Sweat. The squeak of a pointe shoe. A face marked by earnest concentration. Eyes acutely focused. All of these are key elements of a ballet performance that audience members rarely get a glimpse at. But Miro Magloire’s New Chamber Ballet offers audiences a unique vantage point— up close and personal.
All programs are presented in New York’s City Center Studios, where I found myself on Saturday, February 8, 2014.
First up in the evening of works choreographed by Magloire was Composition in Dark Colors, a work for four women (three dancers and one pianist) set to Joseph Haydn’s “Piano Sonata No. 39 in D Major.” Danced by Sarah Atkins, Traci Finch, and Amber Neff, and played by pianist Melody Fader, Composition in Dark Colors is a look at manipulative relationships existing between four individuals confined to a small space. The movement—a mixture of reclining poses, darting movements, and articulate footwork on and off of pointe—was paired with a single, blue sheet of fabric and emotionally charged facial expressions to convey a morbid, though somewhat illogical story.
Next was Love Song Solo, danced by Sarah Atkins to live music performed by Magloire. This clever, resourceful, and experimental piece was originally choreographed to songs by Robert Schumann, but in hopes of making a “more meaningful choreographic contribution,” Magloire reset the movement to his own arrangement of Schumann’s songs, written for two maracas. I appreciated Magliore’s intellectual and inventive approach to choreographing Love Song Solo, but I’m not sure that the piece succeeds. The timbre of a maraca just doesn’t match Magloire’s choreography, which is full of expansive port de bras and sweeping torso movement. Perhaps the dance would be better suited for another percussive instrument that produces more resonant sound.
Following a lovely intermission reception hosted by the company, the program continued on with Leise, Leise. Danced by Sarah Atkins, Miriam Ernest, and Amber Neff, the piece was set to music by Luciano Berio, performed by Melody Fader. The ballerinas moved through a series of duets and solos, bringing about memories of frustration, irritation, calm, composure, and ultimately, family.
The evening closed with the world premiere of Wood Nymphs, set to music by Franz Liszt and performed by the full company. Its playful, temperamental, and sensual movement—mostly structured in duets and trios—evoked the romantic subject matter in the dance’s title. The costumes, on the other hand, did not. Perhaps because of the short distance between the audience and the fabric, these green-brown-gold, textured unitards suggested “reptile” well before “mythological spirit of nature.”
The choreography and dancers’ performances made me curious whether or not ballet lends itself to this zoomed-in perspective. Having the performance action occur at such a near range from the audience was a wonderful way for the audience members to feel closely linked to what they were witnessing, and to see and hear details otherwise lost in a large performance venue. Yet, it might not be such a good way to present to an audience a clear picture of the action overall. Regardless, ballets performed in a relatively small setting should be created with this nature of the space in mind.
Magliore’s warm and inviting interactions with the audience before, after, and during pauses in the performance indicated that he is well-aware of the intimate context within which his programs are presented. However, this awareness did not appear to transfer to his dances, which may be better suited for a larger venue. The final piece was the only time in the evening that I felt the dance was happenin
g far enough away from me that I could really see the whole picture.
Ballet in the “up close and personal” must be created differently than it would be for a proscenium stage. But perhaps this setting requires a different approach on the part of the audience member as well. Maybe there is something important, different, and valuable about zooming in on ballet. Decide for yourself at the New Chamber Ballet’s upcoming performances on April 4-5 and June 13-14, at New York’s City Center Studios.
(Photos are from Wood Nymphs; by Sarah Thea Swafford)