commitment each dancer brings to the movement is something to be admired. I did not ‘love’ Love Letters . . ., but rather possessed more of a mild ‘crush’ on it. For me, Requiem was the true gem of the evening.

Buglisi Dance Theater is performing at the Joyce Theater through February 20th.

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