City Ballet’s Ceaseless Work in Progress; Varone’s Meditation on Daniel Pearl

There’s not much to say about the two new works of the season. Melissa Barak’s A Simple Symphony (to Benjamin

There’s not much to say about the two new works of the season. Melissa Barak’s A Simple Symphony (to Benjamin Britten) was a conventional exercise in classicism—pretty tutus, pretty patterns, agreeably anodyne but a waste of Mearns and the others. Douglas Lee’s Lifecasting (Steve Reich and Ryoji Ikeda) was more ambitious in a familiar Eurocentric way—all push and agitation, with nothing distinguished or distinguishable for the dancers to do. Ballets by Bigonzetti, Preljocaj and Taylor-Corbett were brought back, to no greater effect than when first seen. Peter Martins’ Hallelujah Junction, to a pleasing two-piano score by John Adams, was the most effective of these resurrections; at least it’s firmly organized and fluent.

All in all, a rich season for Balanchine, a thin season for Robbins, plus a lot of clutter. The dancers made it all worthwhile.

 

AT THE JOYCE, meanwhile, we were graced with Doug Varone’s annual visit. The big new piece sounded dire—Alchemy, music by Steve Reich, a reflection on the death of Daniel Pearl. Varone is too smart, though, to give us a narrative; rather, he presents four beleaguered men against a powerful image of a prison stone wall, and four women who rally to them, try to protect them and grieve for them. What makes it work is his profound humanity—the way his women and men touch, engage, respond. Somehow, although his eight highly individual dancers are all superbly trained, they come across, at least to me, less as “dancers” than as “people who dance.” In other words, I take them personally. Alchemy is in no way a political statement. The death of Pearl is not the subject of this work but the inspiration for a tragic consideration of life and death.

The same eight dancers, the same kind of propulsive minimalist score (“The Light,” by Philip Glass), and yet Lux is in total contrast to Alchemy. The latter piece is all anxiety and anguish; the former all celebration—of life and hope. It’s a nonstop rush of energy, of connection. These dancers really do suggest a single organism combining and recombining, totally abandoned to the thrill of movement. The Glass score immediately reminds us of Tharp’s In the Upper Room, and not to Varone’s disadvantage.

Finally, Varone brought back a lovely work from 2000 called Tomorrow, to seven ravishing songs by Reynaldo Hahn. I only wish he had placed Tomorrow between Lux and Alchemy: The contrast would have helped all three pieces and given the audience some calm between the storms.

rgottlieb@observer.com

City Ballet’s Ceaseless Work in Progress; Varone’s Meditation on Daniel Pearl