"Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will never do any harm to the world." Voltaire
Impressions of Counterpointe
Presented by Norte Maar in collaboration with Brooklyn Ballet
Actors Fund Arts Center
Curated by Julia K. Gleich
Choreographers: Kristin Draucker, Julia K. Gleich, Brenda R. Neville, Lynn Parkerson, Janice Rosario, Ursula Verduzco, Eryn Renee Young
Artists: Rachel Beach, Sarah Bednarek, Amanda Browder, Kara Daving, Michelle Forsyth, Courtney Puckett, Jessica Weiss
Pictured above: Colorplay. Choreographer: Brenda R. Neville; Artist Collaborator: Courtney Puckett. Photo: Jason Andrew courtesy of Norte Maar.
A concoction of pink satin and thread, its only prosaic element a leather sole, the pointe shoe emblematizes ballet, and, in particular, Balanchine's famous dictum that “ballet is woman.” The pointe shoe acts as the intermediary between heaven and earth. Flesh-and-blood ballerinas — because it’s women who almost always wear pointe shoes — balance on its tiny tip to evoke the celestial, the divine. It appeared in the 19th century, popularized by Marie Taglioni, whose light-as-air dancing belied a grueling training regimen, and ballet never looked back.
This is where Counterpointe starts, but not at all where it will end. In the hands of seven female choreographers who've been paired with seven painters and sculptors (also women), the pointe shoe, and sometimes ballet itself, receives a fresh interpretation.
Counterpointe is envisioned by Norte Maar, a think-tank devoted to interdisciplinary collaborations, and is co-presented with Brooklyn Ballet. Julia K. Gleich curates the festival; she also shows the trio Immovable, which intermingles pedestrian pacing with tricky, handsy partnering to a mash-up recording of Donald Trump. As a curator, Gleich selects works that stretch from XAOC Contemporary Ballet’s The Edge of Sunset Gems with its captivating backdrop of brightly hued chevrons (created by Amanda Browder) to Lynn Parkerson’s Found and Lost, which switches among a variety of dance styles: ballet, swing, soft-shoe shuffle, and popping and locking.
For those who like their ballet pretty, Kristin Draucker and Brenda R. Neville offer pieces that flaunt its beauty. Draucker’s Currents is the more experimental of the two. Two women waft through voluminous grand rond de jambes; they bourrée, the drilling of their feet into the floor softened by undulant arms. From time to time, the dancers grasp skeletal structures ringed with lights (created by Kara Daving) and deposit them into a large fabric box. The three women in Neville's Colorplay are costumed like they've stepped out of a Bournonville ballet: primary-colored tutus with flowers tucked into their buns. Against Courtney Puckett’s fanciful Connect Four-like backdrop, the trio executes crisp soutenu turns and whip-fast fouettés, the lifted leg ramrod straight as their bodies switch directions.
Let Me Be Clear (by Ursula Verduzco presenting Benjamin Briones Ballet) finds the groove in ballet, which is no easy feat. Wearing cobalt blue tops and harem pants, six women and two men shake, rattle, and roll, thanks to the adornment of funky maracas (by Sarah Bednarek) to their heads, wrists, and waists. To the pounding, resounding rhythms of Red Run Tao Drummers, the octet scuttles through pas de chats and shakes their shoulders with easy abandon. They coast through an assemblé and then fling their torsos forward to smack their hands on the ground. The choreography pulses with fun, and the dancers have a blast with it, smirking and smiling.
Janice Rosario's spring is almost here stands out for its seamless interplay between motion and design (by artist Jessica Weiss and video artist Zander Padget). To wobbly electronica, a video of a dancing shadow grows out of and then recedes into a square of black-and-white streaks. Then, the shadow materializes into a person (the lovely, focused Sarah Rodriguez) and pristine, verdant Vivaldi replaces the techno. Rosario intersects ballet's pin-bright technique with the breathiness of modern: toes point but torsos arc and droop. Clarity meets weight, and the result expands the emotive possibilities of both. At the end, the black-and-white square bursts with color. Spring has sprung.
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