Carolina Ballet’s Calder Project: Three new works of weightless whimsy and sophistication
The dancers and choreographers of Carolina Ballet brought the abstract art of Alexander Calder to moving life over the weekend. In one of their most unique and outstanding performances, the company presented three new works by three different choreographers based on the art of Calder, inventor of the mobile. Some of his work can be seen at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, and online.
The first piece, Calderiana, was choreographed by Timour Bourtasenkov. Bourtasenkov said he was moved by the weightlessness and suspension of Calder’s work. This came across in his piece. The Lady in Orange, danced by Lilyan Vigo, had an airiness about her, even as she sat on a table underneath a Calder-esque mobile designed by Guy Solie. The cultural influence of the ‘60’s, the period during which Calder would have been producing some of the work that seems to be reflected in this piece, such as “Chat-mobile” (1966) can be seen in the mod Kitty and Cat, danced charmingly by Margeret Severin-Hansen and Pablo Javier Perez. What I found most interesting was the way the dancers were constantly existing at different levels. The cats were often close to the floor, dancers moved lightly around in the standing position, or mid-level on the table, and the statuesque girls in white, part of The Group, were carried high and bird-like atop shoulders. There was an aloof and avant-garde quality to the whole thing, and the music choice, Kronos Quartet, from Nuevo, was a perfect fit to complete the image. (Listen to the piece from the 20:00 to 23:00 and imagine Calder’s Chat-mobile coming to life with this theme.)
Next came The Ghost, choreographed by Zalman Raffael. This clean dance of simple lines conjures Calder’s The Ghost. Raffael says that he imagined Calder’s mobile in motion to the music of Darius Milhaud, the music he used in this work. Half of the dancers wore simply a black leotard and black tights, and formed the structure of the mobile. The other half wore white dresses and were the dangling arms of the mobile. The clean, crisp choreography was a showcase for the dancers’ technical skill as well as Raffael’s own eye for detail.
The final piece in The Calder Project was I Mobile, choreographed by Tyler Walters. The dance began with the dancers, each dressed in black, white or a primary color, walking in silence. The walking in itself was basic, but the way the dancers changed the direction of their bodies in a seemingly random way gave the impression they were dangling from a string and turning in the wind. This dance was the most mobile-like of the three. There was a cohesiveness about the group, although they rarely danced all in unison. They moved as related parts, moving independently and intertwining. Movements sometimes seemed unpredictable, but never chaotic, as they were limited by the structure of the whole. In the program notes, Walters simply quotes Calder, saying: “Each element able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe.” Walters was successful in evoking this image.
All of these new works really demonstrate the strength of the company as a whole. There were soloists featured in each piece, but the overall focus was on the group with balanced images that filled the stage almost constantly. The Calder Project was a unique and intellectual ballet experience and left me looking forward to more new works by these artful choreographers.
The second half of the program was Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s dramatic Carmina Burana. The story, themed with the timeless fall of humanity to greed and lust, began with men in suits dancing with briefcases, seeming joyful over the money they’ve made. While they danced a Stock Market ticker ran above the stage, ending ominously with the words “O Fortuna!” We watched as a family and society struggled through temptation and all the negative consequences of succumbing to them, while perhaps overlooking the simple pleasures of life.
Marcelo Martinez danced the role of the Man of Darkness. (He seems to have a flare for the villainous.) His performance in this was nothing short of jaw-dropping. His powerful energy extending maximally in all directions allowed him to become airborne for an unlimited amount of time.
Taylor-Corbett is a master storyteller. Even if someone doesn’t get the precise meaning she had in mind during its creation, her most sophisticated ballets will never leave the audience wondering what just happened.
Before the first half artistic director Dr. Robert Weiss shared a few words with the audience. It is worth noting the impressive fact that Carolina Ballet produces more new works than any other ballet company in the world aside from New York City Ballet (which, Weiss added, operates on a budget 10 times that of Carolina Ballet)
There is one performance left in the season. Weiss’s new work Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 together with Taylor-Corbett’s family friendly Beauty and the Beast will show at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium May 17-20.
by Denise Cerniglia
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