Three years ago, Michele Wiles and Charles Askegard debuted BalletNext. For the troupe’s first two seasons it was not clear why, apart from the fact that both principal dancers were at loose ends. Wiles had left American Ballet Theatre in her prime; Askegard had just retired from New York City Ballet. The new ensemble may have boasted live music and excellent dancers on loan from major companies, but the programmes seesawed between gala fare and second-rate premieres. This year, though, Wiles – now alone at the helm – has given BalletNext a reason for being: Brian Reeder.
Unlike Christopher Wheeldon or Alexei Ratmansky, this New York freelancer, also in his 40s, is not well known among ballet aficionados. He has choreographed for ABT, but more often for its junior company and other, regional troupes. And though all three of his pieces for BalletNext featured semaphoring arms and women rising into multiple turns without preparation or a partner’s support, such propensities hardly count as a signature style. Nor does Reeder have a preferred mode: the 2012 Picnic tells a story while the two premieres do not. But what does distinguish him is how wisely he has absorbed the many influences in his long career as a dancer – for no less than NYCB, William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet and ABT.
For Picnic, based on the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, Reeder transferred the frenzy that razzle-dazzle fouetté turns usually cause the audience to the dancers themselves: these schoolgirls were whipped up. And when maiden Wiles lay out flat in Jens Weber’s arms, both the joyful lovers’ reconciliation from Frederick Ashton’s Dream and the chilling moment in Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer when a woman stiffens like a corpse in her lover’s arms came to mind. Reeder fused them into a single feeling – a dangerous joy. And you did not have to recognise the allusions to appreciate it.
The choreographer is not above gimmicks, but each dance’s accumulating mysteries emerged not from his smoke and mirrors but from the elusiveness of complex form. Each dancer seemed to forge her own path, even while she shared steps. Reeder captures today’s exhilarating eclecticism. BalletNext indeed.