By Walter Rutledge
Ailey II opened the 2015 New York City season at the Joyce Theater with the world premiere of Breakthrough by French-born choreographer Manuel Vignoulle. The full company work takes us to a dark world where emotions and relationship are forbidden. Vignoulle’s abstract narrative was the highlight of the company’s first independent season.
Good choreographic structure and strong use of imagery assist to immediately establish his environment/altered reality. Moving in a mechanized uniformity the performers convey a sense of conformity. Vignoulle uses patterns, and isolated movements (such as heads swaying from side to side as the dancers “zombie” walk upstage) to enhance the automaton-like precision.
Occasionally individuals emerge, only to submit back to the group dynamic. These departures are manifested in almost spastic, abrupt movements that exude a sense of anxiety and then suppression. Throughout the opening section there is an underlying and deliberate tension that smolders, instead of explodes; that produced a kind of visual foreplay.
The duet that followed, featuring Shay Bland and Terrell Spence, released the pent-up tension from the preceding section. The costume of pants and turtleneck tops were striped away on stage revealing black briefs and a bra. The ensuing duet was a continuous ribbon of movement. Intertwining, cascading and caressing, at one point Bland walked up Terrell’s back and the stood on his shoulders as he rose from kneeling to standing.
The section that followed is best described as the running section. The ensemble returned clad in briefs and bras and literally ran for their lives. One of the most impressive devises was reversing the stage perspective. Vignoulle removed the ensemble who were running behind Deidre Rogan, but when she yelled, “Wait…. wait”, it became clear she was the one left behind; and soon captured by David Adrian Freeland Jr.
Freeland covered her head under his shirt, and both danced blind under the garment. The duet evoked a feeling of blind terror and victimization. It ended with Freeland exiting leaving Rogan left spent and discarded.
The ensemble returned in their opening attire for a finale section, which served as a combination of a resolution and epilog. The focused physicality built to a coda-like climax, ending with a gravity/momentum induced closing statement. Vignoulle successfully presented a complete statement that balanced unadorned economy with rich, yet directed imagery; the true benchmark of storytelling. Breakthrough is a breakout.
To see an interview with Choreographer Manuel Vignoulle and Ailey II dancer Shay Bland click below: