George Piper Dances/Ballet Boyz

‘Steptext,’ ‘Mesmerics,’ ‘Torsion’

by Andre Yew

October 4, 2003 ­ Royce Hall, Los Angeles

Forsythe's “Steptext” was an interesting exercise in contrasts for four dancers. The music, J.S. Bach's Chaconne from his Partita in d for solo violin, started in fits, providing stark contrast between silence, and the music's sometimes jarring harmonies and sound, while the choreography kept going smoothly despite the music. Moving to more subtle contrasts later, “Steptext” juxtaposes modern, sharp gestures (closed fists with elbows locked at right angles) with ballet port de bras, which transformed into more open, straight armed gestures. For example, during one of the great counterpoint passages in Bach's Chaconne, “Steptext” reflects the counterpoint of the foreground dancers (a boy and girl) performing the expanded ballet vocabulary with the corps of two boys doing the modern gestures. Think Balanchine's counterpoint visualization, except with modern dance thrown in.

Another contrast was a somewhat self-conscious performance versus rehearsal scenario, with the expanded classical dance and music on stage interrupted by silences and dancers performing non-classical choreography. I got the impression of a rehearsal being interrupted by various external elements: an uncooperative musician (or CD player), people with messages, choreography that didn't quite work, etc.

The four dancers conveyed these contrasts very clearly and expressively with an intent focus on the dance -- I couldn't take my eyes off them, the beginning of “Steptext” especially difficult to follow because the two groups of dancers were far apart! The choreography demands a great deal of technique, and the dancers supplied it all effortlessly with especially fluid movement and cat-like, silent landings. The dancing was about the choreography instead of the technique, and given the difficulty of the choreography, this is the highest praise I can give.

After “Steptext,” a video for which the Ballet Boyz are famous was projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. Consisting of drolly edited home video movies of the dancers getting lost, meeting and working with their various choreographers, introducing their performance locations, and generally having fun, the videos provided interesting insight into their daily lives. Most interesting for me was seeing William Forsythe demonstrate his movement to the dancers. Despite abbreviating the movement, Forsythe still managed to be as expressive (or even more so) of the movement idea as the dancers.

Also perhaps reflective of a general trend in choreography today, Christopher Wheeldon is shown using a laptop with edited videos of the isolated elements of a piece when creating a dance. At the post-show question-and-answer session, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, who say thay introduced Wheeldon to the joys of computer-aided choreography, tell us that this can sometimes be a curse as well as a blessing because Wheeldon will sometimes ask for something to be done in reverse or at 200 percent speed after manipulating the video on his computer!

Wheeldon's “Mesmerics” was up next after a short intro in the video segment. Set to a suite of cello pieces (for an ensemble of 8 cellos) by Philip Glass, Wheeldon introduces unique legato vocabulary for each piece in the suite, ultimately combining them all near the end for the climatic dance. Reminding me of Kylian's black and white pieces in the density of movement, the emphases on mimicry of machines and mechanical images, and the use of multiple couples at once with no solos, “Mesmerics” is typical Wheeldon in its well-crafted and efficient choreography. Nothing looked out of place, and the movement as well as stage placement all had a polish and finish that says a lot about the care with which they were made. Especially impressive to me was the expression of rhythm in the fluid movement used. Again the dancers proved to be the equal of the choreography, bringing a focus that made their interaction with one another work fluidly. I'm reminded of Nederlands Dans Theater’s well-trained dancers who show the same kind of commitment to Kylian's choreography. I think any choreographer would be very lucky to have these dancers learn and perform their work.

After intermission came Russell Maliphant's “Torsion.” Introduced by the video with the classic Monty Python line, "And now for something completely different," “Torsion” came from the opposite side of the world from the first two works. “Torsion” was a celebration of hard work --- nothing looked easy in it, unlike ballet which is supposed to look easy. “Torsion” starts off with Nunn and Trevitt separated on stage, performing some gestures which are used again when they come together to perform a series of back-breaking duets involving awkward balances, lifts, and transitions. (I wonder if the obvious difficulty of “Torsion” was what prompted one audience member to recommend in the Q-and-A session some things the dancers could take to maintain and strengthen their joints and tendons). The same intent focus seen earlier was now joined by a grim determination to get the job done.

Watching “Torsion” is like watching someone do something unenviable, very difficult, but necessary. Perhaps watching the great pyramids being built may have been analogous --- one wonders at the ingenuity, along with the very hard work, it must have taken to build those monuments. Reflecting the theme of hard work, costumes in “Torsion” were worn, loose denim shirts and pants with frayed edges -- in contrast to the sleek, abstract tights and leotards of the two previous pieces. Music was composed along with the choreography, and was an electronic melange of sampled sounds set to a sometimes present beat.

I really enjoyed watching the five dancers (Nunn, Trevitt, along with Hubert Essakow, Oxana Panchenko, and Monica Zamora) with their obviously deep technical facility, great commitment to the pieces, and unity and empathy of dancing. That alone is enough for me to see them again and recommend them to others. That they also choose dance pieces with intelligence makes it a no-brainer to see them whenever they perform.


Edited by Jeff.

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