Maria Kochetkova: “Catch Her If You Can”
The Joyce Theater
New York, New York
July 16, 2019
Bach Duet (from New Suite); Painting Greys; Tué; Degunino; White Swan Pas de Deux; Rachel, Nevada (world premiere); At the End of the Day; Masha Machine (world premiere)
Although she’s well-known to ballet aficionados, Maria Kochetkova isn’t as well-known among those less familiar with dance as, say, Wendy Whelan, Diana Vishneva, or Natalia Osipova. Each of these ballerinas have, relatively recently, presented evenings of dance presumably devoted to what they wanted to dance, and perhaps to direct their energies in a new direction. Now comes Kochetkova doing the same thing, with a “Kochetkova and Friends”-type program (formally titled “Catch Her If You Can”) at the Joyce Theater that began a week-long run Tuesday night.
Why? Well, why not? The Joyce is a perfect venue for a program consisting of short pieces that require little in the way of sets, and to experiment outside the performing box that audiences are familiar with. But this wasn’t the program that it could have been, and should have been. Each of the program’s seven short pieces was performed well by Kochetkova and/or her colleagues, but the dances, as fine as some of them are, are forgettable. And the program’s variety is not the issue – the dances were, commendably, very different from each other. Substance, and their significance with respect to Kochetkova’s new career as a freelance ballerina no longer affiliated with a company, is.
I’ll consider them below roughly in order of preference rather than presentation.
The piece I found most intriguing was by a Spanish-born choreographer with whom I have no familiarity, Marcos Morau. Degunino, which premiered a year ago, is a solo performed by Kochetkova in the middle of the program. It would have been helpful to have program notes, but there were none, and I have little understanding of what Morau is trying to say. But thanks to Kochetkova’s performance and Morau’s minimal choreography / staging, I found it both unusual and compelling, and for a variety of reasons it brought to mind images I’ve seen of performances to Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrrot Lunaire. The title of Morau’s piece has no meaning I can discern (Degunino is a region in Russia, but that seems irrelevant to the dance; and degu is a burrowing rat, which also doesn’t work).
Kochetkova plays a character that, through her costume (a fishnet-like covering dotted with little designs, and with strategically applied patches of fabric), her unusual hair style (sort of a bun, but cartoonishly standing up from her head), and her movement quality (primarily, but not exclusively, like a marionette) is mechanical. Through most of the dance she moves rigidly and angularly, but with an underlying fluid sense as well, as if she were a doll trying to break free from her movement limitations. Throughout the dance she’s illuminated by one spot fixed in the rafters, upstage left, to which she continually returns, seemingly pleading, or praying.
To O Heavenly King by Alexander Knaiful (a Russian composer with whom I was also unfamiliar), Morau has crafted this little dance of hope and agony to visualize this doll appealing to a superior, heavenly being for an opportunity to be more than she is, and, by extension, as a representation of that same hope, and agony, of performing artists who strive to be something better than they are. Degunino is a strange dance, and it might not appeal to many dancegoers for that reason, but the apparent theme, and Kochetkova’s melancholy performance, is endearing the way Pierrot Lunaire is both strange and endearing.
If there’s one contemporary choreographer whose work is instantly recognizable, it’s Marco Goecke. That’s not necessarily a good thing. I’ve commented about Goeke’s choreography on many occasions: more often than not his movement appears primarily limited to demonstrating how fast and in how many directions a dancer can move his or her arms. It’s definitely a language he’s created, but it’s at best difficult to translate, and it makes his dancers appear like insects. Every once in awhile I get what he’s trying to say, but Tué (loosely translated: death or I’m dying), a solo danced by Jacoby, didn’t initially appear to be one of them. Then, suddenly, it did.
To dramatic and sensitively-rendered songs, in French, sung by a chanteuse with passion and pathos, Goecke here has his dancer move like a hybrid praying mantis and swan, with the stereotypical relatively disembodied arm movement punctuated with what appear to be bird-like arm gestures and occasional images of emotional death. The recorded second song ends with applause, to which Jacoby, stoically, bows. Aha! I thought, as the dance progressed. This is some tribute by Goecke to Edith Piaf, France’s “little sparrow,” whose songs of love and loss, sorrow and pain, made her an international star. Clever, I thought. And then I checked the program – the singer is someone named “Barbara,” whose voice and delivery sounds a lot like Piaf, but heavier and deeper. Close, but no cigar, I thought.
I later checked – Barbara (real name: Monique Andrée Serf), who died in 1997, was another French chanteuse with a painful personal history (though not quite as sordid and tragic as Piaf) who sang of love and loss, sorrow and pain – though I suppose it’s all relative. Her repertoire included songs by Piaf and Jacques Brel, among others, and she was a French and European legend even if not well known here. Although I understand that Barbara appeared in New York at one point – in 1986, at the Metropolitan Opera, in a combined song and dance presentation with Mikhail Baryshnikov that I wish I’d been aware of – I’d not heard of her. Apparently, my loss.
On stage, Barbara, who was tall, usually wore black – a signature appearance. In Tué, Jacoby, who is relatively tall, wore black. So though not a tribute to Piaf, Tué is a tribute to Barbara, who well deserves it. So I learned something – and even though it’s not what I thought, Goecke’s dance makes sense, and in hindsight (and despite its “language”) I appreciate it, and Jacoby’s execution of it, more than I did when I watched it.
Myles Thatcher is a member of the corps of San Francisco Ballet, where Kochetkova was a Principal for 11 years. Carlo Di Lanno, born in Italy, is also a SFB Principal, having been promoted in 2016 before joining that company as a soloist two years earlier. It isn’t clear to me what Thatcher is attempting to communicate with this solo (if anything), titled Painting Greys, beyond movement to the eponymous composition by Ernest Fenn, but after initially scratching my head, I began to admire Di Lanno’s smooth as silk artistry as he meandered around the stage. I got the impression that Di Lanno’s character was spending a quiet night at home when he’d rather be doing something else, but that’s not clear. Indeed, nothing is particularly clear in Painting Greys, including Di Lanno’s character’s ambiguous gender, and maybe that’s the point – grey may be the most ambiguous of colors. Were it not for Di Lanno’s compelling movement quality and tall, amiable appearance (picture a baby-faced Apollo), I might have found Painting Greys dull as … grey, but Di Lanno made it look interesting.
The program opened with Bach Duet, an excerpt from William Forsythe’s New Suite. I’ve not seen the complete piece, but judged solely by Bach Duet, it’s one of the better Forsythe dances I’ve seen. By that I mean that it’s a straightforward duet without a hint of the nihilism and irreverence that to me mark other Forsythe pieces. And although the duet doesn’t go anywhere or have an agenda, it’s beautifully structured, with images that melt into long visual lines formed by Kochetkova and her partner, Sebastian Kloborg, that are striking.
Kochetkova and Kloborg returned later in the program with David Dawson’s At the End of the Day. This is a far more athletic duet, and far more stunning looking with the dancers in white (designed by Chloe) that provide a beautiful, other-worldly (or end of the world) sense to the choreography. Choreographed to Polish-born contemporary composer Szymon Brzoska’s Migrations, which speaks to migrations (separations) of the soul as well as from one place to another, At the End of the Day addresses, in a slightly different way, a similar emotional sense. And the final image, after Kloborg runs offstage, of Kochetkova bending backward deeply, as if winding up to project herself through space to follow him, was one of the most stunning of the evening.
Dawson’s other piece wasn’t as successful. He created his own version of Swan Lake for the Scottish Ballet in 2016, and this program was the Act II White Swan Pas de Deux from Dawson’s completely original ballet. Danced by Sofiane Sylve (another SF Ballet principal, and former member of New York City Ballet) and Di Lanno, the only resemblance between this excerpt and the Petipa / Ivanov-derived versions of Swan Lake that are familiar is the Tchaikovsky music. There is little in the way of expressed emotion, and little that bore any apparent relationship to the story. [Note to self: don’t complain about overdone pathos in Odette anymore; be careful what you wish for.] Perhaps it’d make more sense in context, but as presented it was disappointing.
Rachel, Nevada looks interesting also – with the emphasis on “looks.” A “production” (music composition and direction) by former DJ, film producer, and music producer Sam Spiegel, with choreography by Jacoby, Rachel, Nevada is all looks and silliness – but the looks are interesting. The piece begins with Jacoby and Kochetkova wearing costumes of orange and dark pink (or pink and purple, as they appear in the attached photos) that look like they’re a reference to a children’s television show (a bit like the costumes in Teletubbies, with a roll or two around their middles), acting child-like and posing in between strobe effects. [No, this isn’t like David Parsons’s Caught – there’s too much time between the illuminated images, and the posing is static rather than “stopped” in mid-air.] Then the black rear curtain parts, and a moving projection of constantly changing and evolving black and white spheres, cones, etc. is projected against the upstage scrim, in front of which Jacoby and Kochetkova prance around in changing visual patterns of orange and pink, at times mimicking the slant of the projected black and white images, at times not. I don’t know what Spiegel is doing here, except perhaps making a commentary on kids television – after all, when you see Rachel, Nevada, you think “Hannah Montana.” And the moving projection designs are kewl.
The weakest dance on the program, and the shortest, was the last – and it perhaps reflects why the program overall, though not of poor quality, was a mishmash of styles.
The dance (and I use the word loosely) is reportedly choreographed by Jerome Bel, and is billed as a duet between Kochetkova and Bel. The “duet” is a lengthy text message exchange between the two of them over a period of years, projected on a screen, during which they discuss their likes and dislikes, what Kochetkova wants to do with her life, and a possible collaboration with Bel. The messages (I don’t question their veracity), though entertaining and revealing, take what seemed like an hour (really maybe 10 minutes) to present. It was followed by a brief (one or two minute at most) solo dance by Kochetkova consisting largely of Romantic-like poses and movement. Kochetkova is miked, and provides intermittent comments that describe her experience as she dances. The dance looked vaguely like sensitivities derived from ballet, with a slight (very slight) added allusion to Isadora Duncan, without Duncan’s sense of freedom and expression. As it nears its conclusion, she says “I dance with air.”
If that’s how Kochetkova describes her dancing, that’s both beautiful and unfortunate. Beautiful because it’s a lovely expression; unfortunate because it reveals a sense of detachment that I often found evident in her performances (and maybe why she’s such a superb interpreter of Wayne McGregor as well, although nothing from McGregor was presented in this program). Perhaps more importantly, what it also shows is that ideally she sees herself as a Romantic ballerina, maybe trying, but not really wanting, to break free – and there was nothing on this program that reflects that. What it does reflect are brief dances, or excerpts from dances, that she likes. [As one of her Masha Machine text messages stated, she believes “There’s a lot of junk out there.” Amen.] The program’s contents weren’t junk. But I don’t think they say anything about Kochetkova either. Maybe that will come, eventually, as her freelance career evolves and she decides not just what she likes, but what she wants to dance.