Dd Critical Conversation: BalletCollective at the Joyce’s Ballet v6.0 Festival

 In 2013, Best Of
Leah Gerstenlauer and Candice Thompson correspond to discuss BalletCollective, the fifth company featured in the Joyce Theater’s contemporary ballet festival Ballet v6.0.
CT: First of all I totally appreciated the fact that they were premiering a new work, The Impulse Wants Company. I have seen every show that is part of the Ballet v6.0 festival and have been disappointed that only two companies used this platform to premiere new work. What did you think of the concept of using a narrative poem as a common language for composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone and choreographer Troy Schumacher?

LG: As a multi-genre conversation, The Impulse Wants Company takes the notion that art fuels art to a new level.

CT: I totally agree. After hearing so much text spoken and taped over the last week, it was so conceptually sophisticated to have Cynthia Zarin’s poem as an influence but not use the text in a literal fashion. The dance and live music! (performed by ACME) could be appreciated on a completely aesthetic level without knowing the backstory, or if you want to go deeper, there are layers to plumb. They even provided a link to the actual poem. Did you read the poem after the show?
LG: Yes, and even though I read the poem after the show, the movement and music — both as a unit and separately — clearly reflected an underlying, though refreshingly unspecific narrative. In retrospect, I do see connections between the poem, music, and choreography, but I wonder if my perspective on the performance would have varied greatly had someone recited the verse as we watched. I’m inclined to think that the added element would have been distracting rather than elevating. As you mentioned, having the option merely to enjoy the surface or to dive deeper was a welcome feature of the piece.
CT: Getting into the actual movement, there were, again, so many other pluses for me. I loved the ease of the practice clothes and shiny pointe shoes. And the pointe shoes were actually in use.  But on the other hand, there was such a carefree feeling to their movements and so much freedom in their technique, that steps like pirouettes felt more like spins, but in a good way. Did you get that feeling or mood too?

LG: Yes, I did feel a pleasant lightness in the dancers’ movements and attitudes, a quality that was all the more intriguing and welcome given the complexity and the occasionally frantic nature of the choreography. It’s interesting that you mention the USE of pointe shoes, because I noticed them more in the many moments at which they were NOT used. Schumacher seems to have been reminding his dancers, trained in ethereality though they may be, that they are, at root, terrestrial beings.

CT: That’s an interesting point I definitely had not thought about. But I was not distracted by any use of technique or trick, so I think that speaks also to a goal of having the dancers be as grounded as possible. And what about the amazing undulating arabesque near the end of Impulse, where the dancers accumulated into this breathing mass. That was a powerful image.

LG: Actually, I would have preferred that the dance end with that “undulating arabesque.” I thought that the dark tag at the end panned out better in writing than in performance.

For me, less would have been more, in this case. When you read the poem, did you feel the same way that you did about the choreography — that it could and should have continued?
CT: I hear what you are saying, but I loved the final movement, a solo by the captivating Taylor Stanley. It was a bit of a surprise ending for me. He was stalking something, on the verge of catching it so it seemed, and then it ended before I was ready.  I was left wanting more.
LG: Perhaps a sequel is in order…?
CT: As for the second ballet, Epistasis, I did not think it was as strong as the first but I enjoyed it in a way that I enjoy all of Jerome Robbins’s works. You feel the dance, there is some story but there is also some mystery in all of the relationships too. That kind of tension makes me feel like yes!  this should be a dance and not a play or a story or a painting.
LG: Choreographically speaking, I enjoyed Epistasis more than I enjoyed the premiere. The series of duets at the older work’s center were lovely, and I particularly enjoyed the pairing of Taylor Stanley and David Protas. These two men possess markedly different movement qualities and levels of intensity, yet they complement each other perfectly on stage. Did any of the duets, solos, or dancers stand out to you?

CT: I actually quite enjoyed the sexy duet. It was almost a tango and it built up a flirty tension for the new guy (?) to break up. The motif step of a tuck jump that lands feet apart mirrored this kind of physical narrative, almost as if they were doing cannonballs into a metaphorical pool with the following set of steps flowing out like ripples. I suppose even the title is also implying this as it has to do with interaction and suppression in biology.

LG: That duet was danced by Ashley Laracey and Taylor Stanley, I believe, and the “new guy” was Harrison Coll (who is, incidentally, the newest member of BalletCollective and a new NYCB corps dancer). I think you’re on to something with that analogy. Much of Schumacher’s choreography seemed to have that ripple effect, with each dancer’s movements eliciting reactions from his or her peers. And the same could be said of the music: Each note was a call or answer to another musical phrase. Like The Impulse Wants CompanyEpistasis felt conversational to me.
CT: Lastly, I wonder if this lovely, laid-back evening can only be the product of a bunch of dancers from NYCB…meaning they might have less to prove and so nothing felt forced…again I am comparing this to the other small contemporary dance and ballet companies I saw as part of this festival. For several of the other companies, there was a forced, almost torturous feeling that they had to get everything they could do out in one evening.
LG: Oddly enough, I wonder the opposite: Is the pressure actually greater for these dancers because of their association with NYCB? Audiences are familiar with them for a certain style of choreography and presentation, so perhaps they now feel a responsibility to prove that they have something else to offer. That said, all of them seem to be relishing the opportunity to work collaboratively with their peers in the fresh context of BalletCollective.


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