Benjamin Millepied’s luminous vision for top-notch dance
City Ballet principal Benjamin Millepied wisely chose not to do it alone. His debut Joyce season March 14-19 fomented in the experimental atmosphere of the Morriss Center Dance Institute in Bridgehampton where he serves as creative director. He scouted for choreographers and offered a limited residency with no pressure to show. The artists worked closely and busily creating their own vision.
Benjamin Millepied & Company is a capsulated Joyce first—cohesive because of the shared experience and 13 cream quality dancers. It suggests a luminous horizon for dance.
“Silent Text: A Ritual in the Art of the Dancer” opened our eyes. Choreographer Luca Veggetti used motion-capture technology to create a new notion of musicality. Though there were glitches with the microphones that hung from the ceiling, the effect was one of synaesthesia. Ellen Bar takes the microphone and swings it. She then moves away with slow swinging movements, very expansive. The music and sound by Paolo Aralla alternate between disturbing and mesmerizing electronics, beginning with a crashing air raid siren, perhaps in response to the stillness on the stage. It’s a wake up call. A bulb lights when held by Bar. A male massages the bulb and an extended line of light is emitted. The dancers appear to wait for response from the technology, but it all looks very musical.
A drama is created around the controlling of these effects. Bar sits on her toe shoes in plié a la seconde, very open and stretched, angular. The sustained positions are broken abruptly, as when Therese Reichlen arches her back and is lifted, traveling horizontally. After this piercing cold beauty, our hearts lay in our gut and only an intermission will do.
Afterward, in Millepied’s “Closer,” a duet for Gillian Murphy and Millepied in practice clothes, Murphy makes a sparkling entrance of chaînés turns into the center of the room. A moving live piano rendition of Philip Glass’s “Mad Rush,” performed by Pedra Muzijevic is less an accompaniment than a starring element. It repeats fast and then slow again.
The dance, though relaxed and syncopated, follows the tempo too simply. I liked their imperfect, unstructured-looking interaction and later in a sitting duet they are, indeed, closer. Millepied lies down and Murphy leaves him, a pleasant contemporary twist. The dispassionate workaday mood is loving. It was made for real life partners Murphy and Ethan Steifel.
Aszure Barton’s “Short-lived” is klezmer with an interlude of Baroque music. Barton said in the after-talk that it was created around the theme of “changes,” specifically, “emotional, spatial…” More importantly a story is told with vogueing, feet turned in, flat, flexed—or tiptoeing melodramatically; the women hold their skirts as if wading through a puddle. On the diagonal they move backward or forward incrementally.
It looks like African-inspired modern. Millepied grew up in Senegal and France and trained with his mother, a teacher of African and modern dance, which may have drawn him to this work. The amazing William Briscoe’s extreme undulations add sinuous rigor. His partner Charissa Barton’s loose-limbs could only be classic Bartonesque. Ariel Freedman meshes ably while Alexander Ritter looks out of his element. Barton’s fascinating, cartoonish vocabulary admits fallibility. A little trimming could enhance the air of suspense.
BM&Co. does not go softly into the night with “Phrases, Now” by Adonis Foniadakis. As in the first dance, Roderick Murray’s lighting is stark and dark, except for the dancers’ bare arms. The males include three others from City Ballet beside Millepied. Ula Sickle, whose presence is large in the pack of testosterone-inspired movement, some pugilistic looking, is dragged on the floor––but so is one of the males. The rabid energy and chaos, to Julien Tarride’s electrostatic sound, is broken several times when the group huddle in the center as if planning the next play. In one satisfying phrase all dance in unison, grounding the dizzy cacophony.