Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St.
November 3-8, $52-$110
It’s a thrill seeing former New York City Ballet legends Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto perform together for the first time in a decade in Hagoromo; if only it were in a more thrilling production. Conceived and directed by David Michalek, Whelan’s husband, Hagoromo (“The Feathered Robe”) is an adaptation of a traditional Noh drama about an elegant celestial garment that drifts from the heavens to earth, where it is found by a fisherman (Soto). The angel (Whelan) whom it belongs to descends to reclaim the magical robe, but the fisherman demands an angelic dance in return. Sara Brown’s set is a large room with a pale wood floor and walls on two sides at the back and the right; the performers enter and exit from the left. At the front of the stage is an apron of black, suggesting a dark reflecting pool. At the back, a window opens up to reveal a circle of celestial light, while the beautiful silk robe sits regally on a frame at center stage. Above the wall are twenty members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, forming an angelic choir; contralto Katalin Károlyi, who sings the role of the angel, and tenor Peter Tantsits, who sings the fisherman; and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), featuring company artistic director Claire Chase on flute, Rebekah Heller on bassoon, Jennifer K. Curtis on violin, Daniel Lippel on guitar, and Ross Karre on percussion and dulcimer, all conducted by Nicholas DeMaison.
The first part of the ninety-minute show, which takes place in the Palace of the Moon, is lovely, as Whelan, wearing an ashen black-and-white outfit in which her limbs seem to be disappearing (the costumes, which become more colorful, are by Dries Van Noten), makes inventive use of the title robe as she dances at first by herself, then joined by two life-size puppet versions of herself, designed by Chris M. Green and operated by puppeteers dressed in black. It’s utterly breathtaking when the angel and her two masked doppelgangers join at the front of the stage and look down at their reflections. Another segment with animals playing with the robe provides comic relief, but once the magical garment flutters down to earth, Nathan Davis’s chamber music and Brendan Pelsue’s libretto turn far too New Age-y, lacking the ethereal beauty of the first half while also feeling much more like a moralistic tale for children. Károlyi’s singing remains impressive, but Tantsits has trouble connecting with the audience. But that doesn’t stop Whelan and Soto from soldiering on, leading to a series of pas de deux that makes it all worthwhile.