The Fashions and Passions of City Ballet: From the Sublime to the Inconsequential

But John Jasperse scores a clear victory with Fort Blossom at New York Live Arts

City Ballet’s dancers can sometimes seem uninterested and uncommitted (as for example they mostly did this season in Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet). But they seem to come to Liebeslieder in a spirit of reverence, aware of the privilege of performing in it. There were two casts. The more seasoned one brought together Kowroski and Bouder, Janie Taylor and Wendy Whelan, partnered by the Angle brothers, Sébastien Marcovici and Jonathan Stafford.

The younger cast introduced Peck, Hyltin and Fairchild (Mearns was still unavailable, so Kowroski danced again). No one dominated; no one, really, rose to the level of earlier performers like Diana Adams, Violette Verdy, Kyra Nichols, Farrell, McBride, but it didn’t matter: The younger dancers found the maturity to inhabit and honor this most grown-up of dance works. We are left with an unanswerable question: How can an hour of 19th-century waltzing lead to such transcendence?

John Jasperse talks about his Fort Blossom—on view recently at New York Live Arts in a version considerably expanded and revised from its premiere a dozen years ago—as reflecting a “kind of tough hope that … I feel is strongly needed by our culture in this particular moment in time.” I don’t know what he’s talking about, or for that matter what the words “Fort Blossom” signify, but I do know a powerful and meaningful dance work when I see one.

The stage is divided in two. On the left side are two women in short reddish-brown dresses. On the right are two naked men. The women for the most part move in tandem, shadowing each other, often with orange plastic see-through cushions strapped to their backs. One of the men, Ben Asriel, after an opening sequence in which, lying on his stomach, he humps his way across the floor, is soon engaged directly with the other man, Burr Johnson. An extended duet that is the heart of the piece finds them in a series of fierce physical encounters, embracing, contorting, simulating sex (one on top of the other, with only a clear plastic pillow between them that slowly leaks air and deflates). We’re almost less full frontal than full rearal—at one point an anus is offered up casually, as if it were a belly button. A cheek is laid tenderly down on a different kind of cheek. A foot slides gently down the crease in a pair of buttocks.

What’s so fascinating, apart from the extraordinary ingenuity of the moment-to-moment activity, is how unerotic, unpornographic all this turns out to be. The effect is sculptural rather than sexual, the genitals almost an irrelevancy. When clothes are simply absent, not provocatively stripped away, somehow bodies seem less like bodies and more like abstractions—think of two Brancusis coupling.

Until the end, the pair of women and the pair of men ignore each other, occupied with their own concerns. At the end, they come together in an easy harmony, a gathering of four dancers rather than a pointed reconciliation of genders. The women have transcended their dresses, the men their nakedness.

(On a happy personal note, the program bios tell that “in his spare moments away from dance, Johnson is in his garden or cuddling with his cat.”)  


The Fashions and Passions of City Ballet: From the Sublime to the Inconsequential