This year, the new choreography festival at New York City Ballet mainly involves old hands. Alterballetto’s Mauro Bigonzetti, for example, is on to his fourth ballet with the company. In an interview printed in the programme, he says he knows the dancers well enough by now to make “their character and humanity” his inspiration.
So why, in Luce Nascosta (“Hidden Light”), do they resemble bugs? And the goons in Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, and marionettes – anything but humans? And why is one dancer indistinguishable from the other?
The blame rests in part with the gloomy lighting – a favourite of choreographers from sunny Italy – and the identical black costumes for the nine women (midriff and ruffled floppy tutu over bare legs) and nine men (karate trousers, with chest bare). But the larger problem is the elaborate lexicon of meaningless quirks the choreographer has devised. It obscures the dancers’ individual gifts.
Hands splay like cut-out stars. Hip-hop gesticulations circle head and shin. Rumps protrude and spines spasm out. Limbs snap straight then retract like those of a cartoon bug on its deathbed. In tangled pas de deux, the woman inserts her legs into the nooks and crannies between her body and his.
The dancers each have their moment in the gloom. And, yes, Maria Kowroski’s cameos are not identical to Ashley Bouder’s. Kowroski’s phrases tend to unfurl in a single long breath; Bouder’s are staccato. But by the time one dancer has followed another and another and another, the predictability of the ballet’s structure overwhelms any surprises. A soloist almost always enters from one side as dancers depart from the other. The solo begins in silence. The stage fills with dancers while the solo proceeds. And so forth.
The commissioned score by Bigonzetti’s regular collaborator Bruno Moretti is more varied. It moves like a film soundtrack from murky foreboding (scene: first world war soldiers slogging through the mud) to sweet romance (village lassie reunites with soldier lover, in the mud) to homely cheer (happy rustic village before the war and the mud and the love). But Luce Nascosta only occasionally acknowledges its score.
One of the virtues of the classical vocabulary is its transparency. It makes peace between dancer and dance; it allows them to illuminate each other. Bigonzetti should take note.