Curtains open after intermission and you hear countless murmurs of ohs and ahs spread across the sea of the orchestra and balcony at Abrons Art Center on the rainy evening of July 11, 2019. Curiosity and electricity run through your veins as three duos are elevated above their counterparts; the effect of the dramatic work is nuanced by the social situation of each viewer. That first glimpse leaves goose bumps on your skin before they begin to move.
Three female dancers (Tori Hey, Aoi Ohno, and Aidan Wolf) adorned in crystallized flared tutus that are clear as day, overlay white leotards brush stroked with red and turquoise. Bravado men (Seth Ives, Mathis Joubert, and Nathan Rommel) are a pop of fresh faces with bright red suits and flashes of matching turquoise underlining.
The female dancers go from a high lift swiftly to the floor as the men barrel over their ethereal sleeping bodies. The men sweep their partner off the floor leading to quick petite allegro movements as a sea of one; there is a moment of stillness that catches your eye. Turns out this will be the only moment of unison in the next fifteen minutes of this daring, physically demanding, and unpredictable spark of beautifully organized chaos. A neo-classical ballet entitled Chromatic Skies, choreographed by Sheena Annalise and music composition by Eric Whitacre.
Jumping from one side of the stage to the other, all of the dancers are traveling immensely in twos while dropping from high to low and spinning with exploding limbs at landing. The uncountable amount of canons gives the feeling of that magic moment when a person runs through a field of resting butterflies. The dancers fade to the side as Wolf, a new stout dancer, holds your attention in musically dynamic fouettes and a bursting a la seconde leggy ending.
Rommel, a memorable new addition to Arch Ballet, and Joubert attack the stage in a duet with rigor and strength. Classical jumps and turning sequences brings out Ives to join the stage in an exploding moment with a turning switch leap. Canons and roll offs continue to pour out of these dancers with ballon, musicality, and stamina.
A surprising change in choreographic style by Annalise, a neo-classical work filled with by the book classical line and steps, but with subtle and fresh Arch Ballet signature style. Rommel and Joubert go from a classic back cabriole to a flared turned out heel envelope landing, taking Wolf and Ohno from an attitude turn to an upside down diamond leg shape spinning them into a leg that blooms open, reverting right back into a traditional quadruple finger pirouette turn. This choreographer normally doesn’t work with picture perfect classical movement; clearly she is learning to play in both genres with her artistic identity still intact, she is a rare prodigy continously trying something new in her latest works.
A pas de troi of Ohno, Joubert, and Rommel slow the tempo as she is raised high above the stage as if she is floating. One leg extends as the men bring her right side up on pointe facing the audience simultaneously. She drifts in both directions being pulled from side to side by her partners, changes from up and down keeps it unpredictable. Her athletic build and experience in Annalise’s choreography shows as she performs with such ease. She breathes this cool, calm, composed, and collected air of attitude that transfers to how you feel as you watch her glide and turn with precision across the stage, she is a crowd favorite to watch as she received applause throughout her entrances and exits.
One of my favorite moments is in the eye of the storm of movement; the dancers all come together on stage and open from first position with arms en haut opening up to the sky of possibility above them while the lights subtly get brighter. Like pedestrians with a flirtatious walk they slowly move to various areas of the stage, falling to the floor like blooming petals to find Rommel in the center. His adagio is texturized and controlled.
A quartet briskly whisks away Ives from standing to floating one foot off the floor. Then Ohno and Hey take center stage in luxurious arabesques that melt into a traveling circle for a brief moment of stillness. They glide their hand across their shoulder to each other and slowly dissipate from the stage.
A swell of dancers move only their upper bodies from left to right like a breeze in the wind, having Ohno and Ives shoot out into a soultry pas de deux. The intertwined penche has Ohno wrapped inside Ives’s arms, he promenades her away from his body with tranquility and it captures attention. The generous arch in Ives’s cambre while on his knee gives Ohno a weightless feel. The remaining quartet splits the stage leaving an interesting scene of many dancers vs. two in a world of their own
Suddenly, sparks of music jump out at you from your seat and the dancers were ablaze with strength, tenacity, and the fleeting feeling of uprising. They run together upstage right creating a barrier in the corner. Redheaded and lengthy, Hey, distinctively attacks a solo phrase with spitfire presence and mastery of Annalise’s signature contraction and serpentine movement. A thrill to watch her bounce from contraction to extension, contraction to develope, and standing tall again into an exploding arabesque that carries her to center with a turning assemble facing the back. Like a firecracker she turns with a flick of her head to a whirling bourree that leads the other dancers to cannoned lifts exploding towards her. I have been waiting for her to break out, usually a standout from the start, she was slightly slacking the entire evening’s program but everyone must have an off night now and again.
They all come together in a diagonal line shooting out in roll off one by one and a flying Ohno comes down the center with the grandest of grand jetes right on a dramatic cymbal note. Dancers meet in the center in circles pushing out and back and repeat in evolving patterns as if you’re watching a kaleidoscope move.
They all take off from the stage like rockets. And shoot right back on in a roll off to assisted arabesques to the music. Dramatic drops to penche, almost hitting their marks but slightly missing on the way back up before they drop to the floor again. These dancers just don’t quit as they explode like firecrackers across the stage. The pace is lighting fast, dancers hitting every possible note of the dynamic score. The dancers excitingly drop from their lifts one by one in a cannoned fashion like firework remnants streaming off into the distance.
The ending goes from furiously moving about to an abrupt stop to simply just looking up at the sky. The lights fade and the lighted installation becomes the new paradigm. The organized chaos of never ending individuality within the same movement, gave the essence of a call to action to “stop and smell the roses” between the hustle and bustle of the world. Everyone doing the same thing day after day, chasing their own lives, too busy to stop for the rest of the world, it was a shocking awakening to simply stop, stare, and enjoy your surroundings.
Choreographer, Annalise, has maneuvered these six dancers to be distinctive and to execute each musical note and movement with precision. The execution could be stronger in its next performance runs to give more of an effortless air. She has shown her audience a new form of her company, which was well received. It is nice to see choreographers who challenge themselves and their dancers no matter the risk.
The other two pieces of the program, Chateau (revival from 2015) and Pointe in Motion (2017), rounded out the evening. A string quartet moved about the stage with the dancers in this slow dramatic staged work with fabric draping the stage. It fell flat compared to the other two works of the night. Pointe in Motion stole the show with Electronic Dance Music and moving video of liquid color. The movement emulated the fluid nature of the background and was executed to almost impossible perfection, they revamped this work from its last performance of it in 2018 with different music and costuming. The changes took the piece to a new level of entertainment and tone.
I find it important to note, although I have commented before in a previous review, Arch Ballet does a great job of breaking classical ballet rules seamlessly. Women were lifting women, women were partnering eachother in classical assisted pirouettes and more. Men were turning and lifting men in generally female shapes. It was nice to see this not a gimic like many choreographers are doing to stand out, but just a natural movement for the company. It felt effortless and not out of the ordinary that I almost forgot that this was different, maybe due to the company having been doing this for years it has added to their effortless feeling, but it was marvelous. Here are a few of many of those moments captured below.