Review: City Dancers Unleashed in the Wild

PINE PLAINS, N.Y. — The Mashomack Fish & Game Preserve Club, a couple of hours’ drive north of New York City, is just not the pure habitat of dancers, at the very least not of members of New York City Ballet and the Martha Graham Dance Company. But that is the place I noticed them collaborating in the regular habits of their species: performing stay.

The event, on Friday night, was the premiere by BalletCollective of “Natural History,” a brand new work by Troy Schumacher, a City Ballet soloist who has lengthy introduced his choreography by means of the independently run collective, which he based in 2010. That facet gig has now turn out to be extra central, extra obligatory.

City Ballet has been all-digital since March and can keep that manner by means of the fall. The similar is true of the Graham troupe. If the present members of BalletCollective — 5 from City Ballet, two from Graham — had been going to bounce in individual, they must discover a manner themselves. And, as in the instance of Kaatsbaan, 15 miles from right here, which has been presenting dance outside on the weekends since early August, planting a stage in a subject upstate appears a good suggestion.

The collective definitely found a beautiful spot, at the fringe of a pond backed by low hills. This protect and upscale looking membership is in horse nation, with stables and a polo membership close by. The space is bucolic but cultivated. The small viewers was organized on a grassy incline above the makeshift stage, socially distanced on blankets and camp chairs or in automobiles, tailgate or drive-in fashion. In the cool of the night, as the setting solar dazzled the water, it felt like a effective setting for a civilized leisure.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Schumacher spoke of months of planning, of how the dancers had quarantined close by for weeks, rehearsing on the native faculty’s basketball court docket. He spoke of the pleasure of working after not having labored for thus lengthy.

“Natural History” enacts that getting again to work, that remembering tips on how to dance. As Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s vibrant rating (recorded, alas) fitfully begins, the dancers start as if every is alone, going by means of the warm-up routine of a each day class.

But in addition they instantly introduce a recurrent gesture. Elbows at their ribs, palms out, they rise, their faces tilted heavenward, open to the sky. It’s the posture of somebody ready to be beamed up by aliens, of somebody prepared for the Rapture.

The dance is about moving again. Sometimes, the music speeds and slows percussively, like a woodpecker, and the dancers’ feet flutter or their limbs fly wildly, as if releasing pent-up energy. When the music kicks into drive, the dance is all jumping and turning and eating space once more. Yet it also expresses a wistful longing for some higher ecstasy.

The Graham members, in sneakers rather than ballet shoes, begin with torqued and sculptural Graham daily exercises, not ballet steps. But this contrast soon fades. The choreography frequently has them executing the same moves, in different time or in unison, often in cross-company pairs: Lorenzo Pagano with Anthony Huxley, Leslie Andrea Williams with Ashley Laracey.

Only Ms. Williams and Ms. Laracey make eye contact with each other, though. Aware of the group’s quarantine precautions, I was surprised that there was no partnering, no touching. “Natural History” is, in this sense, a work of the moment, instead of an escape from it.

Still, there’s that longing. The ending returns to it. The dancers circle up, facing outward. Outward they all leap, only to retreat backward into the circle, as if pulled, perhaps by the gravity of the collective. One by one, they try to walk away and again are pulled back. Together, they rise in the Rapture pose. But they do not take off. They sink and settle on flat feet, heads down.

I was a little disappointed. Not that the dancers didn’t levitate, but that the 30-minute work didn’t. Longing for aesthetic ecstasy, I told myself I was expecting too much and concentrated on how happy I was to be there. Out of a sense of novelty and nostalgia, I had initially chosen the drive-in option. Quickly, I realized that the last thing I wanted was to watch the dance through the screen of a windshield. Out of the car, leaning against the hood, I reveled in the once-familiar and now rare sensation of having nothing but air separating me from the dancers.

The next day, back home in Brooklyn, I watched the livestream of the Saturday evening show, curious about the difference. In truth, the virtual experience was in some ways an improvement. The frame of the camera, like the arch of a proscenium stage, brought a focus and a sense of proportion to the choreography that it had lacked outdoors. “Natural History,” I thought, is a theater dance without a theater.

But then a dragonfly zoomed at the camera and brought me back to the pleasure I had felt being in that place with those dancers. This time, too, I noticed something about the ending. What I had first seen as a collapse, as an admission of falling short, could also be read as a bow — that essential gesture of connection between performer and audience. Looking at my computer screen, I clapped again.

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