Joffrey Ballet Dancer Katie Muesen

~Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic

Dropped by the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center in NYC last week to catch a shared program, WalkingTalking/ Catherine Miller; and the Ariel Rifka Dance, featuring the Joffrey Ballet School Performance Company.
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In a casual atmosphere, without sets, and in a small but packed house, the three groups presented a combination of classical ballet and modern dance pieces that ran the gamut from Gerald Arpino’s 1986 commissioned dance, “Birthday Variations,” to Catherine Miller’s more modern offering,
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All the dances were interesting for highlighting the young performers, and for showcasing the accomplished choreographers.  By far though, the most polished offering was the World Premiere of “Barroco,” by Africa Guzman, a native of Madrid, who in a twenty year career, worked with such luminaries as Maya Plisetskaya, Nacho Duato, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, and Mats Ek. Here, we saw a dance that possessed strong choreographic imagination, surprising transitions, bright, clear shapes and line grounded in a compelling music composition. Mostly, it was exciting to watch the dancers blend with the evocative allegro tempi of  Vivaldi, and then to the slower, romantic guitar solo. The movement was powerful, lyrical, and athletic, but more important graceful, and delivered with intensity and purpose. Lastly, the claret-colored costumes added to the good choices of this sophisticated piece.
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Special mention to Nathaly Prieto, who danced all the dances in  the first half, and once in “Unfurl,” by Catherine Miller, in the remainder of the program.  Showing a wide range of talent and musicality in her busy evening, she was used to best advantage in “Barroco.”
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The second part of the evening was mostly modern with some contemporary ballet elements.  Ariel Grossman’s “Une Nuit,” a New York premiere, was very charming, with an easy grace which, as the piece developed became more hypnotic and compelling.  With five girls in white tunics, combined with the surprise of lime green socks, shorts, and matching headbands, we imagine them having stepped off a Grecian urn to dance with pure joy and natural movement to sounds of  perhaps a Balalayka, then calliope rhythms.
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“Holly,” another small but very honest and personal piece, of hope and prayer, and of saying goodbye, to the beautiful “Four Concerned” ended the evening.  Both these latter pieces had a freedom and beauty beyond technique that was very inspiring.  Sometimes it is a deeper experience to view dance as pure expressive movement, beyond story, detailed construction, and self-consciousness; these dances achieved that feeling for me.
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Still, there was a bit of nostalgia in the air too, for the glory days of the Joffrey Ballet Company when they once wonderfully graced the stage at City Center, before picking up stakes and moving to Chicago.  It was good to see Gerald Arpino’s name in print, and to see a touch of his talent in “Birthday Variations.” It’s not a great dance, pretty simple, but still reminded those of his association with Robert Joffrey, and how they both electrified the dance world with their cutting edge company of youth, athleticism and new ideas–a real American original.  Some of those “shades of forgotten ancestors” permeated this performance, and they are still missed here in New York.  The new students honored that tradition, and will no doubt brighten other companies across America. Everybody, keep dancing!
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