Preceded by the usual flurry of interviews, DanceGalaxy, a chamber-size classical-ballet company, made its New York debut at the Joyce. The young, fourteen-member group is run by Judith Fugate, for many years a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and her husband, Medhi Bahiri (Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet, nomadic guest artist). As recorded in print, the pair’s explanation of its mission is not very consistent, and the onstage illustration of it – despite occasional felicities – did little to make the premises of the group convincing.
One purpose of DanceGalaxy, apparently, is to bring classical ballet to small venues, to audiences that the major troupes fail to reach because of the astronomical cost of touring. Like it or not, though, classical ballet at its truest requires grand opera-house scale. Yes, a taste of classical dancing can usefully be offered by a small troupe. But that provision has been made for decades by ad hoc groups of performers from major companies in their off-season and by official extensions of such troupes, using dancers in the halfway-house stage between the studio and professional life.
Fugate and Bahiri, however, want something more stable than the ad hoc stuff (which their present troupe springs from). And they’re interested in the very opposite of giving apprentice-age dancers stage experience. They hope to extend the performing careers of people like themselves, who, after a couple of decades’ service, begun in their mid-teens, are beyond the youth considered (cruelly but correctly) suitable to classical ballet’s exorbitant athletic demands. Now, the physical and emotional wisdom of veteran dancers is undeniable, but it is probably best rechanneled into work suitable for the mature body, a fact that has been recognized by no less an artist than Mikhail Baryshnikov.
A third desire of the DanceGalaxy founders is that their performers find – and project – pleasure in their dancing, big-time classical ballet having grown so obsessed with technique, it has transformed its practitioners into phenomenal machines. I, too, bemoan the current lack of “soul” on the ballet scene, but I’d suggest that to evoke this human quality, Fugate and Bahiri upgrade their repertory. Both dancers and audience deserve more resourceful material than ersatz-classical flash and fluff (Michael Smuin), pretentious postmodern rage (William Forsythe), sappy flesh-to-flesh coupling (Dennis Wayne), and a jazz ballet (Ginger Thatcher) that spends nearly half an hour screaming “Help me!” to Twyla Tharp.