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Lori Ortiz
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The Joyce Theater
Tulsa Ballet
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Tulsa Ballet—"Elite Syncopations," "Por Vos Muero," "This Is Your Life"

by Lori Ortiz
August 10, 2009
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

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Tulsa Ballet
Tulsa Ballet (office)
1212 E. 45th Place South
Tulsa, OK 74105
(918) 749-6030
www.tulsaballet.org

Editor's note: At the time that this review was assigned and written, the Tulsa Ballet is/was a sponsor of/advertiser on ExploreDance.com. ExploreDance.com was under no contractual obligation of any sort to review the Tulsa Ballet's show. I decided to assign Tulsa Ballet's show at the Joyce to be reviewed a) because I had heard from others that the Tulsa Ballet was worth seeing, and b) because I decided to assign the review. I assigned the review to Ms. Ortiz because she has no direct financial relationship to the Tulsa Ballet, and thus has more distance, thus reducing the appearance of conflict of interest (compared to if I assigned the review to myself). When I assigned the review, I reminded Ms. Ortiz that the Tulsa Ballet was an advertiser, and therefore I wanted her to write exactly the same sort of honest review we would write for any dance company. I think you will agree that is what she did.
Most people know that ballet dancers can do anything. The question is: Should they? And how do they participate in artistic choices? Tulsa Ballet dancers proved the company's touted versatility with extraordinary ability. But were they expressing the OK sense of humor in "This Is Your Life?"

After twenty-five years absence from New York City, Tulsa debuted at the Joyce August 10th, 2009. Their showcase began with a rarely seen Sir Kenneth MacMillan ballet to a ragtime score. Then they gave a modern ballet by Nacho Duato. They closed with a retro contemporary ballet by the South Korean choreographer Young Soon Hue.

Hue's "This is Your Life" is inspired by the eponymous 50's TV show, probably the first ever reality show. These, of course, have metastisized. But I suspect that Joyce audiences, like dance audiences everywhere, expect alternatives.

The cast of contestants in the Hue is 50's suburbia. A dancer holds an applause sign. In our interactive age, it is funny to see this static prompt. The work is physical theater, with bits of ballet, and quasi tango. Hue shows her multifarious influences, having worked with most of today's master choreographers. With only eight years of making dances around the world, she may surprise us.

In the faux show, seated dancers play a ‘perfect' couple, an overworked businessman, love triangles, and spurned lovers. They bare their souls in their native languages (the company members come from seventeen countries.) They then get up and dance their lives.

The highlight is Ma Cong's angst-ridden, tour de force solo with attache case and the Businessmen's gender-bending dance. They don skirts, ties, and white-collar shirts. This chair dance calls to mind Ohad Naharin and Forsythe. But they move like a team of footballers, albeit with lots of style and grace. But he-man Ricardo Graziano as an unstylish gay hairdresser is a throwback— though I love his mile high arabesques.

Just as I am feeling the scarcity of actual dance steps, after a rather chaotic company number, they pair off for intricate, sideways but nevertheless, tangos to Astor Piazzolla. The score includes Henry Mancini too.

The opening "Elite Syncopations," from MacMillan, is inspired by the eponymous Scott Joplin rag. The score is a series of ragtime compositions by various artists and the scene is dancehall. Ian Spurling's bawdy clownish costumes are outrageous, and more so because of their tidiness. MacMillan made the dance in anything-goes 1975 on England's Royal Ballet. At the premier, a twelve-piece band played onstage and the musicians wore Spurling's funny costumes too.

Julie Lincoln staged "Elite Syncopations" for Tulsa last year. Backing up the silly, beautifully executed, acrobatics, is MacMillan's nonpareil structuring and musicality. In a persistant motif, however, the dancers wag their behinds, and it is irritating. Nevertheless, the sexuality is part of the dance's appeal. The company's amazing performance and energy infects us lethally. We went into first intermission very impressed, and utterly charmed.

Cong's long legs scissor, clad in vertical striped tights in "Elite." There is nothing demi about his pointed toes. And his silly grin implies effortless fun. Marit van der Wolde uses her unusually tall form to true advantage. Her duet with the short Mugen Kazama is hilarious. In the end, she does a split over him as he scampers near the floor.

Lithe Karina Gonzalez fills the house with easygoing fun. In the next 1996 "Por Vos Muero," by Nacho Duato, she stands out as the dancer who imbues her movement with emotion, adding life and dimension to the somber dance. There are several other highlights. The clarity of an intricate male fight duet is marvelous. Without swords, or literal-looking violence, the arms and hands defend and assault. In "Por Vos Muero" , and in the Spanish manner, the hands are expressive tools. When once or twice they are too dramatic, it is as if the appendages are disengaged from the soul or center.

When the curtain opens on "Por Vos Muero," they are all onstage and walking backward. Could this have benefited from more conviction? It was not a promising preamble. Later, in the same barely-there costumes, there are several very engaging duets. Duato's set with Nicholas Fischtel's lighting design is another highlight. The cyclorama is draped and paneled. A female dance with masks ends with an interesting coda. As the women exit, they reach back and plaster their masks against the panels, creating a very striking, inanimate tableau. You must see it. After they exit, the men dance a dimly lit rite, as thurifers swinging aromatic incense. The dancing and liturgical-sounding music coalesce in a religious experience.

Finally, that applause that Hue requested with her silly sign in the closing "This Is Your LIfe." The house stood to congratulate the company. Is it true they were presenting New Yorkers with a reflection? In any case, they deserve the ovation for following paths less travelled, especially in the case of the keeper "Elite Syncopations," notwithstanding the disco ball decor. It made the enjoyable August night.

Karina Gonzalez and Alfonso Martin

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Jean-Richard


Alexandra Bergman and Rupert Edwards

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Jean-Richard


Ricardo Graziano, Serena Chu, Ma Cong

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Jean-Richard

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