Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company – Unveiled
February 7, 2020
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
A greater diversity in its repertoire and a showcasing of the organization’s many performance troupes is what Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company founding artistic director Maria Caruso says is driving the current direction of the organization. That path forward was on display for all to see in Bodiography’s latest home season production Unveiled.
The 90-minute program was highlighted by another of Caruso and company’s collaborations with artists who have ties to the Martha Graham Dance Company — Graham 2 director Virginie Mécène and former Graham Company star Jacqulyn Buglisi and her Buglisi Dance Theatre.
The stylistically varied program began however not with the work of a former Graham disciple, but with a reprise of former Anna Sokolow Dance Company dancer and professor of dance emerita at Princeton University, Ze’eva Cohen’s 20-minute “Meditation on a Square,” commissioned by Bodiography in 2006.
The pseudo-classical modern dance work set to ambient music by Scottish multi-percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, appeared to reflect on the secular and the sacred in our everyday lives. For the work, the Israeli-born Cohen used a mix of music including traditional Sephardic song that helped conjure up an idealized image of a decades-old Israeli village where young men gathered to play basketball and young women to folk dance. Ironically, the scene depicting youth life felt a bit juvenile itself in its choreographic approach. Cohen made up for it in sections that followed with spiritual themes to them including a dramatic male duet performed with feeling by BCB’s Derrick Izumi and guest artist Ty Graynor of the Limon Dance Company. The duet was one of struggle both physically and of faith.
The remainder of “Meditation on a Square” followed a similar pattern with the secular life sections somewhat lacking (apart from an entertaining women’s folk dance trio) compared to those with more sacred intent.
Following a reprise of Caruso’s 2012 ballet Fractured and Rebuilt, performed by Bodiography’s student troupe BCB2, the main company premiered Caruso’s “No Strings Attached.”
The ballet was set to music by Ludovico Einaudi, Marbeya Sound and the Nelue song “No strings Attached” (feat. Kayele) and was inspired by Caruso’s “recent nights in the Al Wadi desert looking at the stars while being serenaded by a world class DJ,” says the program notes. That inspiration manifested itself onstage as a fast-paced and free-spirited ballet. In it were plenty of movement fireworks for Bodiography’s dancers including lifts, leaps and dizzyingly quick turns across the stage. It also contained some real head-scratching moments such as when the stylishly-costumed women in the ballet suddenly stopped in their tracks to execute awkward headstands in the middle of the stage.
The meat of the program and its most engaging works came after intermission beginning with Buglisi’s signature duet “Threshold” (1991). Danced to Estonian composer Arvo Pӓrt’s haunting Fratres, the 18-minute piece performed by Mécène and husband Kevin Predmore, opened on Mécène under an oval layer of fabric that covered center stage. Mécène writhed and contorted her body as if escaping a birthing sac. Limbs jutted and stretched at the fabric membrane with an inherent grace. The dramatic duet had a Graham-like quality in its approach. Then free of her bonds, Mécène crawled onto the back of Predmore who marched her around the stage on all fours. Said to be the embodiment of the angel of death, Predmore’s character appeared determined yet caring in ushering Mécène’s character across the threshold between life and what comes after. The work’s stunning and powerful imagery came to a climax with Mécène rising to stand atop Predmore’s back and him rearing up like a stallion before he returned her to the fabric tomb she emerged from and then exited the stage on all fours.
Both mature dancers exuded an undeniable stage presence honed over decades in the work and their performances were passionately brilliant.
Next, came the premiere of Mécène’s commissioned work for Bodiography, “Curse Upon Iron”. The 7-minute work for 9 dancers took its title from another Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’ uber dramatic music the work is set to. Mécène’s choreography was big and bold and along with Tormis’ music evoked a sense of menace and intrigue. Also a nod to Graham in its look, the work was anything but a curse for Bodiography’s dancers who were spectacular in it.
Switching gears from the fullness of “Curse Upon Iron,” Buglisi’s new solo “In the name of the fire, and the flame, and grace” (2019), performed by former Graham Company principal dancer Blakeley White-McGuire, was a reaction to the current world refugee crisis and spoke to a feeling of being invisible in the world. Danced to music by Max Richter, White-McGuire dipped, lunged and let out silent screams along a thoughtfully-crafted path of movement. Her vivid facial expressions and depth of feeling gave voice to a work whose sentiments carried beyond the moment.
A sequel to one of Caruso’s best and most celebrated ballet works, the critically-acclaimed romantic pas de deux “Light by Love” (2015), the premiere of “Light by Love 2” picked up where the original left off with its two lovers taking the next step in their relationship. Performed by Graynor and Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky, “Light by Love 2”captured the tenderness of the original in close-quartered and embracing choreography but it lacked a bit of the original’s genuineness. Nonetheless, the pas de deux was a lovely next scene in what Caruso hopes will blossom into an evening-length ballet.
The premiere of Carsuo’s latest solo work for herself “Unveiled” followed. A nod to several past solos involving sensual movement and costume changes during it. Caruso at her most Fosse-like jazz sultriness began the slinky solo costumed in a black men’s suit and hat then danced her way out of them and into a choreographic display of her feminine wiles that concluded with her back in the men’s suit by solo’s end.
Rounding out the diversely entertaining program was Caruso’s latest group work “Psalm 23” danced to music by Bobby McFerrin. The spirited and spiritual work served as a sort of thank you note to the audience for being a part of Unveiled and those in the audience responded in kind with robust applause at program’s end.