Ashley Bouder Project Jazzed Up

The Ashley Bouder Project presented three works Friday and Saturday at Symphony Space with the unifying theme of works by female choreographers accompanied by jazz music. New York Jazzharmonic, headed by New York City Ballet orchestra bassist Ron Wasserman, was the accompanying orchestra. According to the program notes, Ron was intrigued by the idea of an all jazz evening of dance after being involved with NYCB’s Double Feature and Blossom Got Kissed, both choreographed by Susan Stroman. “I thought it would be interesting had they explored how the big band could accompany the dancers in several different styles of music, not just a rollicking Jazz/Broadway extravaganza.” He approached Ashley, one of his favorite NYCB dancers known for her great dynamic energy. Ashley agreed and came up with the idea of commissioning all-women choreographers and composers, both of which are in short supply in the male dominated ballet world.

Ashley’s In Pursuit Of is set to a big, brassy commissioned score by New York Jazzharmonic’s Associate Director Miho Hazama. The work is unique as it consists of standard ballet steps set to jazz music; instead of soothing violin and cello sounds, there are loud horns and bass throughout, joyous and frenetic at times. The steps are simple and classical, although repetitive at times, ranging from arabesques, jeté entrelacé, grande jetés, brisé volés. The work has four segments based on regional and ethnic dances, although I generally missed the connection: Warrior (based on Masai jumping); Harvest (Polish Mazurek dancing); Ceremony (Sufi dancing or whirling dervishes); and Freedom (contemporary dance). Ashley Hod and Devin Alberda were featured in the Ceremony pas de deux. Clad in bright red, Ashley Hod was impressive with her long elegant line and endless arabesques; however, the pas de deux was long and tedious at times. The ensemble work, consisting of NYCB dancers, had a dynamic fluidity as dancers weaved in and out of the action. The work was largely successful, aided by energetic jazz that held attention during choreographic slow parts.

Ashley Hod, In Pursuit Of, Ashley Bouder Project

NYCB fans know Ashley and Sarah Mearns for their classical work. On Saturday evening, the two moved out of their element into more modern territory in Liz Gerring’s Duet, set to a score by Anna Webber. Billed as a pas de deux, it is more of a duet, with Ashley and Sarah dancing similar steps with little contact. The two, clad in slippers rather than pointe shoes, danced to Webber’s dark and ominous score. At times, the two filled the stage with stilted movements; other segments proceeded at an informal pace, walking with flexed feet; other movements were peppered with jazz-type shoulder shakes combined with off-balance movements. Overall, an interesting work on the modern side that demonstrated the range of these two great dancers.

Blossom Got Kissed, Susan Stroman’s 1999 work, tells the story of Blossom, a confused ballerina (Ashley Bouder) with no discernible talent. Also in the mix are six flappers in red, their black-suited boyfriends, and the transforming power of a kiss by the musician (Andrew Veyette). The work is comedic and campy, set to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s score by the same name. Blossom is not one of my favorites, as there is little character development, where one is left to guess about what is going on.