Gerald Lynch Theater, New York, NY; March 6, 2014
New York is fertile territory for dance any time of year, but the period in between seasons of the two major New York-based ballet companies, New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, seems particularly attractive to dancers looking for an opportunity to display their choreographic ability, and to high caliber professional dancers with these companies to spread their performing wings. These performances come and go quickly, and I often find out about them after they’ve already happened. But I learned of upcoming performances of Tom Gold Dance at the Gerald Lynch Theater (a very nice space within eyeshot of Lincoln Center), featuring dancers from both NYCB and ABT, and jumped at the opportunity to finally see Mr. Gold’s company.
It proved to be one of my better decisions. Mr. Gold, a former NYCB soloist, has significant ability as a choreographer, and the group of dancers he’s assembled is top notch. They included NYCB Principal Dancer Sterling Hyltin; and Marika Anderson, Likolani Brown, Meaghan Dutton O’Hara, Daniel Applebaum, and Andrew Scordatto, all members of the NYCB corps; Nicole Graniero and Luciana Paris from the ABT corps. The ensemble was completed by former NYCB Principal, Stephen Hanna; and former dancer with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Los Angeles Ballet, Nancy Richer.
Mr. Gold’s company was formed in 2007. Based on this performance, my not seeing them previously has been my loss. The program not only provided the opportunity to see superb dancers out of the major company fishbowl, and to see them dance to an extent that I rarely get the opportunity to see with their own companies, but also to see choreography that would have been fun to watch even if it weren’t for the quality of the dancers who performed it.
All three ballets: “Urban Angels”, “The Ladies’ Room”, and “La Plage” (the first two of which were world premieres) are very good dances, each sufficiently different from the other to maintain choreographic and visual variety, and each executed wonderfully. Overall, I was particularly impressed in all three pieces by Mr. Gold’s use of the stage, filling it with movement (even in the middle piece, with only three dancers), varying the movement quality and tone and patterning consistently, but with an overall sense of control, including knowing when to stop, that results in the dance never looking crammed with superfluous movement for movement’s sake, and the stage never looking overly busy. Simply put, Mr. Gold is as fine a choreographer as I recall he was as a dancer – perhaps better. His dances aren’t mechanical, and his dancers aren’t robots. He choreographs with obvious intelligence, but also with heart.
The idea of having dancers assume movement associated with creatures with wings is nothing new. But with “Urban Angels”, Mr. Gold takes angelic movement out of its comfort zone. The music, by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, is not identified, but it’s familiar. Mr. Jenkins has a background that includes compositions relating to religious themes, and has worked with Mike Oldfield. To my ear the music sounded like a synthesis of various religious compositions and “Tubular Bells” with a gothic twist. Indeed, before I saw the piece’s title, I wrote in my notes that it looked like ‘gothic angels’. “Urban angels” works too. Aside from the music itself, Mr. Gold credits his inspiration from a ‘monster’ from Dr. Who (the Weeping Angels), as well as Neapolitan angel ornaments hung on the annual Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has written that the way the light hits them makes them look holy, cherubic, or creepy. “Urban Angels” leaves out the cherubic, but combines the holy with the creepy. The simple black bottom, greyish top leotards on the women, by now-retired NYCB principal dancer Janie Taylor, complemented the mood.
Mr. Gold’s angels are bottled-up bolts of energy; statues released from, or struggling to be released from, stone imprisonment I thought of gargoyles from Notre Dame converted to menacing angels. When the movement isn’t controlled frenzy, it’s focused on individual ‘angels’ conveying a sense of sadness and doom as well as menace. They may not be fallen angels, but they’re confined to a place far from heaven. Dancers try to fly, but they’re weighted. When they spread their ‘wings’, they do so in staccato increments, as if fighting the weight of gravity and being pulled down as much as up; their shoulder and necks stretch as if to shake off whatever force binds them. Each dancer (Ms. Anderson, Ms. Brown, Ms. Dutton O’Hara, Ms. Richer, Mr. Appelbaum, Mr. Scordato, and Mr. Hanna) excelled. I particularly enjoyed watching Mr. Hanna, an oak in motion, at times resembling Paul Taylor; Ms. Dutton O’Hara, who has an infectious personality and always seems to be enjoying what she’s doing; and Ms. Brown, the most delicate and pensive of the angels. “Urban Angels” was a terrific way to open the program.
“The Ladies’ Room” is another matter entirely, but also extremely well done. It’s choreographed to music by Claude Debussy, and the room has mirrors, but that’s where the resemblance to “Afternoon of a Faun” ends. Indeed, these mirrors (there are three of them) are framed with open-mouthed snakes, poised to bite, with their extended two-pronged tongues sensing any proximate vulnerablility. The ‘room’ is a lounge, similar to rooms in legacy theaters, where ladies could freshen up in between ablutions and relax before being thrust back to societal demands as well as those of their companions. They smoke, chit-chat, and talk about how wonderful things are – but it’s all show – their lives may not be so wonderful.
In the piece, three women, Ms. Graniero, Ms. Paris, and Ms. Hyltin, meet in this ladies’ room. They preen, show off, and act like society women are supposed to act. And then one by one each steps out of her societal mask and in a brief soliloquy, shows what she’s really thinking or feeling. Ms. Graniero is the young relative novice, eager to show herself off and be swept off her feet. Ms. Paris, more sophisticated, longs for something real, and still hopes that it will happen. Ms. Hyltin, who does ‘throwaway’ gestures, like putting out her cigarette onto an imaginary ashtray, as well as she executes the most complex series of steps, is more experienced but also wounded. Wistful about what might have been, she maintains airs and appearances because that’s what society women in the public or semi-private eye do, but underneath there’s loss and pain. All three dancers conveyed their characters’ personalities thoroughly and completely, with a minimum of extraneous gesture. But Ms. Hyltin’s character was the most emotionally complex, and her performance was the most remarkable of the three.
“La Plage,” the final piece on the program, means ‘the beach’. But the beach is only one component – the dance, which is divided into three parts, appears to take place first in a ‘jungle’ setting, then on a beach (I sensed an island aura, but I couldn’t tell whether Caribbean or Hawaiian), with the third part largely underwater. To me “La Plage” was the least significant of the three dances on the program, but that’s relative – the ballet is more than beach blanket bingo; it’s simply a celebration of life. It’s a fun piece to watch, and it leaves the audience smiling. And Mr. Gold choreographed ‘swimming under water’ astonishingly well. I was sitting close to the stage, and could swear I got splashed. All the dancers (except Ms. Graniero) participated.
All “La Plage” needs is a bar serving tropical drinks – and based on the spiffy attire of much of the audience, as well as a tell-tale program insert, perhaps that was taken care of in a Gala that followed the performance. Regardless, this was an evening with considerable cause for celebration. Tom Gold Dance is well worth seeing.