Scenes from the city

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  April 8, 2008

Uliana Lopatkina was the top-ranking ballerina of the evening, in the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère. I found her rather cold, but she had severe balance problems during the scarf duet, and her partner, the handsome young Danila Korsuntsev, didn’t help her out. This excerpt from La Bayadère is all about the corps de ballet anyway, and the Kirov’s 24-woman ensemble of Shades looked spookily perfect in the exacting, endless procession of arabesque-pose-arabesque with which they enter. Then they maintained an unearthly precision in the progressions and balances that followed.

The Shades’ spectacle of scale, texture, design, and individual virtuosity provided a model for George Balanchine and, in later years of stylistic fusion, for generations of contemporary dancers and doubters. A major source of creative energy in American dance has been the confrontation between the classical ideal and the roughshod vernacular.

Jerome Robbins played with this challenge throughout his career, and a new exhibition at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center celebrates his solutions. Besides a generous collection of photos, letters, and costumes, curator Lynn Garafola has compiled video clips of ballet and Broadway dancers who worked with Robbins from the 1950s on. Up through June 29, this show is an instant education, and a lot of fun.

Stephen Petronio’s company was at the Joyce Theater for the week, performing three of his galvanic works. Petronio is no formalist. His dance language is descended from the invented articulations of Trisha Brown; his theme is sexual dynamics and the fluidity of gender roles. His dances, charging along almost without direction, are all activity: gripping, forgettable, spectacular. Maybe because it doesn’t track like a classical form, Petronio’s dance often fades quicker from the mind than his other production choices, especially his bizarre costumes and the loaded accompaniments that sometimes serve as a narrative context.

In Beauty and the Brut, a new work to music by Fischerspooner, a woman’s voice tells a shaggy-dog story, with the steamier parts in French, about getting picked up at the beach by a man who wasn’t what she expected. The dancers, dressed in bathing suits with ropy tassles that reveal and hide their torsos as they move, engage in avid clinches, then wriggle away to another person. No encounter seems compelling enough to overcome their instability, their rage to move out again.

Bloom, seen last spring in Boston, has a score by Rufus Wainwright for a small ensemble of Wainwright’s voice overdubbed in different ranges. At the Joyce, the recorded music was skillfully mixed with the 50-voice Young People’s Chorus of New York. It was as much pleasure to see those intent, musical teenagers ranged along the Joyce balcony as to watch the dancers on the stage.

The other new work, This Is the Story of a Girl in a World, had contemporary songs by Antony (Hegarty), Lou Reed, and Nico Muhly, all seeming to quaver on the edges of sexual identity. The eight dancers in Petronio’s company are well-matched in size and body type; when they streak through “Girl in a World,” pulling and throwing one another, forming temporary duos that fall into accidental unison, you almost can’t tell what sex they are, but they radiate the energy of desire.

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