Above: Michele Wiles and Jay Donn in their collaborative work Something Sampled at BalletNext; photo by Travis Magee
Thursday February 12th, 2015 - BalletNext presenting an evening of new ballets by Peter Quanz and Michele Wiles (BalletNext's artistic director) plus a collaborative dancework jointly choreographed by Michele Wiles and Brooklyn-based Flex dancer Jay Donn. We'd been to watch a rehearsal a few days prior to their opening night so we had a pretty good idea of what to expect.
One of the outstanding features of this programme was how light-filled it was. In this day and age, so many danceworks are dark, ominous, full of fog and gloom. Now I love a nice, dark ballet, but BalletNext's three works really did seem particularly vibrant because everything was so clearly visible. And even when things went black - as happened a couple of time in the final work - the tutus glowed in the dark.
Above: Landes Dixon and Michele Wiles
A packed house tonight at New York Live Arts down in Chelsea as Outswirl, a bright contemporary-ballet choreographed by Peter Quanz, opened the evening. Music of Arcangelo Corelli was performed live by a quartet of musicians seated stage right...and they played so very well: Liv Heym and Beth Wenstrom (violins), Anneke Schauf-Yoder (cello), and Elliot Figg (harpsichord).
The five dancers wear sleek, satiny costumes in bright blue/green/yellow. Duet passages for Michele Wiles and Landes Dixon are accessorized by an attractive trio of women - Tiffany Mangulabnan, Gracie Huber, and Amy Saunder. Their comings and going are managed with musicality by Mr. Quanz, who shows his characteristic steady grasp of structure in this enjoyable ballet.
Making a very fine impression tonight in all three works was Landes Dixon (above), a lithe and long-limbed dancer whose work I got to know at Steps Repertory Company. He covers space smoothly with his flying leaps, and his love of dance is evident at every moment he's onstage.
Ushuaia (above) marked the choreographic debut of Michele Wiles; she used music of Heinrich Biber, wonderfully danceable (as is most all Baroque music) and she puts her quartet of dancers thru their paces in some fast-flowing combinations and imaginative partnering motifs. In jazzy red-and-black outfits, Gracie Huber, Jessica Tretter, and Tiffany Mangulabnan veer from 'conversing' in a whimsical sign-language to some competitive moments. In this ballet, Ms. Mangulabnan - who could take on more high-profile dancing with the Company - and Landes Dixon continued to impress.
Above: from Michele Wiles' Ushuaia
The stage was then set for Something Sampled; as the technicians were arranging the lighting and setting a ballet barre in place, Jay Donn silently introduced himself to the audience in a mime-monolog sometimes interrupted by his fantastical flips or quizzical inspections of Chris Lancaster's cello. At last Jay settled into slumber, the lights went down and - to an eerie bit of faerie music tingling off Chris Lancaster's cello strings - Jay was visited in his dream by a ballerina (Michele): thus did the worlds of ballet and Flex dance meet.
From her first bourée entrance, Michele Wiles showed herself to be an adept comic actress; she and Jay Donn struck up a personal rapport that was quite charming to behold.
The dancers of the ensemble join in the fun...
...the girls in their fanciful tutus alternately astonished by Jay's antics...
...or becoming part of his act.
After an interlude in which Chris Lancaster and his cello (above, with Michele and Jay) took center stage, and in which Gracie Huber had a featured role...
...Michele and Jay commenced a rambunctious duet in which they sought to upstage one another as they displayed signature moves from their respective dance vocabularies, including some fun fouettés from Ms. Wiles.
Something Sampled was a successful experiment in the meshing of contrasted styles of dance and was entertaining to watch. My only reservations were about some passages of the work that seemed to need editing. When presenting danceworks in the comic genre, it's important to remember that brevity is the soul of wit.
All photography by Travis Magee.