The premiere performance of Ballet Next at the Joyce Theater was the place to be last night. The sold out crowd included sophisticated, professional, tony New Yorker financial types – an un-Joyce-y crowd, lots of NYCB dancers (including Wendy, Maria, R. Fairchild) and lots of critics taking up seats that could have brought in more money.
Artistic Directors Michele Wiles and Charles Askegard have defined Ballet Next as a classical ballet company that "offers a progressive environment for collaboration among leading dancers, choreographers, and musicians." Not sure what progressive environment means. From last night's performance, it wasn't clear how this group will ultimately differentiate itself (if it needs to) from other small companies that over the years have sprung up around town with limited success; e.g., The Daring Project (Sappington & Kozlova - present last night), Dance Galaxy - (now Ballet NY), Ballet, Inc. (Charles Anderson). An innovative collaborative group that has been incubating at the Baryshnikov Arts Center of late is the Satellite Ballet (Troy Schumacher & Kevin Draper).
For its debut performance, Ballet Next presented a collection of classical PdD and contemporary solos and a duet. Performers included mostly well-known and well-liked dancers from the NYC area. Live music by a chamber group accompanied the dancers. Must mention that listening to live and sensitively played cello music in the Joyce Theater left Haglund feeling all warm and fuzzy.
The program opened with a concert version of Act II of Swan Lake performed by Michele and Chuck. It has to be noted that both of these dancers exited ABT at the height of their careers which had been impeded as the result of Kevin McKenzie's uncontrolled Guestophilia. One wonders if their full Swan Lake might have evolved and deeply matured into something special. Michele was a lovely Odette who didn't have to worry about whether Siegfried had eaten his Wheaties that morning or whether he would forget his steps. There was a softness and unforced emotion in Michele last night that we didn't see very often in her Met performances. Hearing a chamber orchestra version of the Tchaikovsky music was a little strange at first, but ultimately Haglund fell under its spell, too.
The Sleeping Beauty Act III PdD was performed by Maria Kochetkova (SFB) and Joaquin De Luz (NYCB). It was okay. The Joyce stage was too small for Joaquin's variations and a little too big for Maria's. Both are short dancers, but the similarities and compatibility pretty much stop there. He has an extraordinary and compelling stage presence whereas she does not. Steady technique was on display in Maria's variations but so were cuteness and coyness making it look like an offering at a competition or an audition. Maybe the ABT Guestophile's scouts were there to assess her.
The Tchaikovsky PdD was vibrantly danced by Misty Copeland and Jared Matthews (both of ABT) with tremendous confidence. Misty's high energy was sometimes directed toward executing things in a big way which resulted in a little bit of abruptness. What makes Paloma Herrera's version of this so enjoyable is that the full force of her energy goes into following the force of the music through loving clarity in her steps. Her force is unforced. Misty is right on the verge of figuring all this out. Her dancing is finally taking on a maturity and the upper torso and limbs are catching up with those phenomenal legs and feet. Misty may see herself as a contemporary ballerina, but Haglund sees her as Lise in La Fille Mal Gardee.
Let's get to the highlight of the entire evening, that being the gifted and accomplished Jared Matthews whose every performance now puts the audience on notice that he is the Corvette that has been kept in the garage way too long, tank full, keys in the ignition, top down baby. It's time to roar the engine, and roar he did last night. This guy's style and demeanor on stage are so generous that you know that he's doing it all for you - not for himself. He's doing it for us, baby. Huge jumps last night. Huge lifts last night. Spot on turns. Relaxed. Confident. Gentlemanly with a touch of James Dean. He's got the star power and the prince power. Why don't we get to see it more? Every time Haglund sees this young man in performance, he becomes more angry at the reckless waste of talent within ABT's ranks. Lots of people are noticing how the company's soloists are getting the shaft while the ABT Guestophile gives their opportunities away to less talented dancers who have Eastern European surnames. One Haglund'eeler who hangs with some of the ABT moms said that the moms of the kids in the JKO School are starting to question the value of keeping their kids there after observing how the company's soloists are getting shafted. One decided to pull her kid out of the school and send her to London for the summer because of it.
While the first half of the Ballet Next's program was ballet, the second half was the "Next" part with modern choreography by Jorma Elo, Margo Sappington, Robert Sher-Machhemdl, and Mauro Bigonzetti. With the exception of the Sappington piece, they all followed the current dance scene's mantra of emphasizing the sculpting bodybuilding effects of ballet training rather than what that training can achieve in terms of musical movement.
The Jorma Elo piece entitled One Overture and "danced" by Maria Kochetkova was his usual stuff. Maria was wearing a half-tutu that went halfway around her body and was attached to a tiny leotard. She threw poses and glances at the audience. The piece wasn't funny, cute, thought-provoking, or the least bit interesting. Elo needs to be retired to the Mark Morris Home for Has-Beens.
Margo Sappington's Entwined for Askegard and Jennie Somogyi (NYCB) to Erik Satie music was Arpino without the Arpino. Margo used to do really interesting work that spoke directly to the times, and thus became dated quickly, but was often forward thinking. She created a hot tango piece to Astor Piazolla before tangos achieved mainstream popularity. She once created a crazy piece to Stephen Forsyth's Step Out of Love for five angry women. Oh, yeah, and there was that "Oh, Calcutta." Haglund adores Jennie Somogyi and will watch her in anything, but last night, he just wanted to be released from this Entwined which was a never ending entwining of Chuck and Jennie limbs.
Robert Sher-Machhemdl's One to the music of Max Richter was a solo for Misty Copeland. Misty wore a shift-like dress of very pedestrian design with bare legs and pointe shoes. It's hard to remember this because there was so little movement but for walking and tendues, a few plies, while Misty masterfully held everyone's attention which was focused on the muscular shapes of her legs and feet. How can anyone NOT focus on those? We all got it right off the bat - she was one. Okay, but why? What happened? What's it mean to her? Why is it important for us to know about it? The piece was all about showing us Misty's legs and feet - emphasizing the body building results of ballet training not dancing.
The final piece was Mauro Bigonzetti's La Follia. Amphetaminatic angst from one end of the stage to the other driven by Drew Jacoby and Michele. Haglund often likes Bigonzetti's work, but he seemed to be going for the Elo effect, not to be confused with the Halo Effect. Michele actually looked more interesting in this than Drew who generally dances similar stuff.
What Haglund would like to see NEXT in ballet is a retreat from reducing choreography to that which focuses principally on the sculpting bodybuilding effects of ballet training. Let's focus on movement and musicality for a little while – if it's not too passé.
The Pump Bump Award, a pricey 4 wheeled sports shoe by Reebok goes to Jared Matthews.