[This is an “instant” review of performances I saw at the final two performances of the Joyce Ballet Festival. As soon as possible, I’ll elaborate on it further (and correct inevitable typos and grammatical errors), and add sections relating to the first two programs, in a subsequent full review.]

Ballet Festival 2019
The Joyce Theater
New York, New York

Jerry Hochman

The Joyce Theater has presented annual summer ballet festival for several years utilizing various formats, and it has proven to be a wonderful addition to New York City’s summer dance landscape, filling both a scheduling and content gap that has increased over the years. This year, the festival focused on stars … primarily from The Royal Ballet, but abetted by dancers from American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet. My discomfort with some of the pieces had nothing to do with the dancers, who were flat out fabulous in whatever they performed, but I found much of the choreography to be either unmemorable or uninspired.

But they saved the best for last.

The four-program 2019 Joyce Theater Ballet Festival’s concluding program last night ended with the most intriguing of the dances presented, and one of the most original dances I’ve seen all year. Equally significant, it saved Program D from being the unfortunate set of selected dances presented during the first half of the program.

Based on those pieces of his that I’ve seen, Arthur Pita is one of the most inventive of contemporary choreographers. He takes risks – not so much with choreography – which is blessedly free from the quirkiness that infects much of contemporary choreography, but with concepts. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t, but his dances are never dull. Cristaux is one of this finest.

The word cristaux, translated, means crystals. And describing the ballet as being inspired by crystals would not be far wrong. The costumes for each of the dance’s three segments each feature one dancer costumed to one extent or another in silvery crystals. But Cristaux is far more than being only that, or reflecting that its choreography is crystalline, which it is. The ballet premiered in 2016 with Ballet Black in London [which may have only been the first part of what here is a three part ballet).

I may be far off base, but to me the significance of Cristaux is its relationship with an ideal, whether that ideal is an object of desire, or a spiritual ideal – which may be seen as two sides of the same form of yearning. In a sense, it’s relates to worship, with its allusions to gods and goddesses implying taking an ideal to a higher level. [I doubt that the title’s similarity to Christ is accidental, although here any messianic sense is a stretch.] Its three-part structure (“cristaux – a,” “cristaux – b,” and “cristaux in c” – a play on the music, the adagio from Bizet’s Symphony in C), reflects a lunar based ideal (moon-goddess, with an additional Indian-goddess character in the choreography), a solar ideal, and an Apollo-like birth of what may become an ideal, who takes his inspiration from the prior visions. The sense of yearning , in “a,” is from human to ideal / goddess; in “b” the same — though it also apparently is from goddess to human; and in “c” to what it means to be a desired / adored – that is, you have to know what it feels like in order to become one.

I’ll elaborate more on this later, but the dance, in addition to being mesmerizing and intriguing, was brilliantly performed by Robbie Fairchild and the exquisite Sarah Lamb in “a,” Edward Watson and Maria Kowroski at her most magnificent in “b,”; and Watson, with visions of the others, in “c”. If you have an opportunity to see it, don’t miss it.

The Festival’s other highlight was the entirety of Program C: Gemma Bond’s “Then and Again” (apparently revised), which featured wonderful performances by Stephanie Williams, Cassandra Trenary, Anabel Katsnelson, Thomas Forster, and the rest of the ABT-dancer cast, excerpts from Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s marvelous and wickedly choreographed Elite Syncopations (with Trenary more than holding her own against the Royal dancers more familiar with the piece, including Lamb and Marcelino Sambe), which closed the program. Most significant, however, was the performance of Maurice Bejart’s Song of the Wayfarer by David Hallberg and Joseph Gordon, which will live in memory as one of the finest performances of anything – period.

More on the entire Festival to follow.