IMPRESSIONS: Movement Headquarters Ballet's "Solo-Stice" at Ballet Arts
June 26, 2021
Choreography, Costumes, and Scenic Design: Barry Kerollis
Performance: Courtney Cochran, David Hochberg, Weston Krukow, Camila Rodrigues, Amy Saunder, Bradley Schlagheck
Music: Atom, Banyan Tree, Deorro, Dom Dolla, FKA Twigs, Forest Drive West, Calvin Harris, Jon Hopkins, Intergalactic Quartet, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Pablo Nouvelle, Jacob Plant, Mark Pritchard, Telepopmusik, Yaeji
Summer is a time of barbecues, blue skies, and joyful gatherings. 2021’s season of sun and fun, however, offers a unique delight — the return to live theater after a global pandemic that confined us to our homes. Movement Headquarters Ballet heralds this shift with their premiere of Solo-Stice, a fun, light-hearted, and intelligently constructed piece that evokes the rituals of summer. My first encounter with Movement Headquarters Ballet was during its debut in March 2020, which also doubled as my last in-person show before the shutdown. Artistic Director Barry Kerollis impressed me then with his versatility and craftsmanship in pieces ranging from dark and serious to playful and humorous. It seems fitting that my return to the theater is to see the company’s second New York City appearance. Once again, they did not disappoint.
Solo-Stice is the perfect welcome back for audiences. Structured as a series of vignettes, the work arouses fond memories of the past while acknowledging the present. As New York City lifts its social distancing and mask mandates, the venue of Ballet Arts — a low-tech environment with the audience seated on three sides — feels intimate and inviting.
Amy Saunder walks onto the stage, past a plastic palm tree and over a perimeter of striped beach blankets. She lies down to the techno beats of "Summer" by Calvin Harris. As the music blasts, Saunder remains still for the better part of two minutes. Bradley Schlagheck wakes her up with a warm hug, their embrace poignant and satisfying.
The dancers then bundle themselves in cold-weather clothing. When Saunder joins the group around an imaginary campfire, Schlagheck moves into a solemn, reverent solo. Full of effortless turns and elegant contractions, he ushers in a new season while embodying the weight of the one we leave behind.
Solo-Stice highlights the six performers in inventively crafted solos linked by humorous, character-driven transitions. As the dancers strip off their winter clothes, Pablo Nouvelle’s blend of electronic and soul music undergirds a lively tempo to their flashy struts across the stage. They test frigid ocean water while retreating from oncoming waves, share a melting ice cream cone, drive down the strip, read, or suntan, each venture playing to the audience. These campy moments of pantomime register as humorous rather than melodramatic thanks to the ubiquity of the rituals and Kerollis’ seamless morphing of them into serious dancing.
Rooted in classical ballet with a contemporary sensibility, Kerollis’ style is textured and surprising. Where ballet is linear and light, his movement phrases are grounded and kaleidoscopic. Spirals, contractions, and quirky syncopations take his dancers on and off balance in refreshing ways. A clever choreographer, he adds contrast to his work without creating discord. In the section “Lightning Strike,” Saunder is a sinuous beast, contorting and vibrating her body to a score from experimental electronic composer Atom. Her presence commands but is not obtrusive, her execution impeccable. Serene and smiling, Courtney Cochran charms with lyrical refinement in “Beach Day'' as she stretches on a towel to soak up the sun. David Hochberg juxtaposes quick footwork with an uncanny ability to suspend on a dime in “Solstice-Ritual.” His staccato arm gestures and bird-like head movements pleasingly contradict the even tempo of Mark Pritchard’s Under the Sun. As the song winds down, Hochberg’s dancing speeds up. The circular effect mesmerizes and acts as a harmonious transition into the following scene.
Irritated club-goers line up in front of an immovable bouncer who refuses to notice them. In a black mesh shirt, Weston Krukow approaches the bouncer, who ushers him in immediately. Krukow is an electric current. He directs his colossal energy into each detail, and joy seeps out of every pore. Infused with hip thrusts and torso rolls, Krukow’s ecstatic solo is the most contemporary of the six.
But not all summer memories are happy. Camila Rodrigues dances the angst and heartbreak of love gone sour. A tiny, fierce mover with an exquisitely supple torso that floats above her needle-like legs, she is the sole dancer wearing pointe shoes, which seems out of place among the soft shoes worn by the two other women.
Solo-Stice concludes in a sweeping wash of unison dancing, especially welcome as it is the only time the six perform synchronously. Lush arabesques and pendulous balances, infused with gestures from each of their preceding solos, have a tidal effect. As the last wave of movement recedes, the group lifts Cochran high, her arms reaching for the sky in an image of rebirth and gratitude. It’s how I felt to be back basking in the radiance and community of live dance!
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