Although I wrote the profile on Garrett Smith for HB’s Playbill program for the Fall Mixed-Rep Program, I still had an itch to go further, write more, and really try to break down this triple bill. With Bruce, Welch, and Smith all in a row to open the Mixed-Rep season, it’s no wonder that my ballet senses have been tingling since the season announcement; they represent the equivocal past, present, and future of this international ballet company and its wonderfully attuned international company members.
So what makes this fall mixed-rep so special? A lot.
There’s no tagline to the program, but should there be one, I would grant it this title, “Moments with Movement: Fall Mixed-Rep 2015.”
Of note, the Winter 2016 Mixed Rep features McGregor (HB’s first time), Robbins, and Kylián while the Spring 2016 Mixed Rep has Balanchine, MacMillan, and Ekman (another HB first). Respectively, all of the mentioned choreographers are prominent choices that knowledgeable dance audiences have come to expect for this ever growing, contemporary studded ballet company. The general audience, though, is another issue for theses Mixed Reps…
However, I still hold my reservations and judgments for not including the vital choreographic voices from females of this era in this current season. It’s not just HB either. It’s a travesty that so many major ballet companies are stuck in this trend. I say it a lot and I’ll say it again: choreography shouldn’t be limited by gender, or anything else for that matter.
Bruce and Welch are even more so expected here by the audience and critics. The addition of the seasoned former HB student and corps dancer, Garrett Smith, helped shake up those audience members and critics, and it’s been a whirlwind of fun reading and listening to their varied reactions of Reveal.
My show order goes as the following in regards to the dancing timeline it represents; the actual show order was different:
Created in 1981 by the incomparable Christopher Bruce for Rambert Dance Company, this piece has a taste of the inventive contemporary genius which we’ve come to know from Bruce. His choreography for Ghost Dances was a mix of folk, tap, and ballet movements (much like all of his work, actually), which he felt inspired to morph to compliment the score “South American Folk Songs” by Inti-Illimani.
I had the chance to listen to him speak about his career and a bit about Ghost Dances during the HB Dance Talk a few weeks ago. He mentioned, “Creating here reminds me of creating with Rambert. There’s a little bit of the dancers in the work and a little bit of everyone involved too.” Bruce is a choreographer who likes to use one cast intentionally, specifically working each dancer to each role, which can be grueling for the dancers but a rich learning experience none the less.
And it’s with Ghost Dances that we see the classical fading and the contemporary entering, as the 80s was a time of direct motion for all dance forms in Europe and America. Movement has also been a key part when collecting moments in time from the Romantic era to the Revolutionary Russian eras to the technological Information era now. Ghost Dances picks up on violent atrocities in Chile during a volatile political coup. This, sadly, wasn’t a new moment in the world, but it touched Bruce to capture it with his own choreographic vocabulary.
Now, is Ghost Dances the most successful political statement that dance can make? No. Contemporary ballet is hardly the place where conflicts are realized and reacted upon, give or take a few exceptions like Ballet Austin’s WWII piece, Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. But still, it’s important for many choreographers in contemporary ballet to try and work it out for themselves and their dancers. Ghost Dances is successful in that it reaches the dancers and transports them into a moment of vulnerable movement.
The latest Welch-HB love child created for this generation’s HB talented principals, soloists, and corps, Tapestry is everything classical ballet lovers adore. The lines, the partnering, the costumes, the score, the lighting, the set: it’s all very neo-classically beautiful. Older audience members can shut off their minds and settle into the fond familiarity of this piece. Young audience members can gush over the virtuosity displayed in the dozens of throws, tosses, and turns that each variation and section brings out of the dancers.
I saw this when it first premiered in 2012, the cast only slightly different from the three casts this year. Many of the dancers are seasoned Welch movers, grasping the very essence of first-function flare. A pirouette has to be precise and punctuated with beauty. An arabesque has to be high and elegant with beauty. A tour jete has to be lofty and elongated with beauty. Do you see a pattern here? Tapestry is about beauty; the beauty of life’s intricateness. The moment which Tapestry‘s movement tries to draw audiences into is that of situational abstractness, which is kinda odd and kinda boring sometimes.
This piece is a definitely a strong suit for HB’s rep out of the first-function Welch pieces created, but it’s not where contemporary ballet COULD go. It’s about where classical ballet HAS gone. And I’ve seen a few of Welch’s full-length creations and reproductions, Marie primary, and that is his strength as a creative choreographer; working with the entire HB company and academy, dramatic roles and scenarios across the stage. The neo-classical aesthetic and motivation is not as engaging as I want contemporary ballet to be. It’s like portraiture painting; only a few artists can break the mold like Kehinde Wiley, while the others are just enjoying the familiar setting, motives, and audience. And I hope Welch creates another original full-length production soon after all these beautiful, but safe, variation pieces.
What can I say about Reveal which will do it justice? What words can remotely describe the sheer experienced emotions of it? Not much, but I can try.
Dipping full-bodied into the future with honesty is something I appreciate and respect of any artist. I think Van Gogh had a unique bold voice when he created his works during his time, and I see a bit of that in some choreographers of today. Garrett Smith is one of them. When I spoke to him for the Playbill profile, he was a humble gentleman and remained curious about the future of his dancing career. But when discussing his choreography, he was confident and almost overwhelmed to explain and dissect it in words.
Reveal is a dissection of the self using contemporary ballet. The Phillip Glass score combined with the movement allowed a moment of vulnerable expression to shine through, which in turn made this Glass-nonbeliever a Glass lover once again (we broke up after The Illusionist ost and during the Glass-athon in the dance world). And let’s take some time to talk about Monica Guerra’s couture costuming and Michael Mazzola’s dazzling lighting. These two designers are in their element, taking risks and getting dirty with Smith’s equally risky, dirty movements. I couldn’t find any time to doze off and become bored, because the constantly changing atmosphere was so intoxicating for me. You know what they say about millennials, we can’t stay focused for longer than a few seconds; well, this piece was certainly created with the millennial aesthetic of change, challenge, and wonder.
Reveal is both simple and dramatic, a surprising mixture of Ghost Dances and Tapestry without any real linking of the three themes of each piece. The hive-mind, like-bodied syndrome of neo-classical ballet is scrapped but the traditional ideas of a pas de deux stay, even as two males — one of them in a stunning black satin tutu — partner one another. Smith also mentioned that having different casts was interesting, the tasks of “keeping the theme of individualism while keeping the dancers alive for each cast was a challenge.” And choreographing on your peers is never easy, but Smith does it in such a professional manner; you can tell when you see him interacting with his casts behind the scenes, Instagraming but always focusing on the art at hand.
And while choreographers like McGregor have some critics and audience members still at a lose of words for the current mood of ballet choreography, Smith appears to have struck a chord here. The reviews have said Reveal is his “coming out” piece, as if everything else was just an unrealized prelude. But really, let’s be honest, even though he was “just a student” creating movement before, Smith’s work has always held that now-fully realized promise because his movement has always captured honest and stimulating moments. Reveal is not a fluke, nor is it a break-out piece; it’s another addition to the moments of his life as an artist. And we, the audience, are just along for this continuously creative ride that has always been in motion. This is an example of the choreography of the now, the future of ballet conversing with the past and present before us on an exposed stage.
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