★★★★★ - Irresistible
There was a feeling of euphoria both onstage and off at NBT’s mid-winter concert “Bolero” recently at the Smith Center. Three abstract ballets—one a masterwork by a neoclassical genius, another a world premiere by an up-and-coming choreographer, and the other the titular piece by an acclaimed contemporary choreographer—were presented, and all shared a pure, abstract aesthetic and a sense of yearning for connectedness.
George Balanchine’s 1946 modernist ballet “The Four Temperaments,” staged by répétiteur Judith Fugate, was danced with superb technicality and emotionality by the cast on opening night. Set to the score by Paul Hindemith, the piece is inspired by the medieval idea that each person is made up of four humors— melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric—within the body, and that the dominant one defines their psychological temperament. One of Balanchine’s black and white ballets, it features dancers in traditional (circa mid-century) practice clothes to highlight their clean lines, on a bare stage against a deep blue cyclorama, where they shimmer under Peter Jakubowski’s evocative lighting. Balanchine challenged convention by adding modern movements and shapes— like angular port de bras—to the classical ballet foundation for an unexpected contrast, so that the dancer’s bodies paint geometric stage pictures against the canvas of the cyclorama.
And NBT’s dancers create exquisite imagery. The playful, question and answer movements of Katherine Zimmerman and Robert Fulton in the Theme as well as Jaime DeRocker and Benjamin Tucker’s sensual duet—where he guides her turns like she’s a wind-up doll—were favorites. The flexible Michael Caye conveys the heaviness of the Melancholic mood in his movements yet is somehow light as a feather with beautiful leaps and beats, while Betsy Lucas and Emma McGirr make the perfect pair as the busybodies who interrupt his solitude, along with the four women who use their long legs as weapons of intimidation with aggressive kicks.
The luminous Mirella Costa Neto with Sergio Alvarez add a cheerful glow to the stage with their Sanguinic duet full of difficult footwork and crisp fouettés and pirouettes, backed up by four women doing a strange little prance. Zachary Guthier makes a fine, ever-searching Phlegmatic, and with four women give lovely poses and stage pictures, and an animalistic line dance. And a fierce Christina Ghiardi guides us to the finale with her assertive and commanding Choleric. The stunning apotheosis is the ultimate visual reward, firing up the
pleasure centers in a way that satiates, with its amazing kick lines and flying ballerinas.
Emerging choreographer Krista Baker has danced with NBT for 15 years, and it’s a pretty big deal that her new work, “The Current,” received its world premiere on the Smith Center stage nestled between a Balanchine and a Fonte. She earned her place on that stage with her captivating and ethereal ballet. Set to the music of Ezio Bosso in five movements, she choreographed the piece on 12 of her fellow dancers, with the idea of exploring wind in all its forms and how nature is affected by it.
The performance begins before the curtain is drawn, with strings-driven music that builds in intensity until the curtain goes up to reveal a misty tableau (moodily lit by Jakubowski) with dancers already in motion, implying that this otherworldly place is perennially in existence whether we observe it or not. The choreography reminds of the infinity symbol with its circular movements and complex patterns and groupings. Dancers swirl and twirl like leaves in motion being whipped around by the wind, or sway in gentle synchronization as if they were hanging from a tree in a breeze.
Movement progresses through the piece from soft to precise with a different feeling for each movement of music. There are neat choreographic surprises, like when a movement changes abruptly to the opposite of what you might expect, or in duets when the men guide the women’s arms in a circular motion and hold them by their wrists rather than by the waist during turns and tricky lifts. There is a sweet pas de deux featuring McGirr and Steven Goforth yearning to connect, which shows off McGirr’s uncanny ability to punctuate emotion by lingering on each movement and fleeting gesture. Costa Neto, Alvarez and Lucas all have their “wow” moments, and Lucas designed the on-trend costumes of flowy, chiffon dresses in different shades of blue, though the men’s shirts look a bit too futuristic.
Repetition has never been so sexy as in NBT’s sizzling presentation of Nicolo Fonte’s 2008 ballet “Boléro.” Maurice Ravel wrote the one-movement, Latin dance-inspired orchestral piece in 1928 for the Ida Rubenstein Ballet. Like Ravel, Fonte—who staged his hypnotic work on the company for this concert—set the ballet in front of a factory, symbolized by corrugated metal columns onstage (set and eerie lighting by Michael Mazzola) that dancers peek out from behind shyly, until the columns slowly fly out as the music builds in intensity and they gain more confidence to interact. Decked out in ruby red costumes (designed by Mark Zappone), the ensemble excels with the long-lined movements that echo the cogs and wheels of machinery that the alienated workers represent. One piece can’t work without the other, in the same way that people need each other to connect.
At the start there’s a low rumbling sound like the hum of a factory, as a steely yet sultry DeRocker dances alone with slow, sustained, reaching movements as if she is on the verge of some sort of breakthrough. The seductive Goforth shows up to sweep her off her feet for a detached yet super sensuous pas de deux that simmers with repressed emotion, sexual tension and release. Ravel’s music begins and the ensemble slowly appears in solos, groups, and in pairs doing exciting lifts—like the ones girls leap out of or cartwheel into—and dancing in rhythmic, Latin-infused style that is slow-motion one moment and quick and crisp the next. Momentum builds along with the music to an explosive and dramatic end.
As a group the men were a bit off on opening night. But individually and as an ensemble the cast creates striking, sculptural stage pictures for the mesmerizing piece. Alvarez stands out with his fiery, passionate solo and Ghiardi commands the stage with her piercing expressiveness once again.
Under the artistic direction of Roy Kaiser, the high level of sophistication and sheer beauty of NBT’s “Bolero” led to three standing ovations and a very fulfilling evening.