Assessment: Remaking the Ballets Russes, With a Queer Spin
Most dancers know the second they caught the dance bug. For the choreographer Christopher Williams, rising up in Syracuse, it was at a efficiency of “Les Sylphides,” acknowledged as the primary ballet blanc, or plotless ballet. This Michel Fokine work, initially carried out by Sergei Diaghilev’s influential Ballets Russes in 1909, presents a shimmering world during which a younger poet meets a gaggle of sylphs, their blindingly white lengthy tutus casting the scene in a ghostly haze.
Through the years, Williams has held firmly onto that have: It was the primary ballet he noticed, as he writes in program notes, “that made me wish to embody one thing hauntingly otherworldly.”
Unearthly, ethereal, magical and, sure, otherworldly: These phrases are synonymous with Williams’s dances, for which he has mined Greek mythology, folklore and the lives of saints. For his debut program on the Joyce Theater, which opened Tuesday, Williams pays homage to his personal dance awakening — and to different works from the Ballets Russes — to create a brand new model of “Les Sylphides.”
Williams’s “Les Sylphides” is overly repetitive, a troublesome hurdle to beat with the spiraling, seemingly ceaseless motion vocabulary. But it surely builds into one thing of a gem when the choreography turns into much less about making shapes than feeling them. Definitely, this euphoric “Les Sylphides” is the spotlight of the night.
It’s additionally private. As with one other new Ballets Russes-era reimagining on this system, “The Afternoon of a Faun,” Williams has put a queer twist on the unique. Each are carefully related to Vaslav Nijinsky, the sensational dancer who choreographed and starred within the first, extremely erotic “Faun”; Williams’s response is to forged Taylor Stanley, a gifted New York Metropolis Ballet principal whose soulful, refined dancing manifests from the within out. Whereas extremely exact, Stanley has the flexibility to be mysterious with out seeming to attempt; right here, he’s one thing of a wizard in the way in which he brings to life the sculptural poses so harking back to Nijinsky, but together with his personal trendy beating coronary heart.
In “Les Sylphides,” set to Chopin, Stanley has a superb accomplice within the dancer Mac Twining, who additionally seems with him in excerpts from “Narcissus.” (Extra excerpts from “Daphnis & Chloé” solely served to sluggish this system down; the primary half, together with components of “Faun,” landed someplace on the moony facet of sluggish.) Because the Poet, Twining, who’s first seen writing in a journal with a quill whereas sitting on the sting of the stage — it’s not as horrible because it sounds — encounters the Queen of the Sylphs (Stanley), who guidelines over a tribe of woodland faeries.
For the Sylphs, Williams takes unfastened inspiration from the Radical Faeries, a countercultural motion of queer communities who reside off the grid; his Sylphs — spiraling and twisting as they spill out and in of formations throughout the stage — recall to mind earth-tone butterflies, speeding and darting in a dusky night time.
Naked-chested and carrying gossamer skirts embellished with cobweb-like veins and delicate wings affixed to their forearms — the costumes are by Andrew Jordan, Williams’s proficient, longtime collaborator — these Sylphs, with Stanley as their chief, band collectively to indicate the Poet that their way of life is an efficient motive for him to slide out of his garments and be a part of their tribe. Exuberant and tender, with an eye fixed towards the erotic, they entice him till he’s consistent with the group.
After a lilting dance reaches a feverish pitch — the Sylphs’ piqué turns spin quicker and quicker till they elevate, seemingly hovering within the air — Twining, flushed with freedom, is left alone with Stanley, who spins him out of his garments. Collectively, they rush into the wing. It’s cute.
For “Afternoon of a Faun,” to Debussy, Williams once more works with an all-male forged to reinvent the sexually charged story that includes a Faun (Stanley) and the Chief of the Nymphs (Joshua Harriette). Williams’s model takes a extra sinister tone than Nijinsky’s erotic one, sparked by a line within the Mallarmé poem for which the dance is called: the Faun refers to — as Williams writes — a “kiss that quietly provides assurance of treachery.”
Williams’s Nymphs are extra barbarous than normal; his Faun, an harmless, doesn’t stand an opportunity and, in the long run, is devoured by them. It’s a little bit goofy — extra comical than stunning, like a scene out of a zombie apocalypse film. There was laughter. However the sweep of “Les Sylphides” — with its nod to Nijinsky and, it appeared, to Isadora Duncan — led to a unique sort of laughter, one born of enjoyment. It wasn’t simply Jordan’s fanciful costumes holding the dance collectively, it was the dancing. And that was totally different.
Christopher Williams Dances
Via Sunday on the Joyce Theater, joyce.org.
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