Joshua Beamish has plenty to celebrate this year: a handful of new works presented internationally; the 10th anniversary of his Vancouver-born dance troupe, MOVE: the company; and this month, a successful Joyce Theatre debut featuring members of American Ballet Theatre and kicking off the venue’s second ever summer Ballet Festival.
The young Canadian choreographer hit the ground running with his first commission for a ballet company eight years ago and he hasn’t stopped sprinting since, developing an extensive catalogue of repertory that has repeatedly drawn commendation from critics and his fellow artists alike. Judging by the enthusiastic audience response to his recent evening at The Joyce, further glory is sure to come.
At the top of the program were two excerpts from Pierced (a piece still in development when Beamish discussed it with me during a 2013 interview). The opening solo, performed with fluid, captivating ease by the dance-maker himself, fell somewhere between soliloquy and dialogue, seeming to invite the audience or some invisible other to interact with its subject. This theme of communication so powerful that the spoken word would be extraneous flows throughout Beamish’s work. By the end of the second selection from Pierced, an electric pas de deux producing palpable sparks between Sterling Baca and Luciana Paris, it felt as though several rather momentous discussions had just taken place.
A note on the choreographer’s singular style: His ornate movement patterns appear simultaneously tricky to execute and entirely organic. There is nothing jarring about his technique — no steps employed for shock value or outrageous stunts to speak of — and its expressivity is natural, never unnecessarily melodramatic. It is simply the kind of choreography that makes a dancer want to get up and dance, to attempt the eloquently calligraphic gestures that, when combined, incorporate every individual joint, muscle, and bone in the body.
The ABT corps members and soloists in Beamish’s cast quite plainly savored the rare opportunity to do so, as did Royal Ballet and Twyla Tharp veteran Matthew Dibble, who was intriguingly matched with Jose Sebastian in the U.S. premiere of burrow. Dibble’s grounded muscularity offered an almost audible counterpoint to Sebastian’s long lines as the dancers delivered a gentle duet — another conversation — charged with feeling yet refreshingly devoid of the aggressive or competitive movement quality one might expect to arise from the pairing of two such imposing figures.
Many of Beamish’s creations are predicated upon personal connections, but not only those seen on stage. The choreographer has a deep relationship with music and with the space between the notes we hear in particular, often beginning his phrases with defiant syncopation. At no point was this more evident than in the third pas de deux of the evening, Stay, the airy soundtrack for which (an Ólafur Arnalds/Nils Frahm collaboration) left much to the imagination. Stephanie Williams and freelance artist Dimitri Kleioris approached the challenge with poise, floating through a breathtaking series of exquisitely executed lifts and extensions in perfect complement to the sinuous score.
The softly crackling atmosphere generated during the first half of the evening gave way to a more pronounced vivacity in the final act of the evening, a world premiere created on Baca, Paris, Sebastian, and seven of their ABT colleagues.
Surface Properties is a deftly woven tapestry of solos and ensemble sections of various sizes, each exuding its own distinctive spirit without straying from a lively core atmosphere. Though the accompanying animated projections were somewhat overwhelming in combination with the intricate geometry of the choreography, they did not eclipse the artistry bubbling from the stage. It would have been difficult to identify any star turns within the work as each dancer had more than one shining moment. But memorable episodes included a duet performed with mischievous glee by Isadora Loyola and Roman Zhurbin; a trio crisply executed by Baca, Paris, and spritely Cassandra Trenary; and a group section featuring three men supporting a dreamy Lauren Post in a string of sweeping lifts.
With Beamish and MOVE: the company, The Joyce has set a high bar for the remainder of its two-week ballet extravaganza — and indeed, for any future such festival programming the venue has in store.