Archive for the ‘Show Reviews’ Category

Partial Reviews

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Well, sorry everyone. It’s been a while since I donned my critic’s cap (at least in this context) and followed through on writing about the many amazing works being shown in this town. I noticed I’d abandoned a few so I thought I’d just throw out what I had and move on. Hope you enjoy this truncated

Kate Weare Company, Bright Land…August 13, 2010

Oh, what an evening–two great pieces, one great friend, and The Joyce.  Good old Joyce…the not-too-uncomfortable seats packed snugly together, voluptuous red curtain

Laura Peterson Choreography, Everyone…June 23, 2010

A hot HOT day in lower Manhattan.  Under the beating sun, 28 performers flowed, ran, tumbled and danced amid the glare of concrete, windows and astro turf in Laura Peterson’s new work, everyone.

Large, outdoor space

Many performers

Music

Costumes

The Forsythe Company, Decreation…October 16, 2009

I’ve been chomping at the bit to see something by William Forsythe live, and last night I got my chance at BAM’s Next Wave Festival.  Good thing I brought my bit too, because Decreation provided a serious chomp.  Sitting in the balcony, we had a clear view of the enormous stage, with an enormous circular table covered in white and a video screen.  The enormous cast of dancers entered briskly, most sitting in chairs set behind narrow black columns on the periphery.  Two headed for the video screen and one rolled out a large video camera.  A woman began to relay a caricatured version of both sides of a tense conversation, presumably between two lovers.  Her exaggerated, distorted voice and gestures found inverted echos in two women performing slow, contorted movements out in the greater space.

The large, dense work evolved from there, using as a base differing iterations of this same spoken argument–at times shockingly fierce and at others deftly poignant–spoken (or screamed) by various members of the cast.

The performers were totally immersed, whether executing jolting, spit-fire movement phrases or uttering gutteral croaks into a microphone.  And the aforementioned camera played a captivating role as well, capturing real time footage and images which appeared on the aforementioned screen, at times edited or manipulated in various ways.

Jamais Vu, a Dietz Marchant WIP…September 12, 2009

The elevator was slow in coming, which gave us the chance to dwell near a quirky wall mural in the DUMBO waterfront warehouse.  My husband and I, on our first date in…a while, savored the moments of adult company and finally entered the elevator.  We were delighted to emerge upon the bustling and cheery 9th floor of 10 Jay Street, home of Music-Theatre Group.  Bypassing the packed bar in favor of an early seat, we had a lovely opportunity to absorb the setting: a somewhat shallow but wide studio space with seemingly infinite height.  A dining table and chairs at one end, a scaffolding on the other, two steely tarps arced in the middle and a pile of glittery tinsel at center.  At the far end behind the table, the high wall was filled with words and thought maps in chalk–what I assumed to be various process tools and explorations of the work in progress.

###

Yep, that’s it. I know–lame.

Reflection on Caminos Flamencos–“Suite de Cadiz”

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Flamenco…so primal.  So lifted, so incredibly grounded.  Held suspended in the raw emotion of love, of loss.  Digging heels into the dust of grief and power, stomping out anger and joy.  Delighting, unshamed, in the plain old beauty of flowing fabric and uplifted arms.

Thanks to Rebecca for sharing this (long, but worth it!):

Caminos Flamencos–“Suite de Cadiz”

Review: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Serenade/The Proposition

Friday, July 30th, 2010

IMG_4120

Last week my family and I joined my parents in the Berkshire mountains for a little R&R.  Upon arrival, my mom pulls out some brochures the resort had provided and says, “have you ever heard of Jacob’s Pillow?”  Um…yes.  Only the most historic modern dance festival in the U.S., housed at the National Historic Landmark established by modern dance’s historic father, Ted Shawn.  Browsing the booklet, my mom then says, “have you ever heard of Bill T. Jones?”  Um…yes.

So we went, snapping up the last two tickets and shelling out a pretty penny.  It was a lovely, lovely evening.  The setting is so restful, so bucolic.  You can tell a LOT has happened in these danced places, there is a sense of wisdom about the wooded paths, rustic studios and old spacious theaters.

I like Bill T. Jones, at least I tend to like his work, and I REALLY like two of his recently acquired company members Paul Matteson and Jennifer Nugent, both inspiring anchors in the downtown NY modern dance scene.  But, honestly, I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by this piece about Abraham Lincoln and his times.  And I was moved.  At curtain call I clapped and clapped until the end (I hardly ever do this); I whooped at least twice; I almost stood up–a gesture I reserve for truly celestial works; I even shelled out some more pennies for a second viewing the next evening.

As I made the quiet drive home, I tried to piece together what made this work so special for me.  The music was particularly interesting, with interwoven texts and melodies from “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “I Wish I Was in Dixie” layered strikingly over poignant themes from Mozart’s Requiem.  The dancing was full bodied and fierce, tender and real, lovingly embodying Janet Wong’s lush phrasework and Jones’ superbly crafted choreography.  The video element was fascinating and the lighting exquisite.  Yes, these were all deeply in place, but I finally decided it was the subject matter that served to bind these elements together, and which they so expertly served.

A worthy subject, that Lincoln.  What more needs to be said?  The trials he faced and the vigor with which he faced them…  Serenade/The Proposition offered an abstract yet palpably personal view of both him and the everyday man and woman torn apart in the exhaustive effort to suture back their separated states.  Groups of men and women danced vigorously through their equally painful duties: the men tangled in fearsome battle, the women frenzied with internal wars of waiting and anguished hope.  Ordinarily I’m wary (weary?) of dance works that consider such things, they are too often over worked or under realized.  (As Tere O’Connor frequently asks, “why is this a dance and not an essay or diary entry?”) But Jones and his collaborators found a way to and through so much historical material they had thoroughly plumbed to deliver an authentic expression, a true aesthetic visitation of this grim quagmire.  It was a terrible, terrible time, and Jones’ work coaxed me into its  history such that I experienced fresh astonishment, and renewed compassion and admiration for the people who endured it.  I applaud the company’s pithy, bold and fully-owned approach, especially Paul Matteson’s subtle and masterful conveyance of the sincere, weighty, articulate Lincoln and the ponderous burden he was asked to bear.

I did have a few minor qualms/questions about the piece, like the title for one, and the somewhat cursory weaving in of contemporary histories.  But these cast a diffuse shadow, eclipsing only the smallest slice of this bright work.  Tune in later for a decipherment of the scrawls on the program pictured above, which comprise notes on the piece’s crafting taken on my second viewing.  (First I must decode them myself…)  Meanwhile, I will leave you with a quote of an historic nature from an interview about Serenade/The Proposition with Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong (read the complete interview here):

Aktina Stathaki: There is something about history which is archived, “still”, frozen in time. And on the other hand dance is constant motion, always in flux, impossible to capture or repeat. I wonder how this contrast may have affected the company’s work or the way the company sees the engagement with historical material.

Janet Wong: That’s an interesting point. I was reading a wonderful book, This Republic of Suffering which looks at the civil war through the lens of death while we were making this piece. It was a big inspiration. I knew as I was reading it that I could not even begin to understand what it felt like to be alive then, but somehow I was crying by the end of the introduction. And why am I saying this? Maybe just to say that the “stillness” of history is not so still. The fact that we are looking at history across immense distance in time and space already sets it in motion. In our modest way we try to make the past reflect on us and vice versa. And maybe we do this precisely because of its “stillness”.

Review: Johannes Wieland, roadkill

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Last night, I reveled in a free evening away from Babyland and relished a fleeting series of activities that made me feel like a real person again: hair cut at a schmantsy Williamsburg salon, a better burger with a delightful friend, and some artsy fartsy at Dance Theater Workshop, which I hereby review.

Purported to investigate the subconscious and how it guides us, roadkill, by German choreographer Johannes Wieland, staged a disheveled, manic emotional scape framed by mostly black and white video scenes of the two performers on a rainy and desolate airport runway.  Ryan Mason and Eva Mohn danced and interacted in front of the projections, often questioned and challenged by their video counterparts who presented a giddy foil to the live performers’ surging angst.  Campy lip syncs were spliced against dark atmospheric rants, interspersed with intriguing dance phrases that highlighted the piece’s–especially the performers’–switchback energy.

Despite an initial video botch, roadkill drew me in with its chaotic leaf-strewn stage, aggrandized video projection, fully realized movement scheme and a gorgeous gorgeous female lead.  Happily, Mohn’s sculpted features propelled the work into some authentic, exploratory ground, her finely tuned form whipping through vigorous movement and emotional roils, then eeking to a solid stop at the last second before flitting into the next dynamic world.  Sadly, however, neither the video structures nor her dancing partner quite caught up with her, though they came close.  The projected vignettes, as well as Mason’s performance felt forced at times, a little stuck in a self-conscious performance rubric rather than dwelling whole-heartedly in the shifting moment, as Mohn so exquisitely demonstrated.  Also, Wieland’s choices at times felt contrived, with too much unison bridling the otherwise unfettered dancing, and awkward acting attempts tainting not a few of the video sequences.

Nevertheless, roadkill successfully delivered an overall compelling milieu of strange, epitomized by the final sequence: glamorous stage-Mohn lip-synced along with video-Mohn, herself lip-syncing Patsy Cline’s rendition of “You Belong to Me”.  The catch: it was all in reverse.  While the film and music played backwards, stage-Mohn expertly captured the retrograded nuances of gesture, weight and facial expression, her agile body traipsing seamlessly along the faltering gibberish, gulped back cadences and rhythmic consternation.  Resolving the piece in a triumphant and satisfying elipsis, Eva Mohn carried roadkill on her beautiful shoulders, rescuing it from a potentially messy thud on the tarmac.

Review: Chunky Move, Mortal Engine

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Last weekend I had the pleasure and delight of dragging my 9-month pregnant body up to the mezzanine and over a score of already seated patrons to the last remaining seat in the packed middle of BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House one last time, concluding my 2009 Next Wave Festival subscription.  Honestly, with a new baby immanent and the weather frosty, it took my husband’s urging and driving skills to get me there…but I made it barely by curtain time (to my row-mates’ chagrin), and I was so glad.

A year ago I had seen Chunky Move at The Kitchen with GLOW, a solo work using amazing technology by which a white screen on the floor created real time, interactive shadows and shapes based on the dancer’s movement upon it.  It was real eye candy, deftly conceived and impressively realized.  So I thought I knew what I was in for and to some degree I did, similar to knowing that a forthcoming baby will presumably have a certain kind of wonderful anatomy and fascinating progress through life.

But there was so much more.  Mortal Engine lavishly expanded upon GLOW in both scope and depth.  The white screen stretched across most of the enormous stage area and was raked so that six dancers easily flowed over and across it.  The same kind of light play occurred in ever complicating responses to the expert and serpentine performers, including interesting sections that featured the lower quarter or half of the screen raised forward as a wall.  And late in the hour-long piece was a stunning section of green laser lines and shapes, shifting and flickering directly toward the audience through a moving 3-D canvas of smoke that was pumped from the stage and balconies.  The effect (at once planetarium, Stone Mountain and V—Ger) was hypnotic, and at one climactic point I seriously wondered if we all were being ushered into an altered state of consciousness.

If we were, nobody seemed to mind.  I’m always surprised when a NY audience responds to a work with no guile whatsoever, but genuinely, even palpably receives it with innocent delight.  Throughout this piece, and especially during the laser play, there were audible gasps of enjoyment and wonder.

The woman to my left was particularly gaspy, but I forgave her because I too was touched by Mortal Engine’s powerfully successful visual craft, which achieved its intended juxtaposition of cold technology with warm humanity to inspiring effect.  I must admit I was initially dubious of this goal, which seemed kind of hackneyed and with potential for just being annoying.  But they did it!  The piece managed that elusive and nourishing wholeness that balances head, stomach and heart (or the trinitarian Idea, Craft and Spirit, says Dorothy Sayers in The Mind of the Maker).  The concept, technology, set, costumes, movement and performers worked equally toward the machine/human interplay, and delivered.

I was frankly surprised at how poignant this theme became for me in Chunky Move’s capable hands.  Perhaps it’s the ever-evolving quandary of how to deal with progress, and the creator’s rich and complex relationship with the creation.  That sounds good, but I think in this case it had more to do with the performers.  Clad in various forms of semi-transparent pajama-y undergarments, these virtuosic and, well, technical performers held nothing back, but gave themselves fully to the work in the most human way, evoking such a range of emotion while staying true to the work’s abstract aesthetic.  They were fierce, they were bored, they huddled together, they exploded apart, they made love, they just stood there, and always with a most inspiring courage to be both masterful and vulnerable.  At the curtain call, when the light shone directly on all of them for the first time, I warmed even more to these exquisitely accomplished and chiseled men and women, each of whom wore a refreshingly appreciative, almost sheepishly meek smile, as if so grateful and amazed to be a part of such an effort.  Those Aussies.  In short, thank you David for getting my belly in that seat, and thank you Chunky Move for offering this well-founded work just as I myself prepare to engage in some seriously human (but hopefully not mortal) engineering.

Review: Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan, In-I

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

In contrast to the preceding review, this one will be fairly short. Let this be seen as a reflection on the profundity of the work, as well as an acknowledgment of other thorough reviews already written, with which this writer heartily agrees:
Roslyn Sulcas, New York Times
Judith Mackrell, the guardian
The only thing I’d like to add to these thoughts is that I really enjoyed a FEW moments of this overlong piece. The beginning did capture me, causing me to forget that I had paid $28 to climb 70 stairs to sit on a square-foot precipice of a stool to view the work. (To those of you who haven’t seen me in a while: for about another 3 months this body is not meant to sit at 90-degree angles…thankfully, the other three shows in my subscription to BAM’s Next Wave Festival are at the more spacious Opera House rather than the Harvey…) I was very impressed with Binoche’s abandoned and exact execution of Khan’s thrown and raw floor material, and I also really liked a duet against the back wall late in the piece. Otherwise, ditto on the above reviews…
Still, I’m glad I went, and glad I didn’t shell out more for the slightly more comfy-looking seats far down below.

Review: Stephen Petronio/Nico Muhly

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

To kick off my first review as part of this website, I thought I should acknowledge a few things.  First, part of my reasoning in writing reviews is to help me process what I’m seeing out there.  Moving to New York has been like a second graduate school for me, with so many opportunities to learn from deep and accomplished artists, and writing about these experiences is a great way for me to solidify the lessons I’m learning from my unbeknownst teachers.  Second, I’m really picky.  Especially if I’ve paid a lot of money to see a show.  Third, I’m sure I approach pieces with a desire to hone what it is that I’m interested in making.  Given that basic selfishness, I will try to review with what I perceive as that artist’s goals, not my own.  Ok, here goes…

“I Drink the Air Before Me”, choreography by Stephen Petronio, music by Nico Muhly

My expectations for this piece were very high.  A number of dance artists that I deeply admire had long tenures with the Stephen Petronio Company, so I was eager to see the work firsthand.  (It’s kind of embarrassing how little dance I see these days…ah, motherhood.  Anyway…)  And composer Nico Muhly has a brilliant reputation as a young superstar in the classical music (etc.) world. New York Magazine says: “Impish Über-talent Nico Muhly, known to some as Philip Glass’s protégée, to others as the guy who helps make Björk, Rufus Wainwright, and Antony sound better, and to most as one of the next great hopes for the future of classical music…” –Rebecca Milzoff, 8.22.08.  Plus, it’s just plain fun to go to The Joyce!

Seated in the front row, I read the program notes which described the piece’s inspiration as “storms, both environmental and internal, and the whirling, unpredictable, threatening and thrilling forces of nature that overwhelm us.”  Fantastic!  I’m certainly feeling overwhelmed these days.  This subject matter seemed very salient and I settled in to see how these artists would treat it.

Hmm.  The large cast of 11 dancers were already on stage warming up in sweat pants, something that seems in vogue these days.  There were two curious figures walking around in outlandish costumes (one of them Petronio in a wacky ship’s captain get-up, the other Ori Flomin in a yellow rain slicker and hat).  There was a sail-like triangle stretched across the lower right corner of the stage, partially blocking the view of the warmer uppers.  The two costumed figures strung a long rope around a scaffolding and up into the balcony in a long (long!) diagonal line.  It was funny and weird and curious.  I noted to my companion that I hoped there would be a good reason for the exposed warm up.  I couldn’t imagine a theater like the Joyce not having ample warm up space somewhere…  The dancers dispersed.  The sail came down.  The lights adjusted.  The cap’n climbed the scaffolding and accumulatively spoke a long sentence that I didn’t quite catch in a sardonic tone.  And then the music began.

What a gorgeous, gorgeous score!  So sonorous, variegated…savvy but fully immersed.  I found myself drawn to the platform of musicians upstage left–bassoon, trombone, bass, viola and flute–and to the composer himself seated at the piano upstage right. The eight arcing sections evoked storms indeed, with all their surprising, erratic but somehow organized dynamic changes of gaining breeze, undulating pressure, surging and faltering air, knock-you-down gusts, gentle lulls and strong press of rain. Such a richly realized effort–bravo!

Oh, yeah…the dance.  Or should I say, the dancers.  They were amazing technicians, all of them.  Spanning a wide range of ages and experiences (one young man looked like he was about 12), they each embodied the movement with command and verve.  However, I sensed a disunity in their overall maturity level as performers.  Some of the newer company members seemed removed or blase, while the more senior members–especially Michael Badger–displayed more depth of artistry within the movement.  Though I did find the performances of newcomers Barrington Hinds and Tara Lorenzen particularly satisfying.

The movement throughout the piece was both taut and loose, stretched and fluid (albeit the kind of fluidity that comes from holding your thumb over the opening of a waterspout).  There were exciting, explosive moments with long (long!) scissoring legs and snaking torso spirals.  But as the piece progressed, I perceived a sameness to the phrases and began craving some variety.  I found most of the partnering rather stilted and over-prepared, often missing that slippery, organic connection that I value so much in great contact work across genres.  Still, it was exciting to watch these powerhouses come together…I think their partnering prowess came from the fact that they can do anything they want with their bodies.  Jerks.  But (aside from a subtly powerful duet between Badger and…oh shoot, I can’t remember the other man–Julian De Leon?) I would have appreciated more connection in these encounters.  In fact, the company lacked an overall sense of community in my eyes, as if they were just dancing in isolated parallel.  Thankfully, the individuals were strong enough to carry that burden, but for me it translated into a lessened personal connection to the piece.

Choreographically, there was much layering in and out of various groupings to a chaotic and, yes, stormy effect.  But in general I found the dance spatially diffuse and lacking sufficient centers of gravity to draw my eye and deliver the substance of the expression.  It seemed self-conscious.  It seemed gimmicky.  It seemed disconnected from the rich inspiration stated in the program, and even from Muhly’s glorious storm being conjured upstage.  It felt like that one-sided conversation with an over-caffeinated friend: slightly pushy, ahead of the topic, unfocused (“I can lift my legs!  I can swing my torso around!  I can do ballet!  Or I don’t have to!  I’m dancing up a storm!”).  I suppose storms, or our responses to them, can encompass these qualities, but I felt that Muhly’s exploration of this was much more expansive and thorough…more true…while Petronio’s seemed cursory and flippant.

I haven’t mentioned the costumes.  I almost don’t want to because they, too, seemed like an overwrought construct rather than a natural outgrowth of, and servant to, the intent.  Nautical themes prevailed: at times the dancers wore pea coats, at others stripey shirts or striated long johns.  For me, the costuming contributed to the dance’s sense of caricature and self awareness.  Fine qualities, but not (in my opinion) juxtaposed with such sensitive and powerful intentions as those communicated in the music and poetic program notes.

The final section epitomized this asymmetry.  In the program, Petronio discussed the text on which the section was built–a liturgical blessing of a bell upon installation into its tower–and included a special card laying forth this beautiful text:

“Whensoever these bells shall sound/May they drive away the malign influence/Of the assailing spirits/The horror of their apparitions/The rush of whirlwinds/The stroke of lightning/The harm of thunder/The disasters of storms/The spirits of the tempest/And all evil acts that spring/From the mind of men”

Had I skipped over this part of the program I might have been satisfied with the dance’s outward show of storminess, the leggy swirly virtuosity, the strange, erratic disconnects.  But primed with such urgent and upward-facing language, I expected and longed for a moving navigation of life closer to the heart of a dangerous storm, and not just on its wild edges.  The dancers in this concluding section seemed exhausted, as well they no doubt were, steeling themselves to repeat that same showy phrase AGAIN.  There were reprisals of original themes.  There were continued layerings of duets and trios against solos.  There were lots of entrances and exits.  Rather than this finale being, as Petronio stated, “an invocation of a sort, a beacon in search of a state of calm and hope”, it seemed like merely a subdued restatement of more of the same.

All in all “I Drink the Air Before Me” felt like a missed opportunity to connect with deeply human themes of turbulence, survival and the beauty of endurance.  But, while it appeared that Petronio made himself busy describing an amazing storm, Muhly was in there stirring one up.

[NOTE:  I just read a preview by Susan Reiter of The New York Press, and here Petronio seems to be inspired by the physical and visual patterns inherent in weather rather than the more human elements expressed in the program notes.  Ok, I get that.  Perhaps the stated inspiration of overwhelming internal as well as environmental weather led me to expect and crave something different.  I would probably have felt some of the same disconnects in many of the choices made, but perhaps would have more willingly received the piece’s crystallized exterior rather than trying to crack into it for something deeper that just wasn’t there.  Although I’m pretty sure the music would still have led me to that deeper place, creating the aforementioned disconcerting sense of disunity.]

[[Sorry for this long (long!) review…]]

To kick off my first review as part of this website, I thought I should acknowledge a few things.  First, part of my reasoning in writing reviews is to help me process what I’m seeing out there.  Moving to New York has been like a second graduate school for me, with so many opportunities to learn from deep and accomplished artists, and writing about these experiences is a great way for me to solidify the lessons I’m learning from my unbeknownst teachers.  Second, I’m really picky.  Especially if I’ve paid a lot of money to see a show.  Third, I’m sure I approach pieces with a desire to hone what it is that I’m interested in making.  Given that basic selfishness, I will try to review with what I perceive as that artist’s goals, not my own.  Ok, here goes…
“I Drink the Air Before Me”, choreography by Stephen Petronio, music by Nico Muhly
My expectations for this piece were very high.  A number of dance artists that I deeply admire had long tenures with the Stephen Petronio Company, so I was eager to see the work firsthand.  (It’s kind of embarrassing how little dance I see these days…ah, motherhood.  Anyway…)  And composer Nico Muhly has a brilliant reputation as a young superstar in the classical music (etc.) world. New York Magazine says: “Impish Über-talent Nico Muhly, known to some as Philip Glass’s protégée, to others as the guy who helps make Björk, Rufus Wainwright, and Antony sound better, and to most as one of the next great hopes for the future of classical music…” –Rebecca Milzoff, 8.22.08.  Plus, it’s just plain fun to go to The Joyce!
Seated in the front row, I read the program notes which described the piece’s inspiration as “storms, both environmental and internal, and the whirling, unpredictable, threatening and thrilling forces of nature that overwhelm us.”  Fantastic!  I’m certainly feeling overwhelmed these days.  This subject matter seemed very salient and I settled in to see how these artists would treat it.
Hmm.  The large cast of 11 dancers were already on stage warming up in sweat pants, something that seems in vogue these days.  There were two curious figures walking around in outlandish costumes (one of them Petronio in a wacky ship’s captain get-up, the other Ori Flomin in a yellow rain slicker and hat).  There was a sail-like triangle stretched across the lower right corner of the stage, partially blocking the view of the warmer uppers.  The two costumed figures strung a long rope around a scaffolding and up into the balcony in a long (long!) diagonal line.  It was funny and weird and curious.  I noted to my companion that I hoped there would be a good reason for the exposed warm up.  I couldn’t imagine a theater like the Joyce not having ample warm up space somewhere…  The dancers dispersed.  The sail came down.  The lights adjusted.  The cap’n climbed the scaffolding and accumulatively spoke a long sentence that I didn’t quite catch in a sardonic tone.  And then the music began.
What a gorgeous, gorgeous score!  So sonorous, variegated…savvy but fully immersed.  I found myself drawn to the platform of musicians upstage left–bassoon, trombone, bass, viola and flute–and to the composer himself seated at the piano upstage right. The eight arcing sections evoked storms indeed, with all their surprising, erratic but somehow organized dynamic changes of gaining breeze, undulating pressure, surging and faltering air, knock-you-down gusts, gentle lulls and strong press of rain. Such a richly realized effort–bravo!
Oh, yeah…the dance.  Or should I say, the dancers.  They were amazing technicians, all of them.  Spanning a wide range of ages and experiences (one young man looked like he was about 12), they each embodied the movement with command and verve.  However, I sensed a disunity in their overall maturity level as performers.  Some of the newer company members seemed removed or blase, while the more senior members–especially Michael Badger–displayed more depth of artistry within the movement.  Though I did find the performances of newcomers Barrington Hinds and Tara Lorenzen particularly satisfying.
The movement throughout the piece was both taut and loose, stretched and fluid (albeit the kind of fluidity that comes from holding your thumb over the opening of a waterspout).  There were exciting, explosive moments with long (long!) scissoring legs and snaking torso spirals.  But as the piece progressed, I perceived a sameness to the phrases and began craving some variety.  I found most of the partnering rather stilted and over-prepared, often missing that slippery, organic connection that I value so much in great contact work across genres.  Still, it was exciting to watch these powerhouses come together…I think their partnering prowess came from the fact that they can do anything they want with their bodies.  Jerks.  But (aside from a subtly powerful duet between Badger and…oh shoot, I can’t remember the other man–Julian De Leon?) I would have appreciated more connection in these encounters.  In fact, the company lacked an overall sense of community in my eyes, as if they were just dancing in isolated parallel.  Thankfully, the individuals were strong enough to carry that burden, but for me it translated into a lessened personal connection to the piece.
Choreographically, there was much layering in and out of various groupings to a chaotic and, yes, stormy effect.  But in general I found the dance spatially diffuse and lacking sufficient centers of gravity to draw my eye and deliver the substance of the expression.  It seemed self-conscious.  It seemed gimmicky.  It seemed disconnected from the rich inspiration stated in the program, and even from Muhly’s glorious storm being conjured upstage.  It felt like that one-sided conversation with an over-caffeinated friend: slightly pushy, ahead of the topic, unfocused (“I can lift my legs!  I can swing my torso around!  I can do ballet!  Or I don’t have to!  I’m dancing up a storm!”).  I suppose storms, or our responses to them, can encompass these qualities, but I felt that Muhly’s exploration of this was much more expansive and thorough…more true…while Petronio’s seemed cursory and flippant.
I haven’t mentioned the costumes.  I almost don’t want to because they, too, seemed like an overwrought construct rather than a natural outgrowth of, and servant to, the intent.  Nautical themes prevailed: at times the dancers wore pea coats, at others stripey shirts or striated long johns.  For me, the costuming contributed to the dance’s sense of caricature and self awareness.  Fine qualities, but not (in my opinion) juxtaposed with such sensitive and powerful intentions as those communicated in the music and poetic program notes.
The final section epitomized this asymmetry.  In the program, Petronio discussed the text on which the section was built–a liturgical blessing of a bell upon installation into its tower–and included a special card laying forth this beautiful text:
“Whensoever these bells shall sound
May they drive away the malign influence
Of the assailing spirits
The horror of their apparitions
The rush of whirlwinds
The stroke of lightning
The harm of thunder
The disasters of storms
The spirits of the tempest
And all evil acts that spring
From the mind of men”
Had I skipped over this part of the program I might have been satisfied with the dance’s outward show of storminess, the leggy swirly virtuosity, the strange, erratic disconnects.  But primed with such urgent and upward-facing language, I expected and longed for a moving navigation of life closer to the heart of a dangerous storm, and not just on its wild edges.  The dancers in this concluding section seemed exhausted, as well they no doubt were, steeling themselves to repeat that same showy phrase AGAIN.  There were reprisals of original themes.  There were continued layerings of duets and trios against solos.  There were lots of entrances and exits.  Rather than this finale being, as Petronio stated, “an invocation of a sort, a beacon in search of a state of calm and hope”, it seemed like merely a subdued restatement of more of the same.
All in all “I Drink the Air Before Me” felt like a missed opportunity to connect with deeply human themes of turbulence, survival and the beauty of endurance.  While it appeared that Petronio made himself busy describing an amazing storm, Muhly was in there stirring one up.
[NOTE:  I just read a preview by Susan Reiter of The New York Press, and here Petronio seems to be inspired by the physical and visual patterns inherent in weather rather than the more human elements expressed in the program notes.  Ok, I get that.  Perhaps the stated inspiration of overwhelming internal as well as environmental weather led me to expect and crave something different.  I would probably have felt some of the same disconnects in many of the choices made, but perhaps would have more willingly received the piece’s crystallized exterior rather than trying to crack into it for something deeper that just wasn’t there.  Although I’m pretty sure the music would still have led me to that deeper place, creating the aforementioned disconcerting sense of disunity.]
[[Sorry for this long (long!) review…]]