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Brave New World

Expect the unexpected at Cincinnati's "New Works"

By Julie Mullins · September 25th, 2008 · Dance

One aspect of contemporary dance I appreciate is that, for the most part, you can never really be certain of what you’re going to see. This notion also becomes a reason why too many people avoid it: They don’t know what to expect; perhaps they fear they won’t “get it.” But this is a Cincinnati Ballet performance, right? It is, but it’s a chance to see the company in a very different light.

This New Works bill consists of contemporary world premieres — six of them, again marking their season’s kick-off. It’s an annual production I always look forward to — when audiences get to witness the dancers not only up close and personal in their home performance space but also as they tackle a far broader range of movement styles than one typically expects from a ballet company.

Watching the well-attended Sept. 18 opening night performance, I found the most surprising works to be among the evening’s the more successful ones. Viktor Plotnikov’s improbably titled “GUI Solution” brings forth deep dynamic range punctuated by seamless partnering with thrillingly dangerous lifts. Oscillating between rapidfire and languid, group unison and solo isolation, the choreography cobbles together genre-defying material: catlike moves, a cartwheel, a break-dance “worm.” The extreme contrasts in lighting ambience and musical mixes — from heavy, somber electronic tones to swells of Beethoven — feel a touch overstated, yet the piece for seven dancers retains structural integrity and interest.

(By the way, the title’s GUI stands for “Graphic User Interface.”)

Beethoven was also the composer of choice for “Second Quartet,” Adam Hougland’s intensely moody study revolving around two couples’ entanglements and exhilarating connections.

Interestingly, this piece also shares some stylistic similarities with “GUI Solution” in the way of idiosyncratic quirks and breathtakingly daring lifts.

Hougland — a young American now based in London who has work in progress for the acclaimed former New York City Ballet Resident Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s company — creates intricate compositions with emotional resonance. (Audiences might recall the clever intricacy of his contributions to last year’s New Works.) The dancers belt out ritualistic gestures as if their lives depended on their frantic communication.

The piece is spiked with sexual tension with garnishes of frailty and vulnerability. Solos offer bold expressions of virtuosity: I muse on Cervilio Amador leaping and spinning into oblivion with his characteristic relaxed control.

A dancer takes pause as her hand covers her mouth. The gesture recurs with another dancer, and then again as time seems to stop. Time came up short for the reported quick turnaround of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s “After the Storm” by William McClellan Jr. Disappointingly, it shows: The piece seems haphazard and at moments reads as under-rehearsed. It’s full of wonderfully bold brass Jazz band sounds and sultry Samba rhythms, but a few dancers appeared to struggle to maintain pace with some breakneck tempos. Hats off to Dawn Kelly for displaying a contagious sense of joyous abandonment while keeping rhythm.

Inspired by post-Katrina visits to New Orleans, the topic proved timely in the recent wake of Ike. Also on the program are the vintage Hollywood-inspired “Embraceable You,” a delightful duet from the Ballet’s CEO and Artistic Director Victoria Morgan; renowned choreographer Jessica Lang’s visually captivating “Corda”; and Cincinnati Ballet’s longtime Ballet Mistress-in-Chief Johanna Bernstein Wilt’s choreographic debut, “Everyday is a New Beginning.”

I applaud Cincinnati Ballet for supporting the development of adventurous contemporary choreography, most notably in this annual festival. From its undertaking and marketing to the dancers navigating new movement vocabularies, this show consistently takes risks. This production might not have come in as the ballet’s strongest New Works showing, but it’s always one to catch.

Cincinnati Ballet’s NEW WORKS continues Sept. 25-28. Visit cincinnatiballet.com for details.



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