March 27th, 2014
Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève presented New York audiences with an hour-long performance of joyful and voluptuous dancing at the Joyce Theater last week. The company performed Andonis Foniadakis’ Glory (2012), a piece that consists of 20 dancers filling the stage with unreserved exuberance.
The piece begins with a beam of light radiating from the stage, illuminating a solo woman deliberately walking toward the audience; her movements–to George Frideric Handel’s operatic aria “Ombra mai fu”–express a delicate authority flowing in space. She steps graciously sideways descending to a plié, her poses resembling those depicted in an ancient Egyptian paintings. The mystery of her presence is soon interrupted by a wash of lights flooding the entire stage. Dancers stride in in duets, trios, sextets and sometimes in solo, all with a strong focus. Once they start moving, their limbs are like the arms of an octupus, undulating, intertwined and locomoting with astounding speed, grace and precision.
Mr. Foniadakis’ choreography is a thriving execution of Handel’s intricate choral and instrumental composition. His dancers all exude vivacious energy, taking their bodies to the extremes of movement with gusto and eagerness. Grand circular motions with legs and arms, little hop-skips (sometimes looking like tap dancing), dropping down and getting up with great speed, leaps into unique shapes in the air, combinations of intricate hand gestures throughout the work—these dancers maintain constant motion with such freedom yet remain in complete unison and great form.
Glory not only complements Handel’s musical composition in its technical structure, but the variety in costumes also helps us visually comprehend the mood and color of different sections in the music. Costume designer Tassos Sofroniou’s creation is a set of leotards with individual architectural designs, including light, flowing dresses for both men and women in black and earth-tone colors. The dancers come out in different sets of costumes (some with long dresses, some in leotards), to support the visual and conceptual composition in each particular section. In a section near the end of the piece, a group of dancers dress in nude-color undergarments, highlighting one female dancer in a long black dress. She guides the group to form different shapes in space: she falls, and it carries her; she runs, it follows her; sometimes it swallows her in its embrace. The group of dancers, with their vigorous muscles exposed, is reminiscent of a group of ancient sculptures shielding their goddess of reincarnation.
Mr. Foniadakis’ subtle sensibility to the female figure is further revealed in a section featuring four men and one woman: The female dancer is manipulated in multiple partnering maneuvers; four male dancers each holds one of the female dancer’s body parts, at one point lifting her in a split high up in the air, the next moment dropping her upside down with one man holding her lower legs, one grabbing her arm and the other sprinting towards her ready to swing her into the next position. Every movement links to the next in flawless execution, as if she is floating and swinging in the air, a woman in the light revealing images of beauty and vulnerability.
A celebration of the human body and spirit, Glory is performed with such formality and wholeheartedness that in a way it is almost religious. The chorus of Handel’s “Messiah” fills the Joyce with chants of Hallelujah, but in this case we are praising the harmonious creativity and vibrant dancing of this dynamic troupe.