Pretty Ugly Dance Company.
An American who has long worked with William Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet [see page 1261, Miller was artist-in-residence at the Wexner Center at Ohio State University last fall. Wexner funding plus underwriting from six other American and Canadian sponsors allowed Miller to assemble the new company-her first-and to complete a new ballet. Night, By Itself, premiered on a program that included three other Miller dances: St. Nick (made for Frankfurt Ballet in 1989), Arto's Books (Netherlands Dance Theater 2, 1991), and Pretty Ugly (Frankfurt Ballet, 1988). After the premiere the company embarked on a ten-city tour. In addition to Miller the new troupe includes Shaun Amyot, Bennie Bartel, Anouk van Dijk, Vitor Garcia, Rick Kam, Maia Rosal, and Michael Schumacher.
Given the unfamiliarity of the choreographer and the company, it was fortunate that in this introductory concert the first selection was a duet performed by Miller and Schumacher. St. Nick served as an exposition of Miller's movement vocabulary.
Trained in ballet, Miller often begins a traditional phrase or gesture only to have it collapse in finality or take a sudden, unexpected turn. It's a playful approach, as though she's teasing her audience with subtle references. The same sly humor prevails in her occasional "mistakes" - phrases that go wrong and have to be started over again or steps that send a dancer into a wall or almost off the edge of the stage. These asides give her work an endearing informality, though at times the context is so ponderous (as in Night, By Itself) that they fail to provide the desired levity.
Miller danced in toe shoes in St. Nick. It was the only ballet on the program with pointe work. There were astonishing phrases in which she was so out of kilter, so at odds with her own body, that it amounted to a bizarre, twisted kind of virtuosity, though the presentation was anything but theatrical or grotesque. Overall the work looks light, airy, and fluid. Only when you think about it later does it seem impossible.
The three remaining works on the program were larger, more ambitious, and, frankly, produced more mixed results. Miller may still be grasping for a structure that hangs together but preserves her sense of spontaneity.
In Arto's Books, Miller builds a pure (appropriately, everything is white) dance work according to musical forms such as canon and inversion. Two identically dressed men and two identically costumed women move through choreography so precise and mathematical that the work has a chilly, computer-programmed feel to it.
In Night, By Itself, Miller goes to the opposite extreme. The stage is almost dark, the costumes are black, and the piece proceeds in fits and starts. The work has a Martha Clarke, nightmarish creepiness to it; big quartets and quintets shake open the stage like cloudbursts. Transparent inflatable sculptures by Cara Perlman add to the mystery.
What does it all mean? One senses that Miller has specific messages she wants to convey. If she errs, n is in trying too hard to be clever in conveying them; the effort can get a little pretentious.
Pretty Ugly closed the program. Like Night, By itself, the piece has an extemporaneous air, but is more prose-like. it's unified by Miller's continuous interpretation of what the terms pretty, ugly, and pretty ugly mean to her.
Miller's intellectual approach may appeal most strongly to those in the field. But her company is brilliant, and that will go a long way toward making her work enjoyable for everyone.
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|Title Annotation:||Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1994|
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