Duncan Lyle Dance at Martha Graham Studio

Duncan Lyle Dance presented four works Monday and Tuesday in the cozy Martha Graham Studio Theater. The American Ballet Theater dancer choreographed the works, performed by fellow ABT dancers Patrick Frenette, Carlos Gonzalez, Andrii Ishchuk, Isadora Loyola, Betsey McBride, Rachel Richardson, Javier Rivet, and Courntney Shealy. It was a unique experience watching these talented dancers up close, literally feet away rather than in cavernous venues such as the Met Opera House or Koch Theater. The close view exhibited the great power and exertion put forth by the dancers, not readily apparent when watching dancers from a distance. Also unique was watching a performance with ABT dancers as Duncan’s ABT colleagues were out in force, making up a large part of the audience.

Duncan has had a long-standing interest in choreography, as revealed in my interview with him previewing the performance. As he explained to the audience before the performance, it is difficult to break into the competitive field. As a result, he took choreographer and former ABT dancer Gemma Bond’s advice to take the initiative and “Just do it yourself.” Rehearsing during days off in the ABT fall season and during the break ahead of the Nutcracker, the dancers put together an entertaining evening of dance.

Duncan’s works are classical themed, ranging from Frederic Ashton-type works such as That Which Never Was and Sketches to more modern ballet-based works Prelude and The Same Cage. Sketches, which premiered in 2018, is a bundle of energy featuring male dancing with dozens of double tours. I would have liked to dance this work in my dancing days. It has a folksy, informal feel with the seven dancers featured in various segments. Before more challenging technical sections, dancers go through basic ballet steps such as grand plies, prominent in ballet class but not generally performed on stage. Then on to a whirlwind of technical challenges such as a line of three men doing clean double tours in synch. Also in the classical genre was the premier of That Which Never Was featuring the radiant Betsey McBride, Isadora Loyola, Patrick Frenette, and Andreii Ishchuk set to Robert Schumann piano scores. The work highlighted subtle interaction between the couples as they danced in various combinations with emotions ranging from somber to happy. The plotless work showed off Andreii’s refined technique with nice double cabrioles and pirouettes.

Betsy McBride and Patrick Frenette in "That Which Never Was". Photo by Luis Pons, Duncan Lyle Dance

Betsy McBride and Patrick Frenette in “That Which Never Was,” Duncan Lyle Dance. Photo by Luis Pons.

Two contemporary works were presented. The Same Cage explores the turbulent and complicated relationships between Maggie, Brick, and Skipper in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It featured Carlos, Courtney, and Javier and resembled Clark Tippet’s 1985 Some Assembly Required, which ABT presented in the fall season. Carlos and Courtney were a combustible couple with a wide range of emotions. They seemed like a lovely couple until he slapped and pushed her around. Javier intervened with a dance with Carlos, but Javier crumbled to the ground. Interesting but odd and ambiguous. Duncan created the work for ABT’s Incubator Workshop program in 2018.

Prelude, with Carlos and Javier, had some interesting interactions between the two but was too short to leave an impression.

Duncan’s choreographic instincts create a well-rounded tableau of movement. As he noted in my interview with him, he is not an envelope pusher, but his work evolves from paths created by Frederic Ashton and Anthony Tutor. He does so with appealing nuances. It helps with talented ABT friends that he assembled as they carried out his vision with refined technique. It will be interesting to follow Duncan’s choreographic journeys.