When Gerald Arpino's ballet, "The Relativity of Icarus" was first performed four decades ago in New York City, dance critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote in the New York Times (October, 1974) “Could it be that this big euphemism of a ballet was not really a nightclub adagio act for two near-naked men and a young woman who did a Chinese ribbon dance? Could it be that it was not really a ballet?”
Controversial when it first debuted due to its homoerotic content and explicit touching between the two male leads, the show received a number of less-than-stellar reviews including Kisselgoff's.
But times have changed and Dance NOW! Miami has chosen to resurrect and restage the Joffrey Ballet piece, part of its Masterpiece in Motion series, as its season finale on Thursday, May 11 at Lake Worth's Duncan Theatre, on Friday, May 12 at Broward Center's Amaturo Theater, and on Saturday, May 13 at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. It is also the centennial celebration of Arpino’s birth.
They will also present the world premiere of their own new piece, “Gli Altri/The Others,” set in a Fellini-esque train station and a collaboration with Italy's Opus Ballet and “Tribe,” an original piece choreographed by Dance NOW! co-artistic director Diego Salterini, with original music by Federico Bonacossa.
Choreographed by Dance NOW! artistic directors Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salteirni, “Gli Altri/The Others” marries Fellini’s cinematic imagery and confessional storytelling to express life, death, joy, despair, love and loss.
“The Relativity of Icarus,” originally choreographed by Joffrey Ballet co-founder Arpino, is an athletic male duet that uses the ancient Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus to express the tortured (and love) relationship between sons and fathers.
It will be presented with the original score by Gerhard Samuel and restaged by Cameron Basden, former Joffrey dancer, and "repetiteur" for the Arpino Foundation. She is also the dance writer/critic for miamiartzine.com. Basden’s goal was to reconstruct and restage the piece before it was lost to history.
“It’s an exciting ballet but if not resurrected soon, could be lost to obscurity,” says Basden. “We’re excited about salvaging and saving this powerful and dramatic ballet with its reinterpretation of the Daedalus and Icarus myth for posterity.”
Both Basden and Baumgarten are confident the piece is “of the moment,” and audiences will respond positively.
“It is hyper-appropriate for the moment,” says Baumgarten. “It continues the legacy of bringing to light difficult and different perspectives of the human condition.”
While noting that as a modern dance company, the company doesn’t usually mount ballets, Baumgarten says, “We hope that this evening of dance will encourage people to take a second look at people different than they are and to open their eyes to the journey of humanity that live concert dance can bring.”
She believes in the power of art to not only reflect society and its values, but to push boundaries and highlight the plight of different segments in the society.
“Art can bring to light difficult and different perspectives of the human condition,” she says
To reconstruct the original ballet, Basden went on a reconnaissance mission to the New York Library for the Performing Arts, where she researched the original set, staging and costume designs.
She found old, scratchy black and white “poltergeist-y” videos and original tapes of the studio rehearsals as well as photographs of the set, its dimensions and costume mock-ups, all which had to be handled with real kid-gloves.
She interviewed the original dancers, including Russell Sultzbach (Icarus) and Ann Marie DeAngelo (who played the Sun).
And, while some show revivals try to give a more contemporary interpretation to the original theme, Basden says she had no agenda with restaging this ballet.
“Although it was controversial at the time, the homoerotic elements are secondary to the plot of the story,” says Basden. “I’m not trying to send any message. The dance is about the relationship between Daedalus (the father) and Icarus (the son) and Arpino’s message is that having wings and freedom is wonderful, but sometimes it can have bad repercussions.”
In the myth, Icarus ignored his father’s warnings about flying too close to the sun, burned his wings and plunged into the sea.
Basden, who made some adaptations for today’s dancers and emphasized the love story between the father and son, believes the audience will respect the physicality, the technicality and difficulty of the roles and relate to the story as it unfolds on stage.
“It’s been a labor of love for me,” says Basden, giving credit to Dance NOW! Miami and Baumgarten and Salterini’s risk-taking to mount this ballet.
“The dance is a wonderful example of Mr. Arpino’s passion and movement quality and I hope that people are not only moved by the challenging physicality of the three dancers, but can relate to the universal theme that is being conveyed in the dance.”
She says she finds there's a universal message that she believes audiences will find relatable and Arpino's brilliance that will shine.
“Mr. Arpino took the essence of the ancient Greek myth and put his own spin on the ending,” Basden says. “It will leave the audience astonished.”
Dance NOW! Miami Program III 8 p.m., Thursday, May 11; Duncan Theatre, 4200 South Congress Ave., Lake Worth; 8 p.m., Friday, May 12 at Amaturo Theater at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 8 p.m., Saturday, May 13 at Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura. $50 reserved seating, $20 for students with valid ID. Advance tickets for all venues at www.dancenowmiami.org/events/program3. (305) 975-8489 or dancenowmiami.org.