Gemma Bond’s program for the Joyce Theater’s Ballet Festival featured some of American Ballet Theatre’s top talent, as might be expected since she also works there. She did very well with most of them, not so well with others. The show opened with Then and Again which proved to be the weakest work of the night. It looked under-rehearsed (which is not surprising, these summer projects have to fit in around everyone else’s schedule which makes time in the studio hard to come by). Bond’s choreography for this dance had lots of idiosyncratic hand movements and arm shapes and few of the dancers had internalized the movements well enough to be convincing. It gave much of the choreography a forced and un-natural look. Thomas Forster came off best followed by the lithe Jose Sebastian. It looked like a choreographer struggling to find her voice but whether or not that could have been fixed by more rehearsals I’m not sure. The second of the caprices used lighting from the downstage corners which threw chaotic shadows all across the backdrop. If it was meant to add atmosphere, it didn’t. It looked like the lighting at a dance school recital. I wasn’t at all sure what Bond’s intentions were with this ballet but it didn’t work for me.

© Rob Brayman
© Rob Brayman
The Giving featured newly promoted ABT principal dancer, Christine Shevchenko in a duet with the veteran Cory Stearns. I have the sense that we’re only beginning to find out how great a dancer Shevchenko will be. Every time I see her she seems to be exploring new depths of expression. Taking Bond’s choreography and imprinting it with her own authority and conviction, she made this dance memorable and occasionally potent. An extended solo had her dancing within a rectangle of light with her hands behind her back and she was extraordinary. Everything she and Stearns did together was just right. It was supremely competent partnering done with artistry. There were a couple of moments in this ballet when it lapsed into academic dance movement and lost its impact. When Shevchenko was dancing beautifully and then suddenly dropped into fourth position for a double pirouette, it took me out of the dream that she was conjuring. The ballet ended with Shevchenko on her knees facing the audience, perfectly still and perfectly haunting. It showed how much Bond has grown since her early years dancing the Royal Ballet repertoire. I would like to see her remove any purely academic movements from her choreography because that is when she is at her best.

The closing number, Impressions, brought together all of Bond’s best ideas and instincts with some the best ballet dancers working today. Devon Teuscher (another recent promotion to principal), Cassandra Trenary and Skylar Brandt, three of the very best of ABT’s younger generation of women were reliably and predictably terrific. They each adapted easily to Bond’s vocabulary of quirky gestures and made them seem natural and effortless. For the most part, Teuscher partnered with Calvin Royal, Trenary was with James Whiteside, and Brandt was with Gabe Stone Shayer.

© Rob Brayman
© Rob Brayman
There was some partner switching including a poignant moment when Whiteside reprised a section of a pas de deux he had just danced with Trenary by repeating it with Tyler Maloney. It was beautiful and well done. Bond’s choreography was very well suited to Whiteside who seemed to be in his element. With this line-up of dancers it would be hard to miss but Bond created a very tight and enjoyable ballet that I would enjoy seeing again.

Despite a weak opener on the program, Gemma Bond’s choreography continues to gain momentum and she is producing consistently better works. She has a significant upcoming commission with the Washington Ballet that will propel her to the next level and allow her to continue to grow as a creator of dances. The Giving and Impressions are very good pieces that make a case for Bond as a choreographer worthy of bigger commissions. Let hope more dance companies notice and give her a chance.