American Repertory Ballet’s Premiere3 – A Superb Artistic Experience

This is my first-ever piece about a dance performance. Most of my review writing centers on opera and classical music concerts. Nonetheless, after attending American Repertory Ballet’s Premiere3 performance at New Brunswick Performing Arts Center on June 10, I felt compelled to write a few thoughts about this superb artistic experience. Three months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing American Repertory Ballet’s Artistic Director Ethan Stiefel, who described his vision for ARB as placing emphasis on new unique works while maintaining a commitment to classicism and classical ballet. Premiere3 furthered that vision by featuring new works that brought together elements of ballet and modern dance. 

VARIANTS – Choreography: Ethan Stiefel; Dancers: Tiziano Cerrato, Jasmine Jasper, Annie Johnson, Anthony Pototski, Matanya Solomon, and Ryoko Tanaka; Lighting: Jason Flamos; Costumes: Janessa Cornell Urwin and Keto Dancewear; Photography: Kyle Froman

This convergence of styles proved especially ingenious and engaging in the world premiere of Ethan Stiefel’s new work VARIANTS set to Brahms’ “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel”, a solo piano oeuvre that explores twenty-five variations and ends with a fugue. Stiefel’s choreography captures the playfulness of the music in inventive sequences of movement as well as through whimsical flourishes in various gestures sprinkled throughout longer classical phrases of motion. It conveys, as the disembodied piano keys hanging above the stage suggest, a deconstruction of the very instrument that brings to life Brahms’ work to get at its essence by connecting to the past and speaking to the present. It reflects a kind of reconfiguration of the music through physical expressivity in ways that highlight the genius of this musical piece. The dancers surprised and amused the audience with unexpected twists like guitar-carrying rockstar gestures and undulous crawling on the stage floor while always returning to classical elements. In ensemble moments, they displayed a finely tuned awareness and precision as they wove their step progressions through each other’s spaces, so close to one another and giving the impression of becoming a dynamic mass of dazzling nimbleness. Distinctive, effervescent, playful, and thoughtfully crafted, this piece was an extraordinarily executed brilliant personification of the artist’s ability to deconstruct the traditional form to reveal new meanings while bringing certain facets of that tradition into a renewed light. 

Sight Line – Choreography: Amy Seiwert; Dancers: Annie Johnson and Andrea Marini; Lighting: Jason Flamos; Costumes: Janessa Cornell Urwin; Photography: Kyle Froman

À propos new meanings and tradition, the other world premiere of the night, Sight Line, choreographed by Amy Seiwert, offered poignant, revelatory moments set to the traditional Romanian melodies sung by legendary Romanian singer Maria Tanase. Tanase’s voice resounded hauntingly in Balanescu Quartet’s musical arrangements, and the dancers’ bodies and movements expressed what Romanian natives call “dor”, an untranslatable word that expresses a sense of perpetual longing. Whether it’s longing for the homeland, for loved ones, or for something inexplicable, “dor” is an emotional pulse that throbs at the core of these Romanian songs. Darkly poetic, tormented, stirring, the choreography invoked a mysterious toil, especially powerful when the dancers came together as one single organism animated by the same lyrical, muscular, visceral, and very human struggle. They appeared united in an eternal desire to return to their source. Clad in black costumes, they evoked, through sometimes tortuous body movements and positions, images of tree roots pulled from the ground, in agony and in an unrelenting search to find anchor again in the native soil. Perhaps this Romanian native had a biased interpretation, but I venture to state that it was impossible not to feel this piece tug at the heartstrings and exert a hypnotic spell.

The elder piece of the evening was Holberg Suite, Arthur Mitchell’s fifty-year-old ballet set to the music of Edvard Grieg. Cassandra Phifer staged a luminous rendition, beautifully articulated by the dancers in graceful elegance and clean classical lines with refreshing touches of modernity adorning the majestic neoclassical feel of the entire work.

A memorable and wonderfully unique season finale that foretells exciting seasons to come at American Repertory Ballet!

American Repertory Ballet

Top: Holberg Suite – Choreography: Arthur Mitchell; Staging: Cassandra Phifer; Dancers: Aldeir Monteiro and Artists of ARB; Lighting: Jason Flamos; Costumes: Janessa Cornell Urwin; Photography: Kyle Froman

About Maria-Cristina Necula (182 Articles)
Maria-Cristina Necula’s published work includes the books "The Don Carlos Enigma: Variations of Historical Fictions" and "Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo and Soul," two translations: "Europe à la carte" and Molière’s "The School for Wives," and the collection of poems "Evanescent." Her articles and interviews have been featured in "Classical Singer" Magazine, "Opera America," "Das Opernglas," "Studies in European Cinema," and "Opera News." As a classically trained singer she has performed in the New York City area at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Florence Gould Hall, and the Westchester Broadway Theatre, and has presented on opera at The Graduate Center, Baruch, The City College of New York, and UCLA Southland. She speaks six languages, two of which she honed at the Sorbonne University in Paris and the University of Vienna, and she holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY. In 2022, Maria-Cristina was awarded a New York Press Club Award in the Critical Arts Review category for her review of Matthew Aucoin's "Eurydice" at the Metropolitan Opera, published on Woman Around Town. She is a 2022-24 Fellow of The Writers' Institute at The Graduate Center.