Most distinct to me was his use of funny little gestures. Many choreographers—like Christopher Wheeldon and Jorma Elo—play with flexed hands and fidgety, non-balletic port de bras. But Beamish used these tics as linguistics, not just aesthetics. His dancers seemed to be conversing with each other, like they had some odd sign language that only they understood. But the more I watched, the more I realized that it was actually easy to understand what they meant. The gestures were unconventional but legible. These were not the abstract semiotics of Bournonville, these were universally human gesticulations. A fist to the mouth, an elbow stabbing into a
Since Janie was my motivator I’ll jump to her ballet, Surface Properties, which happened to be the evening’s world premiere. The piece closed the program and was performed by ten talented members of ABT, to music by Michael Gordon, Filippo Del Corno, and Mark Mellits. When the curtain went up I was immediately struck by Janie’s costumes—and I think I would have been even if I wasn’t biased! She had the women in black tights and leotards with mint green peplums sitting at the women’s true waists. The effect was very flattering (one of Janie’s strong suits) and so unusual; yet even though it was surprisingly different it looked very simple too. The men were in mint green and black unitards with one stripe at the hip.
The first movement of the ballet was my least favorite—it had cacophonous music, hyperkinetic backdrop visuals (Visual Design by Matt Keegan, Animations by Aaron Anderson), and complicated choreography that wasn’t always together. Only when Isadora Loyola (in a different costume: mint green leotard with larger black peplum and black tights) and Roman Zhurbin entered for a pas de deux did I start to really enjoy the piece. Their pas was cutesy and witty. They had big smiles and they were playful rather than romantic. The music was jaunty and the background video had paddle ball imagery and what looked like clips from the original Atari games Pong and Breakout. I was hoping King Koopa and Mario would appear next! This was the only time I felt that the videos had anything to do with the choreography and I loved the interaction between them. Surface Properties indeed, ha. Otherwise, I could have lost the backdrop vids for the rest of the piece. It is a very trendy thing to do these days, but often I find that it detracts from the dancing.
But videos aside, from then on the choreography was compelling. The section in which Lauren Post was manipulated by three men (a riff on The Unanswered Question from Balanchine’s Ivesiana perhaps?) and a tumultuous pas de deux for Cassandra Trenary and Sterling Baca were standouts. I also loved the movement led by Zhong-Jing Fang. My eye was frequently drawn to Jose Sebastien as well. Earlier in the program Luciana Paris and Sterling Baca danced a beautiful pas de deux from Pierced. The David Lang score and stark black costumes by Reid Bartelme were all on point. But best of the night was the opener: Joshua Beamish performed a solo from Pierced and proved that he could inhabit his own steps most comfortably of all. This is often the case with choreographers, which makes some sort of sense. He wore gray tights and a printed red top, uncredited in the program— but he looked so at home in the movement it seemed like he was wearing jammies. I hope to see more of him and his work sometime very soon.