Dance Review: Morphoses, “The Bacchae”

The “Plot Synopsis” of Morphoses’s “The Bacchae” doesn’t help at all. In fact, one might be better off not reading it and just enjoying the show as an abstract exploration of sound and stage elements. Or trying to enjoy it, anyway; one of the patrons in front of me whispered to the other while there was dancing, “do you want to go?” And the one next to me discreetly checked the time on her cell phone.

“The Bacchae," at the Joyce October 25-30, is a 50-minute piece with no intermission choreographed and designed by new Resident Artistic Director Luca Veggetti and directed by Director and Co-founder (the other one, Christopher Wheeldon, left in 2010) Lourdes Lopez. It features 11 dancers with severe hairstyles in sleek, mock-turtleneck leotards in navy and burgundy, and stiff pants with a tinsel-like sheen or, alternately, shorts with the brand logo visible from the cheap seats. And socks—whose relevance will be disclosed shortly.

The stage is lined with three silky backdrops which flutter interestingly in the background but cause for really awkward entrances and exits; the dancers have to scoot underneath the fabric, as there are no openings. The original music and sound design (this term is probably more apt) by Paolo Aralla, while interesting to be sure, frequently startles the audience with sudden loud pings and raps. It is supplemented by a live flutist, Erin Lesser, whom I found distracting when I saw the show, because I was focused on whether she was actually playing her instruments or miming. (She was playing.)

A puppeteer, Candice Burridge, opens the show with a little wooden person whom we never see again after that. Then there is a group number in which the dancers’ impeccable technical training is on display. They have perfect, effortless control of their bodies, almost like robots. At one point these dancers stay in impressively precise and tight formation as they walk and quickly switch direction.

The pas de deux sections in “The Bacchae” are worth the price of admission. There are unimaginable, inventive lifts performed seamlessly and with visible ease. They don’t even look like lifts; they look like a continuation of one move magically into the air and back down again without any hoisting or grunting or heave-ho. I came to the logical conclusion that all the men in this company have Herculean strength and that all the women are the size and weight of underage Chinese Olympic gymnasts. The partnering is really that brilliant.

But unfortunately, watching “The Bacchae,” you may feel nothing. I felt nothing. Rather, I felt like I was waiting for something noteworthy to happen, and then I felt impatient, and then I felt annoyed. The problem with this piece is that it’s trying too hard to be something—to be a little of everything. The puppet; the live instruments onstage; the voice of God or whatever it’s supposed to be; the guy who comes into the audience to speak one line; the lip syncing (yes I said lip syncing); the sticks that were whipped around (in my head I told the dancers, you better not let go of that f***ing thing); the utilization of the Joyce’s brick wall in the background (been done); the embarrassingly Forsythe-ian influence (this is where the aforementioned socks come in).

The choreography for the solos danced by Frances Chiaverini and Gabrielle Lamb makes them look spastic, and it might as well be improvisational because there isn’t a single move that either one of them does that seems deliberate, meaningful, or necessary. I understand that some people like this sort of style, but I was awfully bored. It’s the type of dance that never stops; the dancer is always putting some limb somewhere or moving in some inventive new way, and no shape ever stops to register, and nothing appears to have any feeling or emotion behind it. Granted, I’m sure it’s difficult to dance like that, but in the end what is the point?

In fact, most of the movement was like that. It was all perfect, but none of it meant anything to me. It’s a good thing this show ends with the seriously impressive partnering so I didn’t have to leave with a bad taste in my mouth.