nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
August 14, 2010
A ballet about the rise of the Beat generation, inspired primarily by the works of Jack Kerouac and scored to a mix of live bongos, voiceover recordings of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg reading their work, and period music, The Beatitudes takes a very concrete approach to its underlying story. In a series of narratively clear scenes, each named after a Beat work, we see Ray, a young soldier, fight in World War II; return home and get introduced to the Beat scene by his girlfriend, Alvah; leave Alvah to go out West with a new friend, Dean; have adventures with other women while Alvah mourns his loss; and ultimately return home to reunite with Alvah. The storytelling approach can sometime feel a bit too literal, as well as a little too much of an archetype's journey rather than a specific character's engagement with a new culture—the Beats seem to be identified largely because they wear black and swig from wine bottles; Alvah's lament over Ray's leaving her is titled "Howl" (after the Allen Ginsberg poem); Dean and Ray's "On the Road" sequence is set to the theme song from the TV series Route 66.
The quality and technical strength of the dancing is terrific throughout, especially by the four principals, Ray (Jerry "Chip" Scuderi), Dean (Alfredo Solivan), Alvah (Maureen Duke), and Maggie (a woman Ray and Dean meet on their travels, danced by A. Temple Kemezis). "The Girls," a trio encountered at a roadhouse out west (Danielle Cortier, Valerie Cortier, and Ashley Talluto), also deserve special mention for their marvelously acrobatic and athletic pas de cinq with Dean and Ray. And the production elements are simple but elegant, with projections serving to fill in some of the story locations.
It's a little frustrating, then, that Melanie Cortier's choreography, like the story, often feels generic rather than specific. The mixture of spoken-word accompaniment, varied music, and live drumming provides an unusual rhythmic and musical palette, but the choreography doesn't seem to take full advantage. Rather than creating a specific movement vocabulary to express the emotional and sociological journey taken by the characters, or to articulate the aesthetics of the Beats, the piece primarily remains in the traditional idioms of contemporary ballet, with a little punctuation by swing-dance steps. The dance language is solid, very well executed, and enjoyable, but I feel like an opportunity to really use movement to explore the Beat culture wasn't fully realized.