Standout Solos Make ‘Modern Muses’ Mesmerizing

Schreier, Shee shine in Harvard Ballet Company’s winter performance

Alexander K. Sherbany

Members of the Harvard Ballet Company took center stage at the New College Theatre this weekend with ‘Modern Muses.’ The show featured several works from the Harvard Contemporary Dance Ensemble’s ‘Dancing Caprices.’

In “Apollo,” the second piece of “Modern Muses,” three muses dance for a god, competing to accompany him in a pas de deux. One in particular, Terpsichore, is especially skillful, leading Apollo to choose her over the others. “Modern Muses” itself offered several disparate selections for its audience to choose among, but as in “Apollo,” a few stood out from the rest.

Produced by Valentine N. Quadrat ’09 and co-directed by Caitlin L. M. Kakigi ’09 and Kevin Shee ’10, the Harvard Ballet Company (HBC) show presented numerous pieces of varying style and quality Saturday at the New College Theatre. The Harvard Contemporary Dance Ensemble performed three of the seven vignettes last week as part of a larger series called “Dancing Caprices.”

“Emeralds,” the first piece, was an unimpressive start to the show. Balanchine’s stunning choreography proved difficult for the ensemble, who performed sloppily, lacking any unison or cohesion. Hideous costumes only emphasized the performance’s problems, making “Emeralds” the weakest vignette in “Modern Muses.”

The last piece, excerpts from Act I of “La Bayadère,” was quite lackluster as well. The chorus, which did not dance on pointe, should have put on a cohesive, clean performance, but instead proved boring and imprecise. The pas de deux by the two leads, Gamzatti (Amanda C. Lynch ’10) and Solor (Kevin Shee ’10) was not much better. The two dancers were clearly talented but completely mismatched: Shee visibly shook when lifting Lynch and strained when turning her. At one point, Lynch even took an unfortunate fall. She redeemed “La Bayadère,” however, when she returned to the stage for a dazzling sequence of Italian and simple fuetes.

The pieces between these two unimpressive vignettes, however, were consistently interesting and very nicely executed.

Challenging Balanchine choreography, compelling Stravinsky music, and four talented dancers converged onstage to produce a very strong interpretation of “Apollo.” Shee’s Apollo sat proudly in a stool while three muses each presented an allegorical representation of their art: Calliope (Elizabeth C. Walker ’11) portrayed epic poetry, Polyhymnia (Kakigi) depicted mime, and Terpsichore (Merritt A. Moore ’10) personified dance. From the three, Apollo chose Terpsichore to accompany him in the subsequent pas de deux.

Shee and Moore were a stunning couple. The well-matched pair brilliantly executed Balanchine’s technically complex choreography, particularly the difficult, daring lifts.

“Communistas Urbanaia” and “Wading”—the other two premieres—were also impressive. “Communistas,” choreographed by Office for the Arts Dance Assistant Joshua Legg, opened with a stunning silhouette of the entire corps. Michael Torke’s “Change of Address” accompanied most of the dancing throughout the four sections of the piece, but each section’s movement began and ended with silence, providing intense focus on the dancers.

Coral R. Martin ’10 crafted a beautiful and challenging choreography for “Wading.” Although “Communistas” was a bit too long and “Wading” a bit too short, both were unique and exciting interpretations of modern ballet.

The most original performance of the night came right before the intermission. “Flicker,” choreographed by Continuing Education and Special Programs Instructor Brenda S. Divelbliss, offered an interesting—though dark—perspective on ballet. Electronic contemporary music, namely DJ Alexandre’s “Toma Toma,” inspired an unconventional blend of ballet and break dancing. The combination was ideal for Shee, who stood out as the only male in the show. The eight female dancers, clad in disheveled, sequined tutus of varying lengths and colors gave a performance that matched Shee’s, filled with dramatic leaps and exhilarating drops to the floor.

“Elysium,” choreographed by Claudia F. Schreier ’08, was, by far, the best piece of the night. Schreier’s choreography struck the ideal balance between the abstraction typical of modern dance and the visual appeal of classical ballet. The best moments of her exquisite choreography featured not only the usual leaps and turns but also interesting new movements, like dragged splits. She worked with the most talented HBC members: Lynch, Moore, Shee, Walker, and James C. Fuller ’10. Walker shone the brightest, but all five brought Schreier’s complex choreography to stunning fruition.

Both incredible skills and sloppy execution characterized “Modern Muses.” While its first and last performances did not compare to those in between, one aspect remained consistent: its strong soloists. Miller, Moore, Lynch, and Shee brought skillful precision and lyrical prowess to the selections, suggesting a promising future for HBC.

—Crimson reviewer Giselle Barcia can be reached at