Many of the top dance companies have second troupes that serve as farm teams. They develop young talent, allowing time for technique to deepen and providing invaluable stage experience. This seems to be the New York season for the “twos,” what with runs by ABT II, Ailey II, and NDT II taking place within weeks of one another. I caught the latter’s run at the Joyce, which ended Sunday.
Other notable examples include Taylor 2, begun in 1993 by Paul Taylor, and Merce Cunningham’s Repertory Understudy Group, composed of apprentices. These two differ in that both the first and second companies perform only their founder’s choreography. Taylor 2, with six dancers, often performs “miniature,” scaled-down versions of Taylor’s dances originally made for the larger company.
Cunningham will experiment with the RUGs, as they’re known, transferring computer-assisted choreography from the software Lifeforms to real dancers, as the New York Times recently described.
The second companies function as training grounds not just for the dancers, but as a means to foster young choreographers or as a test run before a company commits to commissioning a work by a new collaborator. Their more compact size allows them to perform in smaller venues than opera house capacity that their first companies often require. This can mean smaller cities and towns, too.
NDT II’s recent run at the Joyce, their first time performing there, showcased NDT’s resident choreographers—Jiri Kylian and Paul Lightfoot/Sol Leon. Kylian’s choreography has become the company’s imprimatur, establishing a classically-based modern style that has become the foundation for many to follow, primarily in Europe. NDT II performed Kylian’s Sleepless, which featured a wall made up of several panels of rubber. The dancers slipped in and out of the seams, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly, leaving it up to several couples performing solid duets.
Lightfoot Leon have inherited the brilliant technical prowess of Kylian’s basics—the fully extended leg capped by a beautifully arched, pointed foot in a soft shoe; a feral fluidity and power; rich dramatic potential. Three of the team’s works were on the bill. Said and Done featured four men performing difficult, show-offy moves, plus three women whose sections seemed an afterthought.
Shutters Shut, seen at last year’s Fall for Dance, is a duet of rapid, precise gestures (performed by Carolina Mancuso and Idan Sharabi) set to Gertrude Stein’s “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso.” Lightfoot Leon’s start/stop phrasing matches well with the meter of Stein’s phrases. The third work, Sad Case, featured a neat lighting mechanism with articulating arms that closely framed a dancer. But the majority of the work consisted of pose after primitive-looking or vulgar pose by the white painted dancers. Dramatic, yes, but at the expense of cohesive phrasing and dancemaking. It felt more like curses in a comic strip than words that tell a story.
Photo of Sleepless. Joris-Jon Bos, photographer