Sea of Tranquility

By Leigh Witchel

Years ago in an offhand conversation, a foundation’s program officer explained its funding profile bluntly: “We fund either small modern companies or large ballet companies.” Small ballet companies fall neatly into the cracks, and that’s why The Joyce’s Ballet Festival is such a mitzvah. A biennial event, this outing, the theater is presenting five different groups that wouldn’t reach this audience otherwise. Emery LeCrone, who participated in the first festival in 2015, led off.

LeCrone, has been prolific and gotten notice: she’s received commissions and done residencies at both City Center and The Joyce. This engagement had mostly live music and a large contingent of dancers. Her innate style isn’t classical, but has a looser, contemporary line. LeCrone’s men in particular didn’t seem to be classical dancers; you can see that in how they held their arms to the side: the inbred training to complete the curved, suspended line isn’t there.

Thumbing through the program, all the companies in the festival have all learned the inescapable rule of small ballet companies: get some big names. If there was a logical divide in the program, it was between the work LeCrone set on the group of less-known dancers – where she looks more like herself – and the more classical pieces LeCrone made for her esteemed guests.

Her first was her sister, Megan, a soloist with New York City Ballet. She opened the show with “In Memory,” a solo to a Martinů piano piece. One of Megan’s most compelling qualities is her obliqueness; even when she’s in front of us she seems to be half-hidden. It was hard to hide in a bright red dress by Marine Penvern, but the dance had a pensive quality, with Megan moving step-for-note to the score: échappés, bourrées and walks on pointe with languorous arms. The quiet, slow articulation felt like a soliloquy.

LeCrone kept the dance very simple, almost to the point of exposing. It looked like opening night jitters, but Megan was having trouble sticking the end of her turns and her final sauté to leave felt behind the music. Even with little fumbles, “In Memory” suited Megan – almost too well. Red dress or no, the solo felt white-on-white – a reticent work on an introverted dancer. Her flame as a dancer burns a cool blue, and it might have been interesting for her sister to turn the burner up a notch.

“The Innermost Part of Something.” Photo © Matthew Murphy

The other specialty act was from American Ballet Theatre: Corey Stearns and Stephanie Williams in “Time Slowing, Ending.” The short duet to a score by Brian Crain used the trappings of contemporary dance, a velvety dark stage and smoky sidelighting, but angst is something you didn’t see in LeCrone’s work. The worlds LeCrone created onstage were tranquil; Stearns and Williams were companions more than star-cross’d lovers.

The duet showed the pair off without breaking new ground. LeCrone seemed comfortable with ballet’s conventions of who partnered and who got partnered. Even lifts weren’t overly dramatic. Stearns is a forklift and he pressed Williams overhead like precision machinery, soundless and impeccably engineered. LeCrone inserted a short solo for him during a backstage crossing for Williams. LeCrone’s vocabulary was heavy on adagio, light on allegro: fluidity is her métier, even Stearns’ big jumps felt adagio. He pressed William skywards once again as the lights went out.

The other three pieces on the program didn’t have big name dancers, but gave a clearer picture of LeCrone’s choreographic voice. “Beloved,” to an interesting vocal score by David Lang inspired by the Song of Songs, was the most compelling, and typified LeCrone’s style.

“Beloved” inhabited a calm twilight. LeCrone spun out long phrases that flowed with the natural weight of where the movement was headed. There was little extreme and nothing violent there, only gentle encounters that flowed and embraced. At the end, the men took the women’s hands and the women leaned off balance. Even that was so subtle as to only hint at torsion. The sense of community was as placid. “Beloved” may have contained three couples, but it was more often a triple duet, with a sense of stability in the unison work. The dance ended by fading into night but continuing even as the music abruptly stopped.

Yet the rest of LeCrone’s group dances seemed to be created from the same impulse and materials. Though they had distinctions in costuming and speed, an excerpt from “The Innermost Part of Something” and the new “Radiant Field” relied on similar devices: multiple couples partnering, fading to darkness in an unending ending. Everything looked as if it all started with similar rolling movement phrases in the studio. If so, even if she kept that personal style, it would be interesting to see what would happen if LeCrone forced herself to try and create from a different impetus: a musical score 180° from her usual or a set that intruded on the dancing. Just to see if it would give birth to a strange new beast.

copyright © 2017 by Leigh Witchel

“In Memory,” “Beloved,” “The Innermost Part of Something,” “Time Slowing, Ending,” “Radiant Field” – Emery LeCrone DANCE
Ballet Festival
The Joyce Theater, New York, NY
July 18, 2017

Cover: “The Innermost Part of Something.” Photo © Matthew Murphy

Got something to say about this? Sound off here

Don’t miss a thing! We’ll send you a notification of every article we post if you sign up with your email. (The signup is right below, scroll down). We promise you won’t be deluged and we won’t spam you either.