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What followed was the world premiere of “Fragile Vessels” by Czech choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, a ballet for 20 dancers that was as overwrought as “Haffner” was metronomic. Neither ballet was able to support a case for the other. Bubenicek set his dancers whirring into big unison action — ranging from leaps and arabesque lifts to floor dives as bombastic as the dances that emerged from the Bolshoi Ballet during the Cold War era. Even lovely exchanges between cracker-jack principal Dores André, boyishly elegant Joseph Walsh and dramatic Wei Wang were sandbagged by Bubenicek’s heavy-handed action and clotted staging. The off-base set design – a giant fin or harplike form with 12 spines (designed by Bubenicek’s twin brother, Otto) – ate up the stage space, and the warm, pale environment of sand-colored costumes and elegant pink-sand lighting (Jim French) suggested not so much sensuality as a luminous petri dish where odd life forms were engaged in fevered struggle.
Consequently, when the curtain rose on Justin Peck’s “In the Countenance of Kings” it was narrow fitting ballroom dance shoes as though spring had burst on the scene following a tough winter, When this big, wonderfully fluid work premiered last year, it struck me as sophomoric, if enormous fun, In Program 1, its insouciant combination of effortless craft and silky musicality shined amid the dreary company, Walsh and André stole the show with their impeccable and relatable dancing, and while the orchestra performed well all night, it really bit into Sufjan Stevens’ lush “The BQE” (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) as if it were zooming down the highway..
At its Jan. 26 opening, the Program 2 lineup was almost as motley. What changed was that all the works, even when they only partly made sense, freed the dancers to be artists, not merely superb technicians carrying heavy loads. That was true in the reprise of Alexei Ratmansky’s wonderfully humane “Seven Sonatas” (2009), and nowhere more evident than in William Forsythe’s “Pas/Parts,” a repurposed 1999 ballet that was so overhauled it became a 2016 premiere. Yuri Possokhov’s latest work, “Optimistic Tragedy,” was another of his flawed concept pieces, but it beautifully showcased the stunning male dancers of the company.
Not the least of Possokhov’s choreographic flaws are an adolescent and aggressively envious relationship to women, and frequent thematic contradictions that undermine the narrow fitting ballroom dance shoes smooth surfaces he creates, In this work those were evident in the sole female figure of “Optimistic” — the radiant, soon-to-retire Lorena Feijoo — being cast as the “Commissary” on a Russian ship meant to echo the 1905 Potemkin, although her character is pulled from a play and Russian blockbuster film about the 1917 Russian Revolution called “Optimistic Tragedy.” She is meant to represent “freedom.”..
While 1905 marked the beginning of widespread mass uprisings in Russia, it was inedible food that led to a showdown on the battleship Potemkin. Mutineers killed nearly half the ship’s officers. In Possokhov’s version, an Anarchist (Taras Domitro) rapes “freedom” (Feijoo). Then she kills him, and is swept into the protective arms of the Captain (Luke Ingham). So much for girl power. So much for the people’s rebellion. This melodramatic muddle underscores Possokhov’s serious conceptual limitations. If only he would stick to the dancing. The new work’s finest scene comes when a collection of sailors performs a ritual dance, part circle of aggression echoing “Boléro” and part Cossack bonding dance. It points to where Possokhov’s talents lie. However, it was Feijoo’s glorious dancing, Ingham’s silken partnering, Alexander V. Nichols’ elegant and powerful video triptych of ships, sea foam, sailors and warfare — plus the haunting score by Russian composer Ilya Demutsky — that were the ballet’s true heroes.
Few works in the company’s repertory so completely leave behind narrative narrow fitting ballroom dance shoes form to focus on the structures and mechanisms of the balletic body as “Pas/Parts,” which closed Program 2 with a spellbinding cheekiness that was thrilling, Joseph Walsh, Julia Rowe, Sofiane Sylve, Carlo Di Lanno, Francisco Mungamba, James Sofranko and their peers were witty, edgy and sexier than at any other time in this program, We can attribute that to the sheer power of Forsythe’s relentless imagination, and what these masterful and deeply personable artists can make their bodies do..
Why would anyone stay at home and watch television when they could be at Lucy Stern Theater watching a knock-your-socks-off performance of “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine”?. It’s that good. Yes, really. Though rarely produced these days, the Palo Alto Players production of “Day/Night” is such a surprisingly delightful departure from most other musicals that it deserves SRO audiences for each of its performances. It’s like getting a “twofer,” because the first act (“A Day in Hollywood”) is a splendidly nostalgic look at the good old days of movie musicals, featuring 14 of the most talented tapping feet on the Peninsula. Then comes Act 2, “A Night in the Ukraine,” which is rather like watching a mash-up of a Marx Brothers movie, a Chekhovian story — and general mayhem all around.
Not to worry if you’re not fond of slapstick comedy, because the overall earnestness of the eight talented young performers will win over your heart anyway, It starts out before the audience even enters the theater. Dapper, red-uniformed ushers greet ticketholders at the door and escort them to their seats, (Don’t be surprised if those same ushers show up minutes later, singing their way down the aisles as Act 1 opens.), These same “ushers” proceed onstage to welcome the audience to the world-famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and sing the opening number “Just Go to the Movies” as they wait for the movie to start. It turns out to be narrow fitting ballroom dance shoes a long wait, so they improvise in the only way they know how: They sing and dance..