IMPRESSIONS: Movement Headquarters Ballet Company at Ailey Citigroup Theater
February 16, 2020
Artistic Director and Choreographer: Barry Kerollis // Musicians: Alexandrina Boyanova, Issei Herr
Dancers: Michael Bishop, Ali Block, David Hochberg, Weston Krukow, Francis Lawrence, Shannon Maynor, Camila Rodrigues, Kennedy Rose, Amy Saunder, Bradley Schlagheck.
Apprentice: Serena Lu // Trainee: Gemma Beasley
Talent and ambition saturate New York City. Small contemporary dance companies seem to sprout up weekly, taking advantage of the ample showcases for emerging and experienced choreographers. Not so in the ballet community where dedicated opportunities outside of the big companies are fewer and farther in between.
In response, choreographer and artistic director Barry Kerollis founded Movement Headquarters Ballet Company, coining the motto #BringBalletBack. A bold statement for a fledgling company in a city that boasts iconic organizations like New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. However, Kerollis doesn’t downplay what currently exists. Instead, he presents a keen artistic sensibility and the drive to bring ballet to concert dance’s forefront during his company’s one-day, two-performance, four-work debut at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.
Distinct Perceptions explores mental illness from the perspective of those afflicted. Ten dancers gather, fingers tapping their foreheads or nervously wiggling. Spoken phrases layered in speed create mounting anxiety. “I got here first.” “Did you hear that?” “And one more time.” “I don’t even like this piece.” Camila Rodrigues, tiny and fierce, breaks out of the group but can’t quiet the voices.
Isolation is highlighted as the dancers struggle to connect. Solo phrases stand out against unison dancing, and the sense of being supported yet appearing lost within the group is distinct. A duet between Shannon Maynor and Bradley Schlagheck starts lovingly but becomes manipulative. Smooth partnering turns rough as he pushes and pulls her into lifts and supported balances. She tries to kiss him, and he arches back into the wings, leaving her confused and alone. David Hochberg desperately charges toward the others, shouting, but they ignore him. Gently, Weston Krukow wraps him in a soft embrace and leads him into the darkness.
Kerollis is not afraid to take risks while working to build an audience. Dancers speaking — unusual in classical ballet — is one example. Giving musicians the power to assign choreography to dancers in real-time, a nod perhaps to Merce Cunningham, is another. Undecidedly Solo is a playful, energetic piece for Kennedy Rose, Maynor, and Rodrigues. When violinist Alexandrina Boyanova points to each with her bow, they begin their assigned phrases of sprightly jumps and quick turns peppered with quirky head nods. Like a conversation, the classical vocabulary, which is performed with diamond-like clarity, complements the violin/cello duet perfectly.
With A Fly's Life and Decline, Kerollis displays his humorous side. Inspired by the movements, habits, and life cycle of a housefly, the solo for Serena Lu is sinuous and full of attack. To music by the German violin duo The Twiolins, she vibrates with the quick scratches of the bow and sustains during the echo of notes left in the air. Her predatory torso undulates as she searches for food. Lu dances to the musical lines all at once, her erratic patterns and sudden spurts punctuated by stillness, her body bound and alert.
Rite — A Modern Ritual, set to Stravinsky’s iconic score, showcases the rituals of men and women as they explore the crossroads between independence and sexuality. Ali Block rests in a chair, drinking wine, texting, and watching TV. She rises, washes her face, brushes her teeth, and applies makeup. Krukow sits with his back to the audience, and she sprinkles him with a watering can. A specter of Block’s desire, he takes her through a duet richly textured with pleasing syncopations and suspensions. Dramatic twists and percussive contractions pay homage to Martha Graham and originate an intriguing movement palette that fuses classical ballet with modern dance.
When Krukow exits, Block changes into a red dress and puts on red lipstick. Krukow returns as her date, and they go to a bar where they drink, dance, and flirt. Once back in her apartment, their interaction becomes more aggressive and carnal. Arms and legs toss wildly. Torsos thrust with abandon. Embraces become urgent. Clothes fly off, and the resulting entanglement is erotic and beautiful — a pas de deux that shows off ballet’s sensual side and all the more reason to #BringBalletBack.