The choice of music can make all the difference in a dance production (though some choreographers, like Merce Cunningham, might disagree). Helen Pickett hired her brother-in-law, Bernd Sippel, to compose an original piece for her work, Union.
An eerie, haunting series of piano keystrokes repeat through the first movement (before building to a stunning intensity later), mirroring the sense of emergence in the dancing of Keating and Francis Veyette, in which many slow individual movements progress into a very aggressive and controlling lover’s tango. The dancers initially move in their own space and patterns before trying to force each other to cooperate and “behave” by twisting a leg around the other’s knee, or with a forceful pull or push of the neck.
Unlike the mixed signals couples pass back and forth every weekend on dates, in Union body language became a far more precise form of communication, as Pickett sublimated aggression into seduction and made a stranglehold into a flirtatious gesture. By the end of the first section, Keating has taught Veyette to follow all her moves, and much like any “union” between men and women, he plays along before breaking away to reassert his own initial pattern of movement of leaps and fouettes.
When eyes dart over shoulders
Stylistically, Pickett’s work stayed more in the ballet tradition than Ochoa’s or Cox’s while still displaying forceful, fast, athletic and occasionally very graceful movements. Her ensembles danced far more explosively and flirtatiously— most noticeably in Wagner’s eyes darting in over-the-shoulder glances. But the last movement, danced by the full ensemble, created moments of distraction that detracted from Pickett’s otherwise visually exciting patterns: As four dancers moved in tandem, another broke off to execute a different movement. Rather than extend the theme of dissonance within harmony that she had established in the first two sections, Pickett distorted it.
Ultimately, the “union” of the title referred more to the synthesis of the music and the choreography than to any aspect of the dancing. When the pace increases, these dancers’ movements quicken, lashing outward in bursts and leaps. The painter Vassily Kandinsky said he heard tones when seeing a color. Pickett’s Union made me see movements.
So why aren’t there more female ballet choreographers? During the post-performance talkback, Pickett’s annoyance at the audience’s repetition of this question struck me as quite telling. “I’ve never thought of myself as a female choreographer,” she said (again and again). “I’m a choreographer.” With that attitude, I’m not surprised that she created the best piece of the evening.
Tara Keating opens in Pickett’s piece ‘Union,’ with a sinewy prologue, that could double as an introduction for BX‘s signature brand- Keating stepping out of the darkness in a flesh bikini for a steely solo moving with hypnotic invertebrate fluidity one second and powerfully into a diamond- hard arabesque the next. The luminous Keating tosses- off liberated balletic expressionism that is both concrete and abstract. The ballet is scored to contemporary chamber music by Bernd Sippel.
Francis Veyette, bare-chested, takes over the stage for his solo until Keating, mid-phrase, bathed in cobalt light, appears for their simmering pas de duex that is intimate past eroticism. Pickett’s pas de quatrain with Rosalia Chann, Ja’Malik, Vincent McCloskey and Emily Wagner have the men in a caporiea adagio duet the women in agitated double tempo phrases. They all partner in a free dance section to Sippel’s cello movement and their bodies seem to embody the bowing. Picket’s unfussy theatricality looks great on this company.
Whatch HERE the video about Balletx with the first Part of UNION