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Review: At BalletX, a New Work Alive With Suspense and Surrealism

Category: Art & Culture,Dance

Mr. Neenan, whose tastes in music are diverse, has a wacky, perverse side. In “Situated,” there are eight dancers with eight chairs. The music, played on piano by Martha Koeneman, is six items from Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words”; but Mr. Neenan has the dancers speaking words (often not English ones) and seldom doing much dancing.

Everything is precisely choreographed, but largely in ways that make naturalistic behavior look peculiar. (The performers in one passage build their chairs into a single — and precarious — formal tableau, gaze at it solemnly, and then earnestly, carefully dismantle it.) There are tender duets, sometimes keenly scrutinized by the others, sometimes occurring as in private; but the overall mood is comic. I’m sorry this is a slight piece; Mr. Neenan has the talent to turn even an exercise in absurdity into something substantial.

“Requiem,” by the British choreographer Andrew McNicol, plunges in where angels fear to tread: it’s to Christian religious music and it’s to Mozart. Very few artists have the skill to handle Mozart in dance: However dance-friendly his music may sound, there are always more layers to it. And very few have the resources to address liturgical music. Here the words, in Latin, ask God to have mercy, warn of God’s anger, speak of the grief that will attend the Last Judgment: Who can choreograph that?

Many choreographers nonetheless try: I suppose Mr. McNicol’s “Requiem” (the music is taped) is the least misguided dance staging of the Mozart “Requiem” I’ve seen. It abounds in dramatic situations without telling stories: it builds sculptural groupings, it contrasts highs (dancers held high overhead) and lows (others supine on the floor), and sets speed beside stillness.

Mr. McNicol has plenty of formal skill; although he can’t match Mozart, he does much to show the music’s complexity. But his semi-abstracted dramas are wrong for the very specific dramas of the soul conjured by the Requiem’s verbal text.

I have the impression that choreographers don’t just tell BalletX performers what to do but learn from them. Certainly these three works gain from the dancers’ excellence: three-dimensional, richly textured, constantly alive with dynamic contrasts.

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