New Chamber Ballet: Equal Treatment for Musicians

It hardly seems fair, tucking ballet orchestras down in a pit, given how crucial their contribution is. For a more sensitive, equal treatment of dancer and musician, look to New Chamber Ballet where musicians are given their due.

Choreographer Miro Magloire’s Moments is billed as a duet for violinist and dancer, entirely accurate given his staging of the work. Virtuoso violinist Erik Carlson is situated in the downstage right quadrant of the stage. The lovely Lauren O’Toole enters upstage of Carlson, her dancing rarely venturing far from him and, at times, is deliberately just upstage of him so we must necessarily take in the two of them together. The music itself is remarkable—this is less a violin piece than it is a work for violin-as-sound-effects-machine. Salvatore Sciarrino’s Caprices No. 2 and 6 evoke images of fluttering wings and passing wisps of cloud. Though we can study Carlson at work, it’s still hard to grasp how such unearthly sounds come out of so familiar an instrument. Magloire matches the music’s avian qualities by giving O’Toole airy port de bras and slow, expansive lunges—which she manages with exquisite control, even when negotiating long, arcing backbends with an upward focus.

Magloire’s penchant for working sparely sometimes looks like he’s not keeping up with the music, as in his Symmetry set to a couple of Handel’s violin sonatas, but here, in conjunction with Sciarrino’s creations, this approach succeeds brilliantly. In Caprice No. 6, the quality changes but the alchemy continues. This pizzicato section suits O’Toole’s movements which are now contrastingly earthbound—wiggly, like a small, burrowing animal. As a charming conclusion to this dance, and one that seals it as a true duet, O’Toole steps in close to Carlson and strums the final notes herself.

Also on the programme was choreographer-in-residence Emery LeCrone’s Songs for Piano, set to Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words. One of the finest aspects of this ballet was pianist Melody Fader who played with sensitive, nuanced phrasing and dynamics—strong, measured chords coexisted next to notes faltering with emotion. Fader felt like an integral part of the ballet because, thanks to the elegant intimacy of a New York City Center studio, she was just steps away from the front row while also being situated in the performance space. Her interpretation, and the rich port de bras of dancer Victoria North, combined to capture the restlessness in one part of the music while Fader’s musicianship and O’Toole’s plunge-in approach jointly create a storm-tossed mood in a subsequent section. Later, North returns, turning a backward trudge into something beautifully musical before stopping to arrange and re-arrange her body in and out of parallel and turned out positions. LeCrone makes frequent use of a line of dancers, playing off soloists like these against the rest. She knits the dancing tightly to the mood of the music, a valuable skill for any choreographer, but not always found among nascent dance makers.

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