I went into Arthur Pita’s dance theater setting of Roland Topor’s The Tenant at The Joyce wanting to like it and for the most part, I did. It featured fine stagecraft, great music, first rate casting, and mostly effective choreography. The single best thing about the show was Frank Moon’s score, played by Moon himself on the piano, violin, who was also singing. He supplemented his own score with recorded music of Beethoven and an assortment of sound effects that served to enhance and heighten the drama at important points. When he sang in French I couldn’t tell that he wasn’t French. Moon has a long history of credits including theater and ballet with a couple of previous collaborations with Pita.

James Whiteside and Cassandra Trenary in Pita's <i>The Tenant</i> © Ian Douglas
James Whiteside and Cassandra Trenary in Pita's The Tenant
© Ian Douglas

As the audience entered the theater, the current tenant, Simone, played by American Ballet Theatre’s Cassandra Trenary, was restlessly moping around and looking generally miserable. Early indications were that she was on a bender. The show began and Trenary jumped into her character’s descent with evident enthusiasm. This is not a part you get to play on the ballet stage. As she rapidly descended into despair, she swilled vodka, snorted up lines of cocaine like Tony Montana and popped pills like a rock star. We’re never told why. Ultimately, she commits suicide by jumping off the roof. It just goes to show that even an apartment with great view of the Eiffel Tower can’t bring happiness. Trenary is a dancer who becomes increasingly more fascinating the more you know about that art of dance. It’s no stretch to say that she is among the foremost dancers of her generation at the art of phrasing. She has the ability to connect steps together into long strings of coherent ideas that seem improvised, even inevitable, rather than constructed by a choreographer. Her dancing in The Tenant was typically first rate but it’s telling that even she can’t quite make it memorable. There’s just too much flailing around to simulate Simone’s fractured emotional state. Trenary is perfectly capable of generating real drama without the physical spasms. Her best moments are the snippets of quiet drama when we see her hopelessness overtake her. Her eventual suicide was built up with roaring and crashing Beethoven as she climbed up to the roof and leaped. Thankfully she was able to come back and haunt Trelkovsky.

James Whiteside, also from ABT, plays Trelkovsky, who succeeds Simone as the tenant. He does not play it safe. Whiteside is well known for his forays into alternative dance and theatrical events that include drag shows. While he does eventually end up dressed in female clothing, this is not a drag act. Whiteside is not a dancer of Trenary’s caliber but he is a fine dramatist. He effectively portrayed the protagonist’s descent into paranoia and psychosis that end up with him assuming Simone’s personality to the point that he too kills himself. Whiteside’s portrayal of Trelkovsky was on the money, all the way. Everything was going great as he moved into his new Parisian apartment but it didn’t take long for it to go wrong. He has a torrid affair with Stella, played by Kibrea Carmichael who is a terrific dancer. Each time he left the apartment some sort of scanning device looked through the place. I took the things that happened in the empty apartment as evidence of Trelkovsky’s increasing paranoia. He gradually begins hallucinating as Simone’s ghost puts in recurring appearances. For me, the story ran off the rails as it lumbered toward the climax. Trelskovsky and Simone dance together, re-enacting her suicide as she comes back to life. He becomes possessed by her spirit, she reprises her great leap of no faith as he follows, then he does it again as a solo, then he comes back in a hospital bed, dressed in black. It was too ham-handed after so much had been done so well. It was a finale that bludgeoned the audience. Bottom line: a lot of great talent is at work in service of a vehicle that doesn’t quite measure up to their commitment. I was hoping for more than I got.

***11