The second program of Ballet Next, a classical ballet company that performed at the Joyce Theater this weekend, was exciting, intriguing, and sharp. Ballet Next was created by two former American Ballet Theatre principal dancers, Michelle Wiles and Charles Askegard, and boasts an all-star cast of dancers from diverse backgrounds—but confusing plots and music sometimes got in the way.
Opener Igor Stravinsky’s “Divertimento,” a pas de deux for Charles Askegard and Georgina Pazcoguin, started off blandly but became more spirited as the piece went on. Wearing shiny neon costumes, the dancers performed a classical pas de deux that incorporated elements of jazz. Their expressions at the beginning were wooden and boring, giving the choreography the same air. As the movement became freer, Pazcoguin began to smile, flirting with the audience as she showed off her sharp turns. It was pure fun to watch, but didn’t seem to fit Stravinsky’s violin music.
The most ambitious work on the program was Brian Reeder’s “Picnic,” which attempted to convey a story that ultimately went over my head. There were supposed to be six dancers—Michelle Wiles and Charles Askegard, Ballet Next’s co-artistic directors, with four other female dancers—but due to an injury, the piece was one dancer short. (Unfortunately, it was the one dancer I had most hoped to see: Erin Arbuckle, GS ’12 and former executive director of Columbia Ballet Collaborative.) The female dancers, wearing long white high-necked dresses and black pointe shoes, danced around a picnic blanket with a basket of flowers in the corner of the stage. Seeming almost like creepy horror movie dolls, the dancers walked around glassy-eyed, alternating between somber, dream-like walking and frantic, spastic movement.
At its best points, “Picnic” was witchy, haunting, and beautiful. One lift between Wiles and Askegard was particularly breathtaking: She lay horizontally across his knees on her back and his arms came up to form wings that framed her. At its worst, it was confusing. At one point, three female dancers stood in a circle holding hands and exchanged kisses. What was their relationship? The piece begged many questions of the audience that it never answered.
The highlight of the program was Mauro Bigonzetti’s “BachGround,” a sharp contemporary piece in which the dancers wore all black and utilized a row of folding chairs set up at the back of the stage. Strong, decisive dancers made the most out of contortionist and almost yogic movements set to Bach’s piano music. The music was an interesting choice that sometimes worked beautifully—as with dancer Clifford Williams’ solo, which was tortured and introspective—and other times seemed too even and rhythmical for the emotional nature of the piece. One or two dancers danced at a time while the rest sat in chairs at the back and watched—when it was their time to dance, they violently spun their chairs around to face forward. Although effectively startling the first time, the chair flip was overused and I was tired of it by the end.
The strength of “BachGround” lay in the pas de deux, which were stunning and sexy (another surprising incongruity with Bach’s made-for-church piano music). In one, the female dancer ran across the stage, developpé-ing her leg forward to almost hit her head, and the male caught both her and her foot from behind. At the end, he dropped her and she fell flat on top of him, the two forming a cross on the floor with their perpendicular bodies.
In a sense, the program was overambitious, attempting to fuse the classical with the contemporary in a way that is difficult to do. Ill-fitting music, confusing plots, and overly repetitive choreography all detracted at times from what would have otherwise been a beautifully executed program. Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly enjoyable performance and one entirely worth seeing.
Erin Arbuckle was the former executive, not artistic, director of CBC, and this article has been updated to reflect this change. Spectator regrets the error.