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Cecly Placenti, Artistic Director

  • Writer's pictureCecly Placenti

Ballet Redefined

Arch Ballet

November 19, 2019

Abrons Arts Center

Artistic Director/ Choreographer: Sheena Annalise

Dancers: Tori Hey, Seth Ives, Aoi Ohno, Nathan Rommel, Gabrielle Girard, Kathleen Bostleman

Photo by Stephen Pisano

Founded in 2013, at a time when less than a quarter of U.S. ballet companies were led by women, choreographer and Artistic Director Sheena Annalise emerged with a mission: to ensure the continuous evolution of ballet for an inclusive, 21st century audience. Utilizing original music ranging from neoclassical to electronic, and fusing technology, fashion, and current social themes, Annalise represents the culture of today with her eye on tomorrow.

All the pretty of ballet without the predictability, Annalise’s work hints at the neoclassical style of Balanchine, with deep fourth position lunges and quick, spunky hip swivels, but has a distinct look all her own. In Chromatic Skies, dancers undulate their spines fluidly then suddenly contract while balancing on the tip of a pointe shoe. Annalise emphasizes serpentine spinal movements, geometric body shapes, and a kaleidoscopic switching of partners, often in the middle of a movement phrase- all exciting alternatives to the balanced order of classical ballet. Sections of non-unison dancing create an electric business and dissolve into duets or solos, creating an overall wave-like design.

Photo by Stephen Pisano

Adept at merging the asymmetry and angularity of modern and jazz dance with the precise placement necessary for pointe work, Arch Ballet company members Tori Hey, Seth Ives, Aoi Ohno, Nathan Rommel, Gabrielle Girard (apprentice), and Kathleen Bostleman (trainee) possess the strength and technique to meet the demands of Annalise’s choreography. Rommell stands out for his crystalline jumps, buoyant and supple, while Bostleman dances with unbridled joy. However, in Chromatic Skies, the dancers at times look uncomfortable in the pacing of the piece, faces concentrated and expressions flat. This could be in part due to the sometimes choppy phrasing in the choreography. Vacillating between organic flow and gymnastic punch, some movement transitions appear jarring.

Photo by Stephen Pisano

Floor work meets fouettes in Two Steps Backward as knee slides and backward rolls evolve into quick pirouettes and sudden balances. The worm, a popular breakdancing move, takes a surprising turn as dancers perform it on their backs then arrest in shoulder balances. A smoke machine and daglo costumes evoke a club scene, and the choreography displays a cool sexiness. Here, the six dancers come alive. Girard moves with sultry command and Ohno is a fierce fireball. Rommel and Ohno twine around each other like a helix. Connected and elastic, the couple rebounds, slicing arms and legs into the negative space created by their partnership. Ohno’s duet with Ives is equally as exciting, full of intricate lifts, although not as connected. Small stutter steps in transitional moments read as a lack of surety, however the overall visual impact is stunning kinetic architecture.

Redefining a long standing art form, steeped in tradition and history, is not for the faint of heart. Reimagining the future of ballet and breaking it’s norms takes time, and Annalise is on a path of discovery, as she shapes and crafts a new way of moving, and develops her pioneering voice.

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