Above: Morales Dance rehearsal photo by Matt Murphy. The dancers are Leonel Linares and Nicole Corea.
Saturday September 22, 2012 - Tony Morales of Morales Dance is the driving force behind CONTRASTS, a programme of works by four choreographers presented at The Theater at Riverside Church. Tony's guest choreographers are Lydia Johnson (Artistic Director of Lydia Johnson Dance), Yesid Lopez (Director of DeMa Dance Co) and Henning Rübsam (Artistic Director of SENSEDANCE).
I'd been looking forward to this alignment of dance and dancers for some time, and the evening came off very well indeed, with major kudos to Mike Riggs for his lighting designs that produced some striking images in the varied works.
Morales Dance presented three works on the programme, opening with the Spring-like freshness of SCENES. To music of Benedetto Marcello, the dancers are first seen kneeling in a circle in a pool of light. The opening sequence has a ritualistic feel which envolves into an airy and pleasing series of dances: an allegro duet for Nicole Corea (a guest dancer from Lar Lubovitch Dance Company) and MarieLorene Fichaux, a pas de trois for Alison Cook Beatty, Jerome Stigler and Leonel Linares. Kate Loh makes a lovely impression in her dancing here (and later, in AMOR BRUTAL), A solo for Alison Cook Beatty, danced in silence, forms a bridge to the concluding passages danced to Chopin. As the work moves to its finale, the dancers return to their opening circle of light.
Later in the evening we saw Tony Morales' AMOR BRUTAL, a narrative work that I've watched being developed in the studio over time. In August, Matt Murphy produced some beautiful images at a rehearsal of the piece. Soft billows of smoke waft across the stage as singer Mary Ann Stewart and pianist Sandro Russo (performing live onstage) embark on the Manuel de Falla songs which provide the setting for this domestic drama. Nicole Corea and Leonel Linares have reached the point of no return in their marital conflict and now it's a question of where the couple's three daughters will set their allegiance. Nicole, dancing with her ever-radiant personal commitment, naturally assumes that her girls will be in her camp. But it's the n'er-do-well father, danced with easy charm by Leonel, who has his daughters in the palm of his hand. The work ends with Nicole completely marginalized; the sisters (Kate Loh, Alison Cook Beatty, MarieLorene Fichaux) turn their backs on her and her husband slips out of the picture entirely. Adding a last personal touch to this work, the concluding song Amor Brutal is performed on a recording by Tony Morales' father, who passed away earlier this year.
Three duets comprise the final Morales work on the programme: PIANO PIECES: the first danced by Kate Loh and Alison Cook Beatty to a waltz tune, the second performed by MarieLorene Fichaux and Jerome Stigler to Scriabin, and the third danced by Nicole Corea and Leonel Linares to Scarlatti.
The opening image of Lydia Johnson's CHANGE OF HEART, enhanced by Mike Riggs' lighting, caused me to gasp for breath momentarily: this work- which I have watched being created over the past several months - and these dancers have a special significance to me. Some people close to me know of my unhappy Summer and of the rift between me and my cherished friend who should have been with me tonight watching Lydia's work. However, sometimes the very things that remind us of past happiness also reassure us as we try to move on. Between the Bach music and the sheer expressive beauty of Lydia's troupe of dancers, the experience was uplifting.
For musicality and fine structuring, few people currently choreographing in the New York dance scene can compare with Lydia Johnson. There is thought, passion and tenderness in her work, and a depth of musical resonance that is very satisfying to behold. Yet for all that, in the end it's the dancers whose 'speaking' of a choreographer's unique dialect will make a dancework meaningful or not.
This evening Lydia's ensemble was led by two of her core dancers: Jessica Sand and Laura DiOrio. Having watched these two young women countless times in the studio or in performance, it is still and always a moving experience to see them rendering Lydia's choreography with such clarity and grace. Reed Luplau (guest dancer from Lar Lubovitch Dance Company) created a remarkable impression in Lydia's SUMMER HOUSE earlier this year; he wears Lydia's style like a second skin. Katie Martin, Natalia Wodnicka and Min Seon Kim have been dancing for Lydia for the past few months and are blending well into the ensemble, each with her own distinctive signature. The newest comers to Lydia's work - Lauren Perry, Christopher Bloom and Eric Williams - already look more than at home here, and Ms. Perry with her fresh face and feel put me in mind of a favorite dancer from the past: Kate Johnson of the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
Rehearsal image: Laura DiOrio, Eric Williams, Jessica Sand.
And so this particular collective of dancers worked beautifully together to develop the flowing patterns of CHANGE OF HEART: solo moments, duets and ensembles sweep graciously by on the Bach score. A pas de trois for Laura, Reed and Eric, a duet for Jessica and Reed, a men's trio...these are some of the moments that stood out. But it's not really a work of highlights but rather a tapestry in which each thread seems richly colourful and alive.
The evening was entitled CONTRASTS, and so something really dark and wild was bound to crop up along the way. Henning Rubsam's HALF-LIFE is set to a thunderously propulsive score by Laibach. With the ever-vibrant Temple Kemezis and Jacqueline Stewart on pointe, this non-stop dark revel of contemporary ballet style came lke a jolt. Paul Oisin Monaghan, one of Gotham's most intriguing dancers, always captures the eye. And the astounding power and presence of Max van der Sterre was electrifying. Musically disturbing and on-the-edge in its movement, HALF-LIFE has a life of its own. Mike Riggs' lighting made a big impression here.
The one choreographer with whose work I was unfamiliar, Yesid Lopez, offered a really appealing work for four girls entitled STRINGS. The costumes - corset-like bodices and gauzy soft-hued pantalooons - were especially lovely and the music (Chopin, Nyman, Dvorak) was matched by the atmospheric glow of Mike Riggs' lighting. Jessica Black was featured in a solo passage, and the work made me want to see more of Mr. Lopez's choreography.