“Stealing Time” is a brand-new ballet, with clocks in many scenes, sometimes ticking, numbers flashing, and occasionally dancers forming the circle of a clock’s face. With gorgeous music by Kurt Weill, artful dancing by members of the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet and unexpected details, the ballet is a meditation on time’s mysteries. Sunday afternoon was the final performance of its premiere run, the perfect way to spend a first day of spring with puzzling hints of snow.
We went to Dumbo, Brooklyn with plans so see a favorite Israeli dancer, Erez Ben-Zion Milatin, who was to appear in the lead role, but he was injured the previous evening, and his understudy Johnny Almedia stood in, partnered with Erez’s wife, Dawn Gierling Milatin. Both danced with expressiveness, grace and power.
The 16 riveting scenes played over two acts move energetically and inexorably, like time itself. The dancers are veiled and unveiled as scenes shift from the streets at sunset, to the inside of a nightclub called the Clock Club, to a ship named Utopia. The suitcases carried across stage might suggest time travelers, or tourists, or, in this day, immigrants or refugees. A double bass, placed horizontally, is a deathbed and later on a gondola. These dancers are seductive, as the leads mingle and join in with the rest of the company in joyful steps.
The music is by composer Kurt Weill, the son of a cantor who was born into a religious home in Dessau, Germany, and moved to Berlin at age 18, where he began writing opera. He gained fame throughout Europe for his work with Bertolt Brecht. In 1933, he fled from the Nazis, and later worked in Paris and then the U.S. He is best known for works including “The Threepenny Opera” with Brecht (1928) and “Lady in the Dark” with Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin (1941).
Michael Chernov, who directed and designed the new work, explains that Weill wrote two complete ballet scores, including one that was rarely performed. But he was drawn to Weil’s other compositions, and pieced together music from various works, in varying styles, using the stylistic differences for dramatic effect. “Stealing Time” includes frequent scene changes, with shifts in mood and music. All of the pieces, he writes in a program note, “contain, very clearly, the underlying motive of modernism and man’s great struggle with it.”
Chernov, who is co-artistic director of Gelsey Kirkland, was also inspired by Rene Magritte’s painting, “The False Mirror,” with a cloud-filled bright blue sky as the iris of an eye, where the eye is both a mirror and window, hinting at the complexity of seeing and being seen, of inner sight and outside vision. That painting appears on the cover of the program.
This double vision, as it were, has particular resonance this Purim week as we conceal and reveal ourselves in our own costumes and spirits.