Next door to the Brooklyn Roasting Company on Jay Street, brave and original work is brewing at the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet – brave, original, often interesting, and executed with commanding performances by the dancers.
Even if you are not particularly a fan of Kurt Weill’s music (✓) and don’t care for highlights that are not always sensitively patched together (✓), and have a tendency to be impatient about knowing where the crux of a dance is heading (✓), there is still much creativity and accomplishment in the overall artistic scheme of this original full-length work, Stealing Time, to appreciate and heartily applaud.
The production opened with a preview on Thursday night, its official premiere last night, and two more performances on Saturday and Sunday at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, 29 Jay Street, Brooklyn. Tickets available here.
Let’s list the creative team first:
Music: various Kurt Weill excerpts with additional music by Piazzolla and Habertango
Direction, Scenario and Design: Michael Chernov
Choreography: Michael Chernov and Akop Akopian
Scenic & Costume Design: Michael Chernov
Lighting: Christina Watanabe
Projection: Justin West
Additional coaching: Gelsey Kirkland and Pilar Garcia
Choreographers Chernov and Akopian have adopted and adapted scenario elements from Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” to musical excerpts from a wide variety of Kurt Weill’s compositions. Williams and Weill may not have literally traveled in the same social circles, but they were hobnobbing around New York during the 1950s era when the city was a hot bed of rebel artistry. It is not unusual for those with a keen appreciation for one of these artists to gravitate to the other.
In this production, our main character, Algae, danced and acted brilliantly by Erez Ben-Zion Milatin, traveled recklessly through a sequence of dreams and nightmarish scenes while searching for – here’s where we have to do some guessing – life experiences and his place in the cosmos. Prominent in most every scene was the ominous clock signifying the earthly concept of passing time. Often the character resembled the Prodigal Son on a tear through sin. Like his namesake, Algae could not root anywhere. He tore through time, and as the program notes explained, was caught between living inside the clock and living outside the clock.
Our Venus, Dawn Gierling Mailatin, to whom Algae initially proposed and then abandoned, searched for him throughout the evening while never giving up hope or losing love. Venus provided much of the production's balletic content quite beautifully and also was sometimes on stage orbiting the scenes being principally performed by others. Truthfully, the last time we encountered the names Algae and Venus together was in Carl Sagan’s plan to terraform the planet so that we all could live there.
Nina Yoshida, the character Who, met her fate at the hands of Algae and left this world as she arrived: in a suitcase. A lovely dancer with obvious lyrical aptitude, she made us care about her character as the innocent victim of Algae’s uncontrolled senses.
Johnny Almeida as Guttman and Sabina Alvarez as The Celebrity delivered plenty of technical bravura and sizzle in their variations.
After a whirlwind of scenes involving large casts of dancers who employed balletic, tango, contemporary and dance-theater movement, the ballet concluded with Algae encountering the End of Time, and then climbing a red ribbon to a balcony where he ultimately found redemption with Venus and Who.
The scenery, costumes, and use of props were outstanding, but we have come to expect this very high level from the company’s previous productions. No detail was left unattended, and sometimes that was a lot of detail for the viewer to consider. We loved, loved, loved the single white costume worn by the train of ladies with flowing hair, each set of legs stuck through the fabric. The choreography had its strong points and weak points, but it must be admired for its creative adaptation to the abilities of the dancers who covered a broad spectrum of technical proficiency and included many students from the Gelsey Kirkland Academy.
Bravo to Gelsey Kirkland Ballet for taking this risk and skillfully mounting such an original production. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but then, what is?
The H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Erez Ben-Zion Milatin whose dramatic leanings reminded us of one of Gelsey’s old partners.