Satellite Ballet presented a curiously satisfying evening of collaborative creations at John Jay College's Lynch Theater last Friday night. The program included its most theatrical work to date, Warehouse Under the Hudson, in which a young woman who is searching for answers in her past meets a thief who had been collecting her past and now holds the answers which she seeks. They strike a Faustian bargain wherein he agrees to give back her past provided she relinquishes her future to him.
Taylor Stanley as the bare-chested thief in bright red tights superbly conveyed the seductive and dangerous side of his Faustian character. Intensely dramatic from head to toe, he produced big theater with his smallest movements and briefest glances. The young woman, whose character was given the name of Kim, was portrayed in various stages of development by Lauren King, Lydia Wellington, Ashley Laracey, and Emilie Gerrity. Kim's boyfriend was portrayed by David Prottas. Samuel Greenberg rounded out the cast as a New Yorker.
The production of Warehouse, like all of Satellite Ballet's work, was born from a collaboration among choreographer Troy Schumacher, librettist and visual artist Kevin Draper, and composers Nick Jaina, Nathan Langston, Amanda Lawrence, and David Moss. Lighting designs for the group are created by Brandon Baker. The dancers are from the New York City Ballet as are Schumacher and one of the costume designers, Daniel Applebaum, who has also danced with the company.
At first glance, it was evident that the building of this Warehouse arose from a solid narrative foundation. The tendency of today's less experienced choreographers is to develop their favorite steps and signature style first and then try to mold them to some type of a story. In Warehouse, Schumacher often traced the choreography from ordinary human movement. MacMillan, Neumeier, Tudor, Robbins, and deMille are recognized as some of ballet's geniuses who have worked from this model. The Royal Ballet's new young artist in residence, Liam Scarlett, seems willing and able to do so, too.
For whatever reason, leitmotifs don't show up in new choreography as much as they used to, and they are one more important element of craftsmanship that seems to be disappearing. It was, therefore, a hopeful sign to see a few in Schumacher's Warehouse -- even if one didn't always understand them.
Haglund will admit that the initial draw to attend the performances of Satellite Ballet has always been the opportunity to see NYCB's engaging dancers shop their talents in work that might not be ready for a major stage but stimulates artistic growth in the dancers. Taylor Stanley is benefiting a great deal from the collaboration. While there may be a few stronger technicians in NYCB's corps, Stanley has a magnetic quality and a range of theatrical skills that make him one of the most interesting dancers in the company to watch. The exact same thing can be said about Lauren King and Ashley Laracey. All three bring Performance with a capital P to whatever they are dancing and seem very ready to spring to the soloist level.
The other ballet on the program was Epistasis which was presented on a earlier occasion at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. No narrative to speak of in this piece but it included a series of high energy solos for the dancers that were supposed to exhibit relation and evolution. What it actually showed was how Satellite Ballet's new creation of Warehouse is a distinct and advanced evolution of the company's overall work.
The musical element of Satellite Ballet's creations may be its strongest. Piano and strings were beautifully played live in Friday night's performance although off-stage and amplified. At the company's performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Center last year, the musicians were off to the side but visible to the audience which was kind of nice. The music at Friday's performance had strong melodies that the ear could follow and dramatic arcs. For whatever reason – but probably due to a fondness for John Harle – Haglund thought it might be nice to introduce a soprano saxophone into the mix.
Kevin Draper's and Lora Robertson's bold photographic projections displayed on the large screen at the back of the stage were helpful in understanding Warehouse but were distracting in the more abstract Epistasis. The images of New York City's old architecture created for the first ballet were striking.
While the natural objective of most any performing artist is to increase his audience size and the size of the venue in which he works, Haglund hopes that Satellite Ballet will return to the smaller BAC environment for a longterm incubation. The collaborative concept of the group seems more Wooster than Morphoses -- which is a good thing. Speaking of Wooster, what a surprise it was to discover that Willem Dafoe plays bass for Peter Frampton now and then.
The HH Pump Bump Award, a devilish Galliano, is bestowed upon Taylor Stanley for his role as The Thief in Warehouse Under the Hudson.