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November 6, 2017
Review: Dresden Semperoper Ballett at the Joyce
Gina Scott, Alice Mariani, Zarina Stahnke and Michael Tucker in David Dawson's "5" at The Joyce Theater. Photo © Yi-Chun Wu.

Dresden Semperoper Ballett made its Joyce debut this week, presenting one world premiere, and three other works new to the New York stage. The German ballet company, helmed by Artistic Director Aaron Watkins, incorporates both the classical and the contemporary into its repertoire, making for a dynamic and moving evening of work.

The program opened with David Dawson’s 5, a reimagining of the wedding dance from the classical Giselle. Adapted from his longer restaging, this pas de cinque showcases Dawson’s ability to think tangentially of traditional classical ballet. The piece is light, fast-paced, and exciting to watch. The dancers’ technique and individual strengths are showcased in a fresh, elegant way, seamlessly transitioning between pure ballet mechanics and contemporary expression. Dawson’s choreography, which keeps its roots in Giselle but allows its branches to grow wild, demonstrates that this is how classical ballet should be reimagined for the 21st century.

The second piece of the evening, and one of its highlights, was Joseph Hernandez’s world premiere: Ganz Liese Kommt Die Nacht / The Night Falls Quietly. With choreography, costume design, and lighting design all by Hernandez, Night takes on the kind of intimate feeling that can only accompany a deeply personal work.

Danced by four company members, the whole piece has a suspended quality to it; as though everyone is consistently hovering just a few centimeters off the floor. The movement is angular while also being fluid, and paired with the dark liquidity of the jazz fusion music, Hernandez’s choreography is shadowy and dynamic. Watching it, one is truly drawn in by the sense that each dancer is trying to save themselves, and the others, from some inevitable depth—perhaps loneliness, perhaps obscurity, or perhaps just humanity.

ón Vallejo, Francesco Pio Ricci, Aidan Gibson and Ayaha Tsunaki in Joseph Hernandez's "Ganz leise kommt die Nacht" at The Joyce Theater. Photo © Yi-Chun Wu

Act 2 of the evening opened with a short duet: the New York premiere of David Dawson’s On the Nature of Daylight. Danced by Alice Mariani and Julian Amir Lacey, the dreamlike vignette is like watching the denouement of a romance film. Set to music by Max Richter, the piece is marked by a sense of romance, and by shapes in motion, almost like time has frozen for these two, just long enough for us to get a 360 degree view of how they are loving in an exact moment.

The program closed with the US premiere of Stijn Celis’ Vertigo Maze. Celis’ piece is a standout of the evening. Danced by eight dancers and set to Bach’s Chaconne for Solo Violin and Four Voices, Vertigo Maze feels like an aria for the human body.

The piece is very anatomical; the movement showcases the body’s many capabilities, which is accented by the minimalist costumes. The women wear corsets that have a spinal quality to them, while both men and women wear nude colored underwear so as not to disturb the line of the body.

Celis plays with initiation beautifully, having his dancers’ actions come from places so unexpected that the movement takes on an almost grotesque wrongness. The abstract ballet is unlike most of what’s out there, though it echoes vaguely of Jiří Kylián’s Petit Mort, if only in aesthetic. For all its artful sharp edges, the piece moves smoothly between solo, duet, and group sections, beginning and culminating in a reverential silence.

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