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Debuts and Debauches
All in a Night's Work at City Ballet
By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2001 Diane Vivona
It's a funny thing to
review the New York City Ballet: Everything old as new again. Wednesday
evening's performance was to be noteworthy in view of several debuts
-- most notably Wendy Whelan in "Donizetti Variations." But Whelan
was replaced by the steady Miranda Weese; therein the square dance
began. A change of cast, a shift of focus and the quest for what
possibly could be newsworthy is on.
The program itself was
moody and vaudevillian in tempo. "Donizetti Variations"' is George
Balanchine on speed via Denmark; Jerome Robbins's "Afternoon of
a Faun" is minimalist social commentary; Peter Martins's "Slonimsky's
Earbox"' is awkward and clueless; Balanchine's "La Valse" a romantic
fantasia. In each the dancers appear physically facile as well as
exceptional in their individuality. Their attack and panache fray
seams and rip rough edges and the effect verges on obscene distortion.
Indeed, perhaps this is what is newsworthy: the execution of relatively
old (1951, 1953, 1960, 2000) choreography with a 21st century appetite
for the extreme.
is a funny piece. Balanchine seems to be creating a matinee crowd
pleaser: Bournonville with a few jazz swings and wink-wink asides
in the guise of stage whispers. The men in the piece look unfortunately
preadolescent in their tunics and sailor ties; the girls look like
escapees from "Coppelia." Principals Miranda Weese and Philip Neal
have their work cut out for them. In addition to having to pull
off numerous tricks at breakneck speed, they also have to maintain
the illusion that they are cute, youthful and flirtatious. Weese
has a lovely way of sustaining and elongating the end of a bravura
flurry that creates a soothing lushness after a brisk cold air.
All appears easy for her. Neal is winningly boyish and seems to
enjoy showing off his etched jumps and crisply executed turns. At
one point he bounces through a series of batterie, smiling coyly
between each as if to say, "And here's another, if you don't mind.
And, well, one more, or maybe shall I make it two?" This attitude
may be tiresome and sophomoric, particularly considering the age
of the dancers; however, this is not reality, this is ballet --
swallow that sugar pill and move on.
of a Faun"' is up next with Sebastien Marcovici making his debut
as the male Narcissus figure. Marcovici has a beautiful face and
an expressive upper body. His partner, Alexandra Ansanelli, has
legs as long as the river Nile and a face unmarked by life's experiences.
Together they are creatures of another world in a fleet meeting
of limbs and poses. Robbins's choreography is minimal and exposing.
Marcovici and Ansanelli ably strike the positions and execute the
steps but to little avail. The meaning within the movement is lacking.
Ironically enough, this work about adolescent narcissism requires
a more developed maturity than either of these young dancers currently
is a real disaster. If it had subtitles they would read: "Jump!
Jump! Jump around! Turn a bit! Turn and jump together!" And then
they would repeat. It is enough to create instant nausea. Martins
seems to be going for Twyla Tharp's go-for-broke crazy technical
wizardry but he lacks her imagination, intelligence and wit. The
dancers do their best to take these unkinetic phrases and make something
of them but even they seem to tire of the inherent awkwardness.
To his credit, Damian Woetzel never gives up and his subtitle of
"Jump! Jump! Jump!" never loses its exclamation point. "Slonimsky's
Earbox" is so disjointed that you can almost see the rehearsal breaks
in the choreography. It seems Martins just doesn't have any original
movement in him. And so it ends: "Turn, turn, turn. Pose! Jump!
Jump! Jump and turn together! Turn and jump in partners! Pose! Curtain."
"La Valse" featured the
debuts of Jared Angle, Amanda Edge, Alexander Ritter and Christopher
Boehmer. Of these, Angle can be singled out for his musicality and
his appropriate framing of principal Darci Kistler. I do not envy
the men of this company, who forever have to compete with Balanchine's
statement, "Ballet is woman."; but I do admire them. "La Valse"
is a macabre romantic fairy tale -- women dance in a dark forest;
lovers meet and swoon; death comes with tempting jewels and sweeps
the beloved off her feet, literally; after death, everyone dances
in a ritualized circle; the curtain lowers and the dead maiden's
body rises. This is a strange piece -- Byron on opium -- but, nevertheless,
engaging. Darci Kistler as the lover/angel sparkles and shines;
each movement is a diamond-cut gem. Fireflies spark from her fingertips
and immediately catch light. Invisible flashes of fairy dust emanate
from her legs and feet. She dances and you can't take your eyes
off her. Truly Kistler is the stuff that Balanchine's dreams were
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