Adagio & Scherzo, Rite of Spring, Moving Rooms

Polish National Ballet in Moving.Rooms Photo Ewa Krasucka

Polish National Ballet in Moving.Rooms
Photo Ewa Krasucka

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY
June 16, 2015

Jerry Hochman

For its New York debut at the Joyce Theater, the Polish National Ballet presented the New York premieres of Artistic Director Krzysztof Pastor’s Adagio & Scherzo and Moving Rooms, and in between, Emanuel Gat’s Rite of Spring. The program showed off a fine group of dancers, but lacked the variety to sufficiently display the company’s breadth of ballet repertoire.

Gat’s 2004 Rite of Spring was the strangest – and, curiously, the most interesting dance on the program. Unlike the relatively new Gat piece that was presented at The Joyce a few weeks ago by the Lyon Opera Ballet, this one had some semblance of visual interest. But Gat’s iconoclasm is still clearly present. There’s no stereotypical ‘tribal rite’ or primitive-looking movement: rather, the venue appears to be a Latin-style nightclub, and the movement is primarily monochromatic Latin ballroom.

It is unclear whether this is a conscious effort to relate Stravinsky’s score to a ballroom situation, essentially the ‘rite’ of selecting a partner in a nightclub, leaving one woman unclaimed, abandoned, and alone. Or the Latin nightclub locale is a metaphor for a more cosmic commentary on the games men and women play in choosing or rejecting a partner in any social setting. I think the latter interpretation gives Gat too much credit, but without it the choreographic ‘story’ looks overly simplistic.

But, simplistic or not, it looks interesting. The piece begins with three women taking positions while bathed in an overhead wash of red light. Two men appear, examine the three women, and select two of them to partner with. One would think that the third, who is left by herself, would be this piece’s equivalent of the Chosen One. And she is, but it’s not that simple. The men and their selected partners begin to dance, but then continuously, emotionlessly, and seamlessly change partners. A Latin ballroom pas de cinq. The flawless execution by the five dancers made this repetitive movement look mesmerizing – much like the tribal movement does in more standard-looking versions – until it became overused. At times the piece has the aura of Carmen, although there’s no build-up of choreographic tension. There isn’t much else to the piece. And until the last moment, when the ‘chosen’ woman (or, more accurately, the ‘unchosen’ woman) falls to the stage floor as the others leave, the only drama is provided by the score. But the piece is clearly crafted with a particular purpose, and is skillfully done. The performances were immaculate.

Pastor’s two pieces are likeable, but not particularly unusual. Both do the job as opening and closing pieces, and they illustrate his skill at creating combinations that reflect the music he’s selected. But his choreographic vocabulary is somewhat limited, and neither piece does anything to enhance the music.

MovingRooms Photo Ewa Krasucka

Photo Ewa Krasucka

Adagio and Scherzo takes its name from the second and third movements of Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major. It’s lovely and lyrical, plotless, with emotional gloss within each of the pairings. The two movements have a basic sameness to them despite the difference in tempo of the music. Pastor makes good use of staging, providing a sense of variety and visual interest to what is essentially a series of duets. A signature move is a soaring lift, at the apex of which the ballerina does a split and beyond. That’s a mundane description of what is a dramatic and sensuous combination, but it appears also to be the only weapon in Pastor’s choreographic arsenal, and it’s used too frequently. The simple costume design (by principal dancer Marta Fiedler) is essentially different color-blocks, which emphasize the individuality of each without making them completely independent entities.

The ballet opens dramatically, with the cast of eight frozen center stage, in an irregular circle. They soon walk away from that opening position, leaving one pair upstage right, and a separate man and woman in opposing corners upstage left and downstage right. The first couple dances gently and lyrically, then the two individuals come together and appear to echo the first couple’s steps – including glorious extensions by the women. The couples briefly change partners, then return. One man walks along the upstage and downstage perimeters, for no apparent reason other than to add stage depth and visual interest. Eventually, the dancers return to their original positions center stage as the first movement ends and the second begins, and the change in tempo brings a change in demeanor – the dancers suddenly smile. There were an increasing number of independent leg thrusts and rapid-fire turns, and particular displays of flexibility by the women. But there wasn’t much choreographic distinction between the first and second movements. Maria Zhuk, Yuka Beihara, and Aleksandra Liashenko (who is leaving the company at the end of its current tour) were particularly outstanding.

Moving Rooms is a visually interesting piece, more in its staging than choreography.  Pastor translates the music (excerpts from Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso and Gorecki’s Concert for Harpsichord and String Orchestra, Op. 40) into ‘spaces’ in which the mood and lighting changes with changes in the musical intensity. It too is abstract, but emphasizes fleeting emotional moods within each changed space. The exception is the recurring appearance of one man, whose visage and demeanor implies more than just being a visual counterpoint to the balance of the piece. Appearing pasty and skeletal, he dominates the stage like a cross between Death in The Green Table and the King of the White Walkers in Game of Thrones – but I haven’t a clue who or what he represents (if anything). He was commandingly danced by Carlos Martin Perez. Each of the remaining four featured dancers and six in supporting roles did an excellent job as well, notably Zhuk and Yuka Ebihara.

At its home, the Polish National Ballet has an eclectic repertoire. Although the program presented provides insight into its capabilities, it would have been more enlightening to see what the company’s dancers can do with classical ballet. Perhaps that’s part of the plan – so they’ll be invited to return.

Further CriticalDance reviews of Polish National Ballet: Casnaova in Warsaw, Nevermore…?, Soldiers’ Mass, The Green Table