Ballet stars used to spend the off season on the greatest-hits circuit, in which one spectacular bit from 19th-century warhorses followed another, for hours. But since the Baryshnikov Foundation’s White Oak Dance Project of the 1990s, these side forays have turned artsy, with the dancers commissioning entire ballets from cutting-edge choreographers. Rather than confirming what we already know (ie, that these guys are great), the new model means to present the performers in a fuller, more intimate light. But as Daniil Simkin’s Intensio demonstrated, unfamiliar terrain can diminish dancers as often as enhance them, especially when the work is bad.
For this pickup troupe’s New York debut, the worst came first. Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo mindlessly mixed his trademark mechanical arms with classical legs, leaving it to well-worn Chopin to establish mood, precedent and reason for being. At least rookie Gregory Dolbashian’s Welcome a Stranger spoke a consistent language, but we have encountered this floor-grazing, bent-limbed, hollow-torsoed idiom many times before.
Still, the dancers, mostly from American Ballet Theatre, had their indelible moments. Isabella Boylston made buttery syntactical sense out of Elo’s non-sequiturs. James Whiteside grew uncommonly fierce in strings of turns punctured by full stops. Long-limbed Calvin Royal III stretched his lyricism along with his torso. Swede Alexander Ekman’s comic short — an ironic gloss on the old, gala model — reminded us of Simkin’s classical elegance, and his bio-sketch helped explain why our 28-year-old headliner, trained in the family business long before he had any choice, sometimes seems eight going on 80.
Finally, after the interval, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Islands of Memories justified the enterprise. The Colombian-Belgian freelancer used the seven troupers’ extreme classical virtuosity and individual natures to new ends, which she developed methodically yet surprisingly before our eyes over the 40 minutes. She made drama from form and mood from rhythm, with a keen feeling for Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Meanwhile, the visual design by Simkin’s father, Dmitrij, drew unobtrusive auras of colour on the ground around the dancers as they moved.
To January 10, joyce.org