Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Buglisi Dance Theater Stephanie van Dooren and Ari Mayzick, center, and other troupe members in “This Is Forever” at the Joyce Theater.
It hasn’t quite been two decades since Jacqulyn Buglisi and three of her colleagues in the Martha Graham Dance Company formed a troupe of their own. At the time Graham was declining, and Ms. Buglisi hoped to continue the Graham line from where Graham had left off. But the works on the opening-night program of Buglisi Dance Theater’s 20th season, which began at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday, could have passed for much older than 20. And that’s including the two premieres.
Ms. Buglisi’s choreography draws upon Graham’s technique, theatricality and high emotional pitch but not upon the forbidding formal obscurity and sharp edges of Graham’s modernism (nor, of course, upon her genius). The consequence isn’t only that Ms. Buglisi’s aesthetic can look like a throwback, more antique than its source. It’s also that there’s no check on sentimentality.
Ms. Buglisi’s new “This Is Forever” is based on “Forever,” a 1934 novella about a couple who fall in love before they are born, die just after meeting in life and reunite in heaven. The dance’s central man and woman (Jason Jordan and So Young An) come together and part and come together again. Matched by three other couples in white, they rush from opposite wings and join in high, spinning lifts. It’s as pretty as a bubble bath.
Steve Margoshes’s score, which he played live on piano, could have served as the soundtrack for the film of “Forever” that Hollywood never made. Andy Teirstein’s score for Ms. Buglisi’s other new dance, “Snow Falling on Water,” also played live, is less cloying.
And though Jack Meher’s video backdrop shows — guess what? — snow falling on water, this choreography for a circling couple holds more intrigue. Ari Mayzick lets Helen Hansen French literally walk all over him, yet his turns and leg extensions reveal great power.
Mr. Mayzick’s taut strength was also on display in the muscle poses and spirals to and from the floor of “Prelude,” a 1997 solo by Ms. Buglisi’s ex-partner Donlin Foreman. (Until 2006 Buglisi Dance Theater was Buglisi/Foreman Dance.) And in three short solos choreographed by Nacho Duato, Natasha Diamond-Walker caught the melancholy in Majorcan folk songs in the way she swirled her skirt.
All of these dancers are sure in technique and ardent in manner, and all of Ms. Buglisi’s dances contain striking moments. In “Rain” (2004) both dancer and dance are occluded behind a scrim on which bad video of a rain forest is projected; both drown in the bathetic alternation between rain forest sounds and Mahler.
In “Requiem” (2001) all is exposed. This dance for five women who rise statuesque on stools and mourn in voluminous drapery, with Clifton Taylor’s tomb lighting and Fauré’s music, is in the mode that best capitalizes on Ms. Buglisi’s strengths. (The earlier “Suspended Women,” on the second program, does so better.) On Tuesday the cast included Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, two of the three Graham dancers who were with Ms. Buglisi from the beginning. For the many in the overcapacity opening-night audience who seemed to believe in Ms. Buglisi’s vision, the experience must have been ecstatic.
Buglisi Dance Theater continues through Sunday at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 242-0800, joyce.org.