Friday July 18th, 2014 - Roberto Villanueva's BalaSole Dance Company presenting MÉLANGE at the Ailey Citigroup Theatre. BalaSole's evenings of concert dance afford a rare opportunity for dancers in all genres to present solo works in a professional setting, with expert lighting and sound, before a large audience. Roberto Villanueva has made a niche for his Company in the New York City dance world: I don't know of anyone else who organizes this kind of programme, a boon for both emerging and established dance artists who need to have their work seen.
This evening's program was one of BalaSole's strongest to date. Roberto likes to stress variety in his presentations, and this evening there was something for everyone. The audience - a packed house - watched in attentive silence and warmly applauded all the participating dancers. I had watched the dress rehearsal (a couple hours before curtain time) and I tried to take some pictures, but I wasn't having much luck this time around.
BalaSole's programming follows a set blueprint: eight or ten artists are chosen by audition to present their solo works. They are mentored by Roberto, getting their dances stage-worthy. In the week prior to the show, ensemble pieces are created which will open and close the evening. This time around, Roberto chose wonderfully 'danceable' music by Franz Joseph Haydn for these group numbers, and the dancers - in vividly coloured leotards - evoked the joy of the sharing the stage with colleagues. Following a welcoming speech by Roberto, the solos began.
To an Al Kooper blues tune, Sara Braun strolls coolly onto the stage, wearing sunglasses. Removing her shades seems also to remove her self-confidence. The dance takes on a restless quality, though her poise is restored when she dons the glasses again. The dancework, entitled Amy W 27, clearly carries some meaning in the dancer's life; the fact that we don't know what inspired her to create the piece adds to the mystique of the character.
Tall and commanding, Steven Jeudy performs a balletic solo to the Callas recording of "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's GIANNI SCHICCHI. Moving with supple grace, the bare-chested dancer shows off a fine line and an impressive extension. He continues to dance after the aria ends. The title of the solo is Resplendent - a title that well-describes Mr. Jeudy himself.
In the solo Steady Tread (choreographed by Monica Hogan), Courtney Liu danced on pointe to music by the Carolina Chocolate Drops - music which somehow has a Mid-Eastern sway to it. Pausing in balanced arabesques or bringing a jogging motif into play, the pretty dancer covered the space with lively charm.
Alvaro Gonzalez danced a solo (choreographed by Tatiana Martinez) entitled En La Ausencia (In The Absence) in which the dancer, to a poignant Yann Tiersen score, is filled with loneliness. An empty embrace evokes the sense of loss; even Mr. Gonzalez's hair seems to be expressive. The dance evolves to an agitated coda, until the dancer finally curls up on the floor in despair.
In a daffodil-yellow frock, Kendra Ross takes the stage with a striking command of sensuous musicality for Manifest Divine, danced to an Everett Saunders song. A natural mover, Ms. Ross explores her own private world for our delectation, at the end dissolving into marvelous laughter as she rushes away.
Exquisite artistry marked Misei Daimaru's performance of her solo Stars in The Dark. Having seen Misei performing with Sunhwa Chung/KoRyo Dance Company and with Janusphere, I was very pleased to see her in a solo work. To music by Pierre and Gaspard Genard, Misei's solo begins in a pool of light. Many dancers have used a chair in their solo works over the years, but few have made such compelling use of it as Misei; it became her virtual partner in the scheme of things. Misei's dancing has a lovely internalized feeling, and a deeply expressive movement quality.
Roberto Lara's personal magnetism underscored his spell-binding performance of Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross), a poignant rendering of Camille Saint-Saens' classic Dying Swan. Dancing in toe shoes, Roberto's black tutu contrasted with his creamy alabaster torso. This justaposition of male and female characteristics was played out without any hint of Trockadero-style camp from the muscular dancer with his dark eyes and scruffy beard. The audience responsed to this tantalizing solo with genuine enthusiasm.
In The First Ten, Katie Kilbourn appears in childish innocence. She evokes a nursery-like atmosphere while the music, by CoCo Rosie, makes us think of a music box. Sometimes sucking her thumb, the dancer moves with a doll-like feeling of naïveté. In the end, she slowly winds down while standing in a pool of light, her girlish white dress enveloping her in the virgnial purity of youth.
Schubert's Ave Maria served as the basis for Journey, a solo by Chloe Cappo. Using her flexible physique, the dancer wove elements of pure ballet technique into her solo which used the space well and responded clearly to the music in its sense of phrasing.
In a slow progress along a lighted path across the stage, Roberto Villanueva displayed his physical control in the opening passage of Caught Up; the sound of clapping hands is later swept into ecstatic phrases for violin in a musical mixture of Steve Reich and Max Richter. Roberto pauses in a lighted circle to dance an animated section, seemingly wishing to escape. Then he continues on his way until the light fades to darkness.
BalaSole have announced their next audition for August 1st, 2014 with performances in October.