Out of the Ballet Box

Have you ever had a moment of epiphany while watching a dance group perform--a realization that if you were a professional dancer, you'd want to make that company your home? Because that's exactly what happened to me last night at The Joyce Theater. As I witnessed the awesomely versatile members of the Lyon Opera Ballet tackle three wildly different stylistic worlds--those of Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe, and Maguy Marin--I couldn't help but think, I wish I were up there with them.

Actually, the dancers didn't just "tackle" the styles--they conquered them. I was particularly impressed by their rendition of Cunningham's Beach Birds. I've never seen anybody but the Merce Cunningham Dance Company do Cunningham, and yet the LOB dancers totally mastered the technique, in all its weighty, deliberate precision (so difficult for ballet dancers, trained from day one to create the illusion of weightlessness!). Amandine François and the gorgeous Dorothée Delabie seemed equally at home in Forsythe's Duo, luxuriating in its hyperextended, hyperactive take on classical ballet. And then four of the company's women literally let their hair down and threw themselves into Marin's Grosse Fugue, in which passion precluded polish and feet were left deliberately floppy. (OK, that hurt my bunhead soul a little; LOB is definitely a "foot" company, and I wanted them all to show off their glorious arches.)

I was expecting the LOB dancers to have exceptional ballet technique, and they did. (There was a moment in Duo when Delabie paused to perform a perfectly classical, perfectly executed développé à la seconde, and it knocked the wind out of me.) But--surprise!--the LOB dancers were also great stylists. They just got it--whatever technique "it" happened to be. And it looked like they were having so much fun exploring all these sides of their dance personalities! I envied them.

I know that the LOB model--classical dancers performing a repertory that isn't always rooted in classical technique--is very European. But I'm hoping it catches on over here, too. Because what intellectually curious ballerina wouldn't want the chance to do a little of everything? And why shouldn't America's big-company ballet dancers get the chance to try out Cunningham? Bring it on!



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