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'DHIAGHILESQUE!' Takes Ballets Russes Where It Has Never Been Before

KineticArchitecture reinterprets classical ballet through the lens of feminist and trans* issues.

The New York International Fringe Festival is an opportunity for artists to showcase works that may otherwise have never made it to a New York City stage. Sometimes they come from far away; other times they are simply so strange or provocative that it is impossible to tell beforehand how audiences will react. Such is the case with DHIAGHILESQUE! performed by Arrie Davidson's KineticArchitecture Dance Theatre.

The idea behind the piece is a reinterpretation of the classic works of the famous Ballets Russes—a company most well known for their premiere of Swan Lake, but which also created celebrated works such as The Firebird and Scheherazade. Each dance piece is performed in a contemporary or ballet style using a combination of classical and modern music in five minutes or less, and the selection of numbers is interspersed with historical and social commentary on the original performances and the (often highly sexist and problematic) stories they tell. And of course, most of the show is performed in the nude.

While some of the nudity feels absolutely necessary to the piece, highlighting issues of female degradation or of body acceptance, for much of the show the choice seems quite debatable. Still, the dancers' commitment to a skilled and dignified performance despite the lack of clothing is to be applauded, and Davidson's clean choreography, if not as complex as it could be, is quite moving. When costumes are worn, they run the gamut from star-shaped pasties over cotton tank tops to grotesque Commedia-style masks with massive noses, as if to declare that in DHIAGHILESQUE!, nothing is sacred but the dance itself.

The thematic center of the piece, however, involves no jokes, gimmicks or outlandish costumes. It is when Arrie Davidson, the Artistic Director of KineticArchitecture and a transwoman, gives a powerful, moving monologue about the symbolic deaths that occur in the life of every trans* person due to family rejection or inability to express their true selves, followed by a simple, faithful reproduction of the famous "death of the swan" solo from Swan Lake performed while slowly stripping away all of her clothing. A graceful and skilled dancer en pointe, Davidson reveals the true power of dance with the immense honesty and vulnerability of the moment.

The other soloists throughout the show, of course, also give strong performances, while the women's intricate partnering work is entrancing to watch. The ensemble number "Scheherazade" is another highlight of the production, and while certain elements, such as the confusing mashup of songs used for the "Firebird" number, prove distracting, on the whole DHIAGHILESQUE! is a beautiful piece about giving dignity back to women in ballet.

DHIAGHILESQUE! performs at the 14th Street Y as part of the New York International Fringe Festival through August 29.

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