Saturday April 3, 2010 - Speaking briefly to a packed house before the start of the performance tonight, Avi Scher said that his aim in starting Avi Scher & Dancers was to present top-level dancers in intimate venues at affordable prices. He delivered. With what amounted to an all-star ensemble of dancers, Avi presented six works - each having its own unique feeling - with the extra attraction of live music for two of the works. Rehearsal photo above of Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes from Jade Photography.
I suppose the big story of the evening was the last-minute replacement of Sara Mearns by Ashley Bouder. For the duet UTOPIA, Avi had paired the New York City Ballet's Mearns with ABT's Marcelo Gomes. An injury to Sara had Avi in need of a major ballerina on one day's notice. Avi is very well-connected in the ballet world and his call to Ashley Bouder drew an affirmative response. You would never have guessed while watching her tonight that Ashley had only a few hours to prepare. She gave an incredible performance, opening with an exhilarating allegro solo in which she threw caution to the wind and swirled thru the spins, leaps and balances with complete abandon. While the choreography was new to her, she was so secure in what she was doing that her trademark Bouder nuances - which make everything she does uniquely her own - were already in play. I can only imagine what she'll bring to her next two performances!
Let's start at the beginning, though, with NO MATTER WHAT. It was a duet from this piece - danced tonight by Victoria North and Ja' Malik - that had served as my introduction to Avi's work. The piece is structured with a trio of women (Kelsey Coventry, Jennifer Goodman and Nancy Richer), a pair of men (Robert Colby Damon and NYCB's Ralph Ippolito) and then Victoria & Ja' in the pas de deux. I've gotten familiar with all these dancers over the past year and I really enjoyed their dancing tonight.
Victoria and Ja' have become two dancers I always look forward to seeing. Both, by the way, have a busy week ahead preparing for Ballet Builders (Ja' is presenting) and Columbia Ballet Collaborative (Victoria is the artistic director and she is dancing)...stay tuned on my blog for more details.
Music by Academy Award-winning composer Rachel Portman sets the stage for MYSTERY IN THE WIND in which ABT premier danseur Marcelo Gomes (above/Jade photo) partnered the superbly refined and mysterious Veronika Part. Their duet had a quiet passion with undercurrents of restlessness; magnificent interpretive artists that they are, it was fascinating to watch the innumerable small nuances of gesture and expression they brought to their performance. Avi was fortunate to have Veronika and Marcelo each dancing in two works tonight; he was also fortunate to have a beautiful trio of 'graces' in MYSTERY: NYC Ballet principal Abi Stafford, Nancy Richer and Elizabeth Claire Walker. Each of these ballerinas had a solo passage in which to savor their individual beauty; they looked so pretty in David Quinn's costumes.
LITTLE STORIES consists of three duets (to songs of Jason Mraz) which have served Avi as 'calling cards' in past shows. We start off with Feeling Lucky, a breezy duet about a first encounter that was danced with genuine charm and humour by Jennifer Goodman and Colby Damon. (Kokyat's photo of them from an earlier performance, above). This was followed by Stories Untold, a duet of romantic possibility beautifully danced by the very tall Shane Ohmer and the very pretty Kelsey Coventry - they created a lovely atmosphere and were greeted with whoops of delight from the crowd when they took their bow.
The third duet, Our Love's Defense is I think Avi's most original work to date and I was really looking forward to seeing it again. A couple in a love spat release their pent up complaints in no uncertain terms while periodically almost resolving their issues. In one telling motif, each leaps away from any chance to reconcile. As the temperature rises, hair comes down, shirts come off, gloves are hurled to the floor dismissively. In a feisty, fiery performance, NYC Ballet's Savannah Lowery was a complete revelation - the word amazing for once is truly suitable - and Christian Tworzyanski simply refused to play second fiddle. They cooked up a storm of passionate dance, delivering a fascinatingly alive performance.
Moments after this volatile escapade, the red-headed Savannah was back onstage giving another burst of brilliance to the trio from Avi's TOUCH. This work in two parts (duet, trio) is one which I have watched being built in the studio. The trio, originally set on three very different dancers, looked great tonight.
Dancing to the endless under-lying pulse of a metronome, Savannah was joined by Ralph Ippolito (above) and ABT's Eric Tamm. Ralph is a tall, slender dancer - we see him often in ballets like RUBIES - and tonight he revealed a flying extension and an intriguing intensity that signal he's ready for bigger assignments. Eric's dancing is lyrical and polished, his partnering very accomplished. Savannah was simply grand and I imagine she acquired a lot of new fans with her performance tonight.
The pas de deux from TOUCH is another Avi masterpiece; in Kokyat's rehearsal photo above the
After the intermission came the remarkable Bouder/Gomes duet UTOPIA opening with Ashley's spectacular variation followed by an introspective adagio-solo for Marcelo. How gorgeous to have these two dancing just a few feet away from me. Once the actual duet started, the chemistry between Ashley and Marcelo simply built and built. Danced to pianist Melody Fader's playing of Rachmaninov live onstage, the pas de deux is passionate, technically demanding and - in the end - joyous. Ashley and Marcelo reaped a volley of cheers from the audience; Ashley looked genuinely elated and Marcelo kissed her hand twice in admiration. Imagine being able to put this together in a day...brava Ashley!
NYCB principal ballerina Janie Taylor created the costumes for UTOPIA. From my seat I had a great view of the leggy Janie watching from the wings and helping Ashley with a quick-fix when she ran offstage after her solo. Note to Avi: next time please cast Janie in your show!
And now we had reached the finale. Former NYC Ballet dancer Genevieve Labean (above) has established herself as a singer & songwriter. In INNER VOICE, Genevieve opens the work dancing to a recording of her own voice. She then steps to the corner of the stage where her musicians are set up and she starts singing live. As INNER VOICE ends she walks among the dancers.
This ballet is romantic and often reflective with two duets set amid an ensemble of six. Nancy Richer and Eric Tamm (Kokyat's rehearsal photo above) are playful and flirtatious, their dancing spacious and light. The sextet of very fine dancers - Elizabeth Claire Walker, Victoria North, Emily Cardea, Arron Scott, Shane Ohmer and Ja' Malik - each have featured moments...
...like this big lift (Emily & Shane, above in rehearsal).
In the second duet, Abi Stafford (above) and Christian Tworzyanski danced together with seamless grace. How great for me to have a chance to watch Abi's pristine technique at close range - at one point she danced right up to me - and I love her sense of quiet passion for the dance. Christian is a very fine partner and an expressive dancer. Together they looked wonderful.
So all of Avi's hard work has paid off and he gave us what he set out to give: great dancing in a close-up-and-personal setting. For those of us who revel in the beauty and power of the human body in motion, it was a very rewarding evening.
Not dancing tonight (but I wish she had!) was Emery LeCrone who filled me in on her upcoming events; she has three ballets in the works - one for Columbia Ballet Collaborative, one for Miro Magloire's New Chamber Ballet and one for Oregon Ballet Theater. More about these creations in the days ahead.
NYC Ballet dancer headshots by Paul Kolnik.