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Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève Returns to the Joyce With a New York Premiere

The evening of March 25th 2014 was opening night for a six-day run at the Joyce Theater of “Glory”, a mostly glorious offering choreographed by Greek-born Andonis Foniadakis for the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève. A press release referred to the piece as “an evening-length work” but that depends on your definition of an evening at the theater. “Glory” is only about an hour long and is performed, wisely, without an intermission. Interrupting the action would have been a mistake. Even so, programming for adults rarely lasts a mere 60 minutes. The company might have been better off giving us a double bill, although to be fair the tickets are modestly priced at $10 to $49 and $26 to $37 for Joyce Theater members.

“Glory” is danced to a medley of selections from works by Handel including his greatest hit, the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah, and some lesser known compositions. The first twenty minutes or so involved dancing that was so frenetic as to be almost nerve-fraying. To their credit, the highly accomplished company members never faltered. They made the challenging steps and lifts look easy but I wonder why Foniadakis chose to use a sequence of musical phrases that the Playbill calls “lively” but which are in fact frenzied. Each one by itself is masterful but I’m sure Handel didn’t intend for them to be strung together in this relentless fashion.

After that breathless beginning, however, the piece simmered down and became much more enjoyable to watch. The lighting by Mikki Kunttu, cloudy beams upstage that acted as pillars through which the dancers emerged and disappeared, was extremely effective. Kudos also to costume designer Tassos Sofroniou. Each of the 22 performers had a series of quick changes ranging from flowing skirts in black or brilliant red to a nude look for the finale. Her pièce de résistance was an enormous tent-like gown with sticks attached that were manipulated by an ensemble surrounding the woman wearing the garment. The choreography was ingenious and that section was a highlight for me. 

Another peak moment came when several men performed with a woman who was held aloft and passed from one to the other without ever touching the ground. The name of the company notwithstanding, Foniadakis’ choreography is contemporary rather than classical. His inventive moves are performed by dancers with bare feet. This fact is befitting, given the long and varied history of the troupe beginning in the 19th century and evolving to encompass a wide range of styles because the directorship changed many times. The current director, Phillipe Cohen, has been at the helm since 2001 but most of his predecessors served for only a few years each. The turnover resulted in a policy of inviting guest choreographers so that the repertoire now reflects a remarkable international range of talents and sensibilities.

On a final note, the management should seriously consider a new photo shoot for the dancers’ headshots. All of the images in the Playbill look like a mug shots with the artists staring straight at the camera, completely devoid of expression. What a shame, since they such a gifted bunch! I would love to have seen a little personality in their faces.

If you can get to the Joyce between now and March 30th to catch a performance of “Glory”, I would highly recommend your doing so. If the troupe returns, and I hope that will happen, the repertoire will probably be different so this may be your only chance to see a work that verges on being great and is at the very least admirable.

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