Salon Style Dance: Miro Magliore’s Chamber Ballet

By Rachel Straus

Small is beautiful. That has been Miro Magliore’s approach to dance making since he created the New Chamber Ballet in 2004. On September 6 and 7, at New York City Center’s Studio Five, Magliore presented five short ballets. His selection of a salon-size cast—five female dancers and two musicians—and his decision to annually present his two-night seasons in a bare bones studio are not just practical responses to the dire state of U.S. arts funding. They express his aesthetic vision. Magliore’s ballets cleave to modesty. His City Center evenings, which offer neither sets nor lighting, bear a similarity to the experience of sitting in one of the spare Lutheran churches of his German homeland. In contrast to the baroque spectacle of Roman Catholic churches (and Broadway theaters a few blocks west of City Center), Magliore’s presentations, which always feature live music, are the opposite of the razzle and dazzle. A large number of his sixty plus dances explore classical ballet as modernist minimalism (think Mondrian’s grid paintings or Balanchine’s Agon). His works demonstrate how ballet can occupy a space, and develop a small, loyal audience, beyond its visible position as an elite opera house entertainment for the rich and powerful.

Magliore’s newest work Oracle, seen on the 7, is for three dancers and it’s a departure for this trained composer, who has a penchant for dissonant classical music. The only sound in Oracle comes from the rhythmic rattles and propulsive stabs produced by the dancers’ African-style anklets and by the wooden blocks of their pointe shoes. The Oracle of the ballet’s title is Traci Finch. She rushes onto the stage and throws herself onto the floor. When she enters the dance space, marked by a square of white tape, she places the rattles, made of dried seeds, around her ankle. She disturbs a pastoral tableau created by the supine Sarah Atkins and Holly Curran, who, like she, are wearing Greek-style tunic dresses and golden bands in their hair (created by Sarah Thea Swafford). Finch spurs the sleeping pair into dance, and when she does, the trio performs triplet rhythms reminiscent of galloping horses. But instead of running, the lithe women execute échappés (open and closing of the legs) and passes (balances on one leg), which in pointe shoes develop pliable and steely pointe dancing. When the three women circle the space in sets of three unison lunges, which pause long enough for their rattles to cease their echoing of the movement, they resemble three Greek muses, floating.

The subject of Oracle certainly references ancient mythology. Finch, who is as an outsider and is abandoned at the ballet’s end, is the soothsayer. She sees a dire future, becomes frenzied (her ankle rattle becomes possessed by a shuddering invisible demon), and then she drops dead. She’s seen the worst, but what it is is anyone’s guess. Magliore’s approach to these events isn’t particularly interesting. It’s difficult to create epic drama without music, a sizable cast, and danceable music. But this new work should be perceived as a failure. It’s a highly imaginative use of two traditions: pointe work from Europe and instruments from Africa (or the Middle East). When the dancers break into Dionysian solos, each undulating their torso to the accompaniment of their fellows dancers’ rhythmic stamping, Magliore is in new territory. I hope he continues this cross-continental pollination.

The other works on the program were Klaverstück (2008) to Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX (as played by pianist Melody Fader and danced by Elizabeth Brown and Holly Curran). In A Simple Black Dress (2010) to Pierre Boulez’s Anthèmes (as played by violinist Doori Na and danced by the remarkable Amber Neff), Anna’s Last Day (2013) to Rebecca Saunders’ Duo for violin and piano (with a cast of Na, Fader, Sarah Atkins and Neff) and The Letter to Joseph Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 50 in D Major (with Fader, Brown and Curran). In each ballet, the musicans performed with or next to the dancers.

In Magliore’s world, music and dance are given equal weight, both visually and aurally. In Magliore’s world, small isn’t just beautiful, it expresses something of the divine.

* The New Chamber Ballet’s 2013 season isn’t finished. For more information, go to Magliore’s company website or click upcoming performances.

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