Beach Birds, Duo, and Grosse Fugue

Lyon Opera Ballet at the Joyce Theater on Saturday, March 14.

One of the best-known classical ballets is Swan Lake, so there’s something kind of funny about a modern dance troupe performing a work titled “Beach Birds.” They have little in common, of course—just a shared tendency to adapt avian mannerisms into the syntax of their own movement. The ballerinas glide across the stage, gently raising and lowering their arms like swans alighting on the water, and the modern dancers cock their heads and dart headlong this way and that like gulls racing across the sand. In a way, the swan and the gull embody the different styles: one graceful above all else; the other less elegant, perhaps, but energetic and spirited and free.

“Beach Birds” was choreographed by Merce Cunningham, who died last year and is remembered as one of the giants of modern dance. The other two works on the program—“Duo,” choreographed by William Forsythe, and “Grosse Fugue,” choreographed by Maguy Marin—felt slight, overshadowed by comparison, but still interesting. All three made me wish I knew more about modern dance.