Most dancers know the second they caught the dance bug. For the choreographer Christopher Williams, rising up in Syracuse, it was at a efficiency of “Les Sylphides,” acknowledged as the first ballet blanc, or plotless ballet. This Michel Fokine work, initially carried out by Sergei Diaghilev’s influential Ballets Russes in 1909, presents a shimmering world by which a younger poet meets a group of sylphs, their blindingly white lengthy tutus casting the scene in a ghostly haze.
Over the years, Williams has held firmly onto that have: It was the first ballet he noticed, as he writes in program notes, “that made me want to embody something hauntingly otherworldly.”
Unearthly, ethereal, magical and, sure, otherworldly: These phrases are synonymous with Williams’s dances, for which he has mined Greek mythology, folklore and the lives of saints. For his debut program at the Joyce Theater, which opened Tuesday, Williams pays homage to his personal dance awakening — and to different works from the Ballets Russes — to create a new model of “Les Sylphides.”
Williams’s “Les Sylphides” is overly repetitive, a tough hurdle to beat with the spiraling, seemingly ceaseless motion vocabulary. But it builds into one thing of a gem when the choreography turns into much less about making shapes than feeling them. Certainly, this euphoric “Les Sylphides” is the spotlight of the night.
It’s additionally private. As with one other new Ballets Russes-era reimagining on the program, “The Afternoon of a Faun,” Williams has put a queer twist on the unique. Both are intently related to Vaslav Nijinsky, the sensational dancer who choreographed and starred in the first, extremely erotic “Faun”; Williams’s response is to solid Taylor Stanley, a gifted New York City Ballet principal whose soulful, delicate dancing manifests from the inside out. While extremely exact, Stanley has the capacity to be mysterious with out seeming to strive; right here, he’s one thing of a wizard in the approach he brings to life the sculptural poses so paying homage to Nijinsky, but together with his personal fashionable beating coronary heart.
In “Les Sylphides,” set to Chopin, Stanley has a wonderful accomplice in the dancer Mac Twining, who additionally seems with him in excerpts from “Narcissus.” (More excerpts from “Daphnis & Chloé” solely served to sluggish the program down; the first half, together with elements of “Faun,” landed someplace on the moony facet of sluggish.) As the Poet, Twining, who’s first seen writing in a journal with a quill whereas sitting on the fringe of the stage — it’s not as horrible because it sounds — encounters the Queen of the Sylphs (Stanley), who guidelines over a tribe of woodland faeries.
For the Sylphs, Williams takes unfastened inspiration from the Radical Faeries, a countercultural motion of queer communities who dwell off the grid; his Sylphs — spiraling and twisting as they spill out and in of formations throughout the stage — call to mind earth-tone butterflies, dashing and darting in a dusky night time.
Bare-chested and carrying gossamer skirts adorned with cobweb-like veins and delicate wings affixed to their forearms — the costumes are by Andrew Jordan, Williams’s gifted, longtime collaborator — these Sylphs, with Stanley as their chief, band collectively to point out the Poet that their way of life is a good motive for him to slide out of his garments and be part of their tribe. Exuberant and tender, with a watch towards the erotic, they entice him till he’s in keeping with the group.
After a lilting dance reaches a feverish pitch — the Sylphs’ piqué turns spin quicker and quicker till they elevate, seemingly hovering in the air — Twining, flushed with freedom, is left alone with Stanley, who spins him out of his garments. Together, they rush into the wing. It’s lovable.
For “Afternoon of a Faun,” to Debussy, Williams once more works with an all-male solid to reinvent the sexually charged story that includes a Faun (Stanley) and the Chief of the Nymphs (Joshua Harriette). Williams’s model takes a extra sinister tone than Nijinsky’s erotic one, sparked by a line in the Mallarmé poem for which the dance is called: the Faun refers to — as Williams writes — a “kiss that quietly gives assurance of treachery.”
Williams’s Nymphs are extra barbarous than standard; his Faun, an harmless, doesn’t stand a probability and, in the finish, is devoured by them. It’s a little goofy — extra comical than surprising, like a scene out of a zombie apocalypse film. There was laughter. But the sweep of “Les Sylphides” — with its nod to Nijinsky and, it appeared, to Isadora Duncan — led to a completely different sort of laughter, one born of enjoyment. It wasn’t simply Jordan’s fanciful costumes holding the dance collectively, it was the dancing. And that was completely different.
Christopher Williams Dances
Through Sunday at the Joyce Theater, joyce.org.