Above: Charles Askegard and Michele Wiles of BALLET NEXT, photo by Paul B Goode.
Wednesday October 24, 2012 - On this, the second evening of Ballet Next's current season at The Joyce, an exciting new ballet entitled BACHGROUND by Mauro Bigonzetti seemed to fascinate the audience, evoking a sustained ovation at the end. An excellent Stravinsky pas de deux choreographed by Charles Askegard and Brian Reeder's dreamlike and evocative PICNIC were also performed - all to live music, and all danced by top-notch dancers.
Charles Askegard's setting of some of the fantastical music from Stravinsky's BAISER DE LA FEE creates a fast-paced duet for the tall danseur and his partner, New York City Ballet's truly incredible Georgina Pazcoguin. As choreographer, Charles, who could write a textbook on the art of ballet partnering, devises a full range of of sizzling partnering motifs, some quite unique to his own language. He then proceeds to show us how it's done. In combinations witty and fresh, Charles sets the Stravinsky score aglow, and both dancers have the agility and musicality to make it shine. In a brisk series of supported pirouettes, Gina made me dizzy. The duet sails brightly forward, propelled by the playing of violinist Hajnal Pivnik and pianist Ben Laude. A refreshing way to open an evening of dance.
Brian Reeder's PICNIC is set to the Shostakovich Cello Sonata in D, played by Elad Kabilio and Ben Laude. Finely lit by Alex Fogel and Brandon Sterling Baker, the ballet was inspired by the 1975 film PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. Set in 1900, the story revolves around a group of Australian schoolgirls who go on an excursion to Hanging Rock; some of them never return, and the mystery of their disappearance was never solved.
The ballet has been expanded since my first encounter with it earlier this year. Michele Wiles, Erin Arbuckle, Lily Nicole Balogh, Kristie Latham and Tifffany Mangulabnan are the white-frocked young ladies and Charles Askegard the mysterious observer who leads them astray. The girls seem quite innocent, though a kiss shared by Erin and Lily momentarily threatens to cross the line from chaste to impassioned. The narrative is gently applied, and the girls have many opportunities for expressive dancing: there are even fouettes for Kristie and Tffany. Musically and visually, PICNIC is all of a piece.
Seated on folding chairs in geometric patterns of light and shadow, the six dancers in Mauro Bigonzetti's BACHGROUND stare at us provocatively before erupting in a series of solos and duets in which the choreographer seems to ask the impossible in terms of elasticity, stretch and sheer nerve...and they all deliver brilliantly. Pianist Ben Laude plays Bach; the individual dancers come forward to dance as their colleagues watch or - in some cases - briskly turn their chairs to face upstage.
Clifford Williams in a solo of mind-boggling contortions launches the ballet on its jaggedly thrilling way; his torso, gleaming with sweat, glows under the lights as he shapes his limbs into unbelievable poses. His performance drew sustained applause. Georgina Pazcoguin steps ravishingly forward; at first she seems like the Novice in THE CAGE about to have her way with Mr. Williams' spent body, but he's magically replaced by Jesus Pastor. In their pas de deux, Gina and Jesus embrace and unfold in torrid stylizations, Gina's extension remarkably deployed. Kristie Latham and Lily Balogh dance in sync, speaking a complex gestural language; there is a pas de quatre danced in silence by the two girls, Clifford and Jesus. Jesus, wonderfully handsome and enticingly scruffy, has a solo that is passionately physical, and Michele Wiles and Clifford Williams perform another stunningly shaped pas de deux.
Some of the partnering elements are lifted directly from Mr. Bigonzetti's New York City Ballet hit OLTREMARE, but choreographers and composers have self-borrowed for centuries and when it works this well, why worry? The cumulative effect of music, movement, lighting and strikingly physical performances by the dancers in BACHGROUND evoked a prolonged ovation from the sold-out house.