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Flash Review 2, 1-29: I Got the Music All Over Me
Mixed Musical Marathon at NYCB

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

New York City Ballet's January 27 program was an homage to the relatively contented marriage of dance and music at the State Theater. It was, to say the least, a mixed bag.

Jerome Robbins's "Fanfare" (1953), to a score by Benjamin Britten incorporating a repeated theme by Henry Purcell, literally cast the dancers as instruments. Their costumes, by Irene Sharaff, bore embroidered pictures of the instruments they represented. The performance included a number of players who had just bowed in the roles at Saturday's matinee. Most prominent was the non-dancing role of Major Domo by David Lowenstein, who served capably as jovial narrator and ringmaster. The clarinets, Janie Taylor and Edward Liang, made a handsome pairing, though she was at a disadvantage -- and the timing was thrown off -- in parallel sections where she was called upon to match Liang's powerful jumps. Aesha Ash, Rebecca Krohn, and Eva Natanya need more rehearsals as a cello section; they were frequently not in sync.

Rachel Rutherford and Jared Angle moved smoothly through their partnering with savvy beyond their years. Amanda Hankes was elegant as the harp, if a bit serious in demeanor, and Antonio Carmena was an excellent, game match for Kurt Froman as a firecracker trumpet. The scene stealers were the three percussion instruments, which included a fine role debut by Benjamin Millepied; their characters (and the brass) were permitted human feelings such as boredom and fear. As a music lesson, "Fanfare" succeeds as a visual demonstration of the power of an orchestra, particularly in the finale performed to two separate, simultaneously played tempi, to which the women danced allegro and the men andante on separate halves of the stage. However, as theater, it felt didactic, overly perky, and a tad stale.

In contrast, Balanchine's 1972 "Duo Concertant" came across as timeless and relevant. It was danced beautifully by Yvonne Borree and Peter Boal to Stravinsky performed onstage by Guillermo Figueroa (violin) and Cameron Grant (piano). The dancers stood and watched the musicians for the first few minutes (and then periodically during breaks), and performed sometimes literal semaphoric renditions of the music, including some devilishly difficult (presumably for the musicians as well) passages of petite allegro. Borree and Boal were rewarding to watch, with a technical precision, delineation, and rich maturity that is rare.

"Kammermusik" (1978), also by Balanchine, featured Jenifer Ringer and Kathleen Tracey as the female leads. To Hindemith, played by Cameron Grant on piano, the cast included Nilas Martins and Albert Evans, plus nine corps men. Ringer, new to the role this week, established herself as intelligent, quick, and vivacious, even when partnered by the solid but lackluster Evans.

The evening's newest work, Eliot Feld's "Organon" (2001) to Bach organ music (a synth version, anyway), left me despondent. It was overblown, overproduced, overwrought, overpopulated, and underchoreographed. (It also evoked a number of other productions I've seen in the last few years, none by Feld or City Ballet.) The positives: Damian Woetzel turned in a passionate and courageous performance as the Christ-like protagonist, amazingly dexterous in shedding a unitard while hanging from a few rods of metal far above the stage. And a corps of 60+ has never looked as chic, dressed in black turtleneck/tank unitards and black socks and shoes, while the keyboardists, Elaine Chelton and Alan Moverman, played commendably.

Otherwise, this monstrous parable of -- ironically -- redemption gaudily showed every one of its many allotted pennies in tangibles: more props, more dancers, more speakers, whatever, with little or no spiritual or intellectual reward. By the end, I felt like I had been locked inside an organ during a marathon Mass. My senses were deadened, and the reassuring familiarity of dance's enriching, life-affirming virtues had all but evaporated.

For additional thoughts on "Organon," see my colleague Alicia Mosier's Flash Review 3, 1-24: Back to Diapers with Damian.

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