Fantasy Baroque, Dreams Interrupted; Afternoon of a Faun, Tears of the Moon (Moonlight Sonata Pas de Deux), Confetti

Union County Performing Arts Center, Rahway, NJ; March 21, 2014

Jerry Hochman

Alice Cao and Jacopo Janelli in Trinette Singleton's 'Dreams Interrupted'. Photo © Leighton Chen

Alice Cao and Jacopo Janelli in Trinette Singleton’s ‘Dreams Interrupted’.
Photo © Leighton Chen

American Repertory Ballet returned to the Union County Performing Arts Center last month for an evening of dances collectively named: “Signature Duets: Dances of Daring and Devotion.” The ‘Signature Duets’ part of the title wasn’t quite accurate: many of the pieces weren’t duets. But this mattered less than the quality of the dances, which was generally quite high, and which included one world premiere and a piece by Joffrey Ballet co-founder Gerald Arpino. They were the evening’s highlights.

ARB has many connections with the Joffrey Ballet, New York City’s third major ballet company until it moved to Chicago in 1995. Artistic Director, Douglas Martin, and Resident Choreographer and Ballet Master, Mary Barton, both had lengthy careers as leading dancers with them; and Trinette Singleton, another former leading dancer with them, and who staged Mr. Arpino’s “Viva Vivaldi” (a Joffrey staple) for ARB, appeared as Lady Capulet in Mr. Martin’s “Romeo and Juliet” this season. Ms. Singleton choreographed for the company two years ago and has now created another ballet, “Dreams Interrupted”, which was given its world premiere here.

“Dreams Interrupted” is not without flaws, but is very interesting. It’s a pas de trois that might well be a pas de deux, or vice versa. By that I mean that the woman who is the focus of the piece has two distinct ‘fantasy’ lovers with whom she dances, sometimes together and sometimes individually. One of them is a ‘good’ man (‘the stereotypical ‘nice guy’ who also happens to be physically appealing to her), the other a ‘bad’ man (dangerous-looking; edgy; Taylor Swift’s ‘trouble’). But her fantasy can also be seen as having one lover who may have a Jekyll and Hyde split personality, the two sides portrayed separately by two dancers. Regardless, the ballet is a vivid portrait of a woman torn between competing desires.

The central focus of “Dreams Interrupted” is the battle within the woman’s mind. Passionately portrayed by Alice Cao, she is first seen walking alone in what appears to be evening (it’s dark), on her way somewhere from work, a meeting, a gathering of friends, or perhaps a bar; dressed casually, but neatly, in a skirt and blouse. She’s somewhat pensive. Suddenly, a T-shirted, animalistic man, danced by Jacopo Janelli, emerges as if from nowhere, and is practically on top of her. Their dance is mutually aggressive, he being strongly demanding, she resisting his advances with all her power. Then another man, played by Cameron Auble-Branigan, approaches her. Dressed in business shirt and tie, he is warm and gentle but no less virile, and she welcomes his advances. The action progresses to the point where the two men alternate, and the woman is at once being assaulted, and then romanced, back and forth, and then the three flee offstage.

In the subsequent scene, the woman is on her bed, wearing what passes for a nightgown. Again, suddenly, the ‘bad man’ appears (as a physical representation of her mind’s vision), succeeded shortly thereafter by the ‘good man’. The individual pas de deux continue, segueing into a threesome. At times she’s torn between them as if she’s a rope being pulled at both ends. It’s obvious at this point that these ‘men’ represent her yearnings both for excitement and danger, and for romance and security. Eventually, the ‘bad man’ is forced aside, and she dances lovingly with the ‘good man’. He then leaves, she returns to her bed, only to have the ‘bad man’ suddenly reappear from behind her, ready to pounce.

It all sounds somewhat trite and simplistic, but it isn’t. It’s a tight, dark, psychological fantasy, filled with uncomplicated but fiery dancing. My only criticism is that the opening scene is unclear – indeed, it takes a while before one realizes that the action isn’t a street mugging that might lead to a more violent act, with a knight in shining business attire coming to the woman’s rescue. But perhaps that’s the point. And if the full 11-minute piece took place in the woman’s bedroom, that would create a sense of choreographic repetitiveness that using two discrete scenes avoids. The accompanying music, apparently of the same name (by Pierre Bohemond, a contemporary composer based in Easton, PA), is rapturous, eerie, and compelling, and Ms. Singleton’s choreography brings out the best in it. It’s a very fine little piece, superbly performed by all three dancers. Mr. Janelli, a company trainee, merits particular praise for his dominating, feral performance.

Mattia Pallozzi and Nanako Yamamoto in Mary Barton's 'Fantasy Baroque'. Photo © Leighton Chen

Mattia Pallozzi and Nanako Yamamoto in Mary Barton’s ‘Fantasy Baroque’.
Photo © Leighton Chen

The evening opened with “Fantasy Baroque”, a piece for three couples choreographed by Ms. Barton to music by J.S. Bach. As “Dreams Interrupted” is dark, this is light. And whereas Ms. Singleton’s ballet is a fantasy in the sense of a dream, Ms. Barton’s is a play on words – ‘fantasy’ in the musical sense (as in one of Bach’s Baroque Fantasies – the specific music used isn’t identified), and ‘fantasy’ in the sense of something that’s happily imagined or pretended that may or may not be real. The subject matter is simple: there was a lot of hanky-panky going on in the presumably starched Baroque era (just as it is known there was in the equally straight-laced Victorian era). Three couples costumed in period-inspired attire meet, perhaps for an outing at the beach, and do what young couples do when they go to the beach. So I’m told. But given that this is the Baroque era, they have to keep their real motivations under wraps – thick, artificial-looking, heavily made-up, bewigged (for the men), bloomered (for the women) wraps.

The ballet is bright and cute and frothy and frisky, like a day at the beach. And the choreography is pleasantly varied – that is, there’s a lot of it, and there’s considerable distinction to the solos and duets as certain characters get to show off in front of their partners, or in front of their friends (who, at the time, may be preoccupied with more amorous pursuits). Monica Giragosian, Shaye Firer, Nanako Yamamoto, Stephen Campanella, Mattia Pallozzi, and Marc St-Pierre all did a fine job transmitting the coy humor, although as fun as it is intended to be, at times it looked forced, as if the fun were pasted on rather than emerging from the characters naturally – although this may have been Ms. Barton’s intent.

Following a repeat performance of Guest Choreographer Kirk Peterson’s “Afternoon of a Faun”, reviewed previously, the company presented an excerpt from his “Tears of the Moon”, which premiered last October, and that I have not yet seen. Called the Moonlight Sonata Pas de Deux, the excerpt shows a relationship on the brink – he pursuing; she needing, and wanting, to be convinced. It’s remindful, on a smaller and less complex scale, of portions of Antony Tudor’s “Jardin Aux Lilas”, with elements of yearning and forbidden love, but it begs some context – which perhaps the complete ballet would have provided. The piece was danced and acted ardently and with muted passion by Samantha Gullace and Edward Urwin.

The evening concluded with a rousing performance of Mr. Arpino’s “Confetti”, a three couple piece staged by another Joffrey alumna, Charthel Arthur. Last year, after seeing the company assay Mr. Arpino’s “Viva Vivaldi”, I noted that it was a stretch for them. “Confetti” is a similar stretch for the three couples – Karen Leslie Moscato and Joshua Kurtzberg, Ms. Grigosian and Mr. Campanella, and Ms. Cao and Mr. St. Pierre – but they handled the piece’s technical demands well, and transmitted its effervescence with natural ease.

I must also credit the costumes and lighting for each of the company-generated pieces, respectively by Michelle Ferranti and Lauren Parrish. Those for “Fantasy Baroque” (which also featured masks and head pieces by Gina Ricca), and the Mooonight Sonata Pas de Deux were particularly impressive.

Seeing the Joffrey Ballet when it was located in New York and performed at City Center was a regular constituent of the mix of dance that I saw when I first started to attend ballet performances in the Stone Age. It presented an eclectic combination of newly-created ballets by Robert Joffrey and Mr. Arpino, as well as classic revivals (including Kurt Jooss’s “The Green Table” and “Big City”, Leonid Massine’s “Parade”, Nijinsky’s “L’Après Midi d’un Faun”) and new choreography by emerging artists (such as Twyla Tharp’s “Deuce Coupe” and “As Time Goes By”). I liked the Joffrey a lot, and its absence from the New York area has been a loss. If ARB is trending toward filling that void, that would be a good thing. And if they’ve presented “Viva Vivaldi” and “Confetti”, can “Suite Saint-Saëns”, one of my favorite Arpino pieces, be far behind?