Ballet Nouveau Colorado has nearly run the gamut of combining dance with just about every type of artistic medium possible. They’ve danced while Denver based bluegrass band Paper Bird played alongside them on stage. They’ve choreographed to poetry and prose spoken aloud, while photographs flashed on the backdrop. But this time, they went beyond exploring the relationships between those mediums; they outright nailed it.
The dancers of BNC and artists of the Redline Art gallery, as well as numerous costume and lighting designers, combined their respective passions for two hours of intense, in-your-face modern ballet.
The performance consisted of five very different pieces, all danced inches within the personal space of the audience members. Artwork was laid on, around and above the white marley floor that the dancers went to work on – providing an intense, intimate experience. BNC has toyed around with breaking the fifth wall in the past – this time they reached right through it, making for raw, jaw clenching entertainment. You could hear them breathing, see the beads of sweat hanging on their upper lips, and watch every muscle fiber straining in contortion. It was beautiful and gripping and oftentimes painful to watch. The joy of the modern dance BNC presents is that it is not on a raised stage, with pointe shoes, tutus and frills to mask the difficulty of the work; the audience was practically panting with effort alongside them.
Ranging from bizarrely abstract – I couldn’t quite wrap my head around pieces such as Like An Onion – to tear-jerkingly beautiful, BNC and Redline artists truly put on a performance of forward thinking art that is of a caliber rarely seen in the middle of the country. My personal favorites were BNC dancer Sarah Tallman’s Zugzwang: a compulsion to move, Maurya Kerr’s Grounding, and BNC Artistic Director Garret Ammon’s A Stitch in Time.
Opening with Tallman’s Zugzwang was a strong choice for BNC, and left me rapt with attention and wanting more. The dancers were dressed in attractive gray jumpsuits with long, flowing pants – creating an art in itself when draped across their bodies during the pas de deux sections. They moved among wirey, gray artwork that resembled charred flames, first merely sweeping around it to Samuel Barber’s sumptuous classical score Canzonetta for Oboe, Symphony No. 2: Adagio for Strings; eventually moving a bit more vigorously among the pieces, even biting the artwork. I was particularly struck by dancer Damien Patterson in this piece – his fluid movements came from the heart (there’s no faking that) and his long, lean body moved like water among the other dancers, artwork, and through the music. He was a joy to watch. At one point, he picked up dancer Meredith Strathmeyer and suspended her above his head and began to slowly promenade – just hanging in space, delicately, creating an ah-ha moment of, “Damn, this is live art.”
Maurya Kerr’s Grounding hit that soft spot we’re all simultaneously reluctant and obsessed with going to – the heart. In the program she states that she worked with, “themes of vulnerability, love, empathy, and loneliness. As the piece found it’s own way, it continued into an exploration of flight versus gravity, hope amidst truth, what the body wants confronting what the body does.” She conveyed this through choreography that featured dancers hunched over and swaying, ape like, covering their mouths in shock when one of them muttered the word “Love.” It was a battle between expressing and repressing desires, and by the dramatic end of the piece, the audience was certainly awake, at full attention, and extremely uncomfortable – which is what made it so perfect.
Garret Ammon’s A Stitch in Time closed out the evening with a beautiful display of cream colored curtains and leotards to match. It had a certain Balanchine feel – the simplistic style spliced with Ammon’s trademark modern choreography – except more ethereal. Ammon’s choreography highlighted why ballet dancers perform the best modern; when a classical arabesque or port de bras snuck in, the dancer’s training gave the work the oomph and the aesthetically pleasing line only a bunhead can bring. It left me with a light, crème brûlée feeling after so many intense pieces, and I left feeling invigorated, challenged, and overall delighted.
Denverites are lucky to have an opportunity to watch dance in such an intimate setting. BNC highlights once more why Dance Magazine dubbed it the dubious honor of 25 to Watch. Wrap up Denver Performing Arts Week with one of BNC/Redline’s last round of performances this weekend with times and dates as follows:
November 11, 2011 at 8pm
November 12, 2011 at 8pm
November 13, 2011 at 2pm
Performances will be held this weekend at the Performing Arts Complex at PCS (Map & Directions)
Tickets range from $15-$45 and can be purchased online or by calling 303-466-5685.