New Ballet Choreography

Live music ups the ante at Works in Process

Ballet owes a big bouquet of roses to Works in Process (WIP) for regularly focusing on the process of creating ballet. Its recent show, at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, featured works by three young choreographers—Brian Reeder, Edwaard Liang, and Tom Gold. They have all danced with New York City Ballet, another organization fostering the development of new choreographers, albeit it with much broader exposure. The WIP shows are performed in more intimate theaters, often in a lecture/demonstration format, but New Ballet Choreographers was more along the lines of a traditional performance. Live music accompanied the dance, a treat alike for fledgling artists and seasoned audience members.

Brian Reeder’s “Them” succeeded on its own merits, but perhaps it helped, perversely, that his dancers were lesser-known ABT Studio Company members, rather than NYCB stars, who performed in the other works and lent an air of pomp to an otherwise convivial atmosphere. The score, which skated from tetchy to somber and occasionally dipped into a major key, was written by young composer, Jefferson Friedman, and performed by the Chiara String Quartet.

Reeder juxtaposed one man—the velvety, precise Joseph Gorak—with a group of three women and three men, who clustered together to resemble a fluid Rodin bronze. Gorak wandered like a rogue Alexander instructor, administering a deft touch to magically unkink the dancers’ crooked postures. A recurring motif of a pointed index finger tipping an extended arm accompanied a low arabesque, later with pirouettes. Reeder wisely drew on ballet’s inherent geometry—triangular retirés, linear pencil turns—eliciting a pleasing, logical sensibility. This grounded the agitated psychological tension between the powerful loner and an alternately supportive and adversarial gang.

Edwaard Liang’s choreography has been a regular feature on New York’s calendar in recent seasons. He contributed two duets with ‘dream’ casts from New York City Ballet. She of the endless limbs, Maria Kowroski, paired with Albert Evans in “Softly as I speak,” set to Philip Glass—also performed by the Chiara Quartet. Kowroski emerged from the dark, exaggeratedly crossing her steps before Evans pulled her gently back into the shadows. She roped her arms through curvy shapes, and dusted her pate with her toe in a backward whipping attitude. Evans slid her on pointe across the stage several times, and aided her in a walkover. He had a jazzier feeling solo to a looping rhythm, but predominantly remained in the background.

Liang’s “Fur Alina,” named after the accompanying Arvo Part composition—played by Marilyn Nonken on piano—featured the peerless Wendy Whelan with Craig Hall. It’s difficult to think of Whelan in a duet to Part without thinking of Christopher Wheeldon’s paradigmatic “After the Rain,” done for NYCB. But Liang gives her a mysterious set of gestures that she expertly plied as Hall stood watching, moving during quick blackouts to various vantage points on stage. Hall is a silken, athletic mover, and he provided a solid foundation for Whelan, who always appears to be keeping a precious secret. In these duets, Liang showed his penchant for creating a pleasing continuity of shapes and lines, if nothing revolutionary.

“Masada,” by Tom Gold, reflected this longtime soloist’s personal familiarity with petit allegro. The dancers in his cast were led by Sean Suozzi and dynamo Ashley Bouder, who always moves quickly and with exactitude, sometimes at the cost of elegance or interpretation. Here, she assumed a curiously haughty aura, like some sort of brittle princess. Gold mixed it up, alternating quick scenes and varied groupings of dancers to music by John Zorn, performed by the Masada String Trio. But Gold seemed tempted to pull out the stops, embellishing fouettes with bizarre-looking flexed feet, or with the leg in attitude. After awhile, a sort of panic took over the dancers’ faces, which were too close to ignore.