April 4, 2007 5:44 pm

Ballet Memphis, The Joyce, New York

When founded in 1986 by Dorothy Gunther Pugh, its artistic director, this feisty company had only two professional dancers. Expanded over the years to 14 and with Trey McIntyre as resident choreographer, the company looks pretty spiffy. The dancers are ballet-trained but, as they notably demonstrate, perfectly capable of loosening up into hip-hop and contemporary dance.

McIntyre’s Naughty Boy! to Mozart’s “Violin Concerto in G Major” was strictly in classical mode, albeit with a lighthearted touch that kept wafting the dancers along like cottonpuffs on air. Despite the ballet’s title, Cupid (Dawn Fey) is an androgynous figure deftly manipulating her courting couples, intervening in their pas de deux but never breaking them up. Crystal Brothers and partner Travis Bradley showed great style in their adagio pas de deux, perfectly adjusting to McIntyre’s pliant and playful choreography. A nice start, but A Curtain of Green, based on Eudora Welty’s short story, was obscure to the point of bafflement.

How few choreographers can translate the written word into kinetic terms! A woman sits on a chair pumping one arm up and down. A man enters, falls prone, then exits as Philip Glass’s “Études 2 & 5” tinkle on. Later, Fey, switching from dress to chiffon jumpsuit, is guided by her partner, Steven McMahon, his hands covering her eyes. A talented young dancer, Kendall G. Britt Jr, crouches outside a spotlight circle, scratching the ground. He and Fey dance briefly together. Then, alone, she walks into the wings. The piece, choreographed by Julia Adam, conveyed little except a vague atmosphere of unease.

Mercurial Balance, however, exactly described some of the off-kilter movement in Thaddeus Davis’s perky dance for the whole troupe. Two poets onstage, J’malo Torriel and Ed Brittenum, exchanged ideas and verse about men, women and love. “Stress leads to loneliness,” said one as a fast-paced dance argument ended in an embrace. Scenes of personal relationships were acted out, helped by a driving, jazzy score. Brothers, a tall rangy redhead, distinguished herself again in a jerky, jumping solo, igniting a group to shunt blissfully around her. No Memphis blues here.
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