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Flash Review 2, 2-5: Ballet Bouquet
At NYCB, Dance and Music, Pure and Simple

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

Thursday night's program from New York City Ballet at the State Theater showcased the essence of romanticism in a Robbins/Chopin bouquet. It also showed ballet as an evolving art form through tweaked, rigorous classicism. The bill allowed the company's strengths to shine even without sets or big production values: dance and music formed a pure and satisfying experience.

Balanchine's "Episodes," (1959) to music by Anton von Webern, led off the evening. In this paean (and challenge) to pure classicism, the dancers wore basic black, pink, and white leotards, and performed fundamental ballet moves mixed in with somewhat twisted ones. Phrases sometimes began with fractured poses only to snap into a simple echappe. The composer's spare, analytical music was at times matched by the choreography in a punctuated manner, like the second hand of a ticking clock. As von Webern evidently analyzed and dissected classical music, so Balanchine did with ballet, playfully experimenting with the form, inverting positions and adding an extra dimension.

Arch Higgins, partnering Kathleen Tracy, projected confidence and a honed focus. Helen Alexopoulos stepped over a kneeling James Fayette like a spider; he carted her upside-down and bounced her plumb off the stage through splits. Jennie Somogyi and Albert Evans (both exceptionally muscular) linked hands with four women and moved through logistical kinetic puzzles like a giant, multi-extremitied monster. Long-limbed Charles Askegard partnered long-limbed Maria Kowroski in the most melodic passage yet, their poses (still staccato) accentuated with crab-like, or winged-out, hands. In the finale, the corps waved its arms in unison like a soft field of wheat in the wind.

"In the Night" (1970) surely ranks up there as one of the most romantic short ballets ever. Jerome Robbins's choreography was performed in front of a starlit backdrop (lighting by Jennifer Tipton) to live Chopin played by Cameron Grant, with costumes, including long tulle skirts, by Anthony Dowell. In its singular, magical way, Chopin's music by itself has the power to evoke swelling emotion, its heart-rending minor chords reluctantly resolving to major at the last second possible, like a feather falling to the ground. Add to the mix Robbins's lyrical partnering and a top-flight cast, and we had an idealized rendition of the pure pathos of love, of the feeling itself. Yvonne Borree, partnered by Sebastien Marcovici, depicted a tiny puff of percussion with a phantasmic, mid-lift shift of direction, more a thought than an action. Paired once more, Kowroski and Askegard performed with a regal Slavic flair, in canon as the left-hand part, finally inscribing wide circles around one another, she in simple, slow chaines, he walking. And James Fayette and Jenifer Ringer depicted a feistier version of romance. Ringer eluded, stiff-armed, and finally cosseted Fayette in conciliation.

In Twyla Tharp's "The Beethoven Seventh" (2000), the dancers wore sassy mesh transparent garments over colorful underlayers, by Isaac Mizrahi. It was the boldest display of virtuoso balletic technique of the evening, at times as traditional as Balanchine; at others, evidence of Tharp's physical wit and disarmament-stocked arsenal. Peter Boal commanded the piece with his effortless perfect balance, as demonstrated in five and six revolution turns, and a most basic releve in passe which was as still as and clear (and memorable) as a picture. Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans (the latter making his debut in this ballet) made an interesting duo, both athletically-built in polar opposite ways. While she uses her strength to cut and slice, laser-like, into a position, Evans meters his motion to consume all the time, and sometimes more, that one movement is given. And while Whelan's approach for some defines the contemporary appurtenance of ballet -- bold, confrontational, proud -- Evans's inward-looking stoicism may define the traditional masculine yang to her modern yin.

Damian Woetzel showed why he is a crowd favorite, as at ease with Tharp's quirks as with traditional ballet, eager and skillful at enchaining head flops and shimmies with old ballet stuff. Woetzel's musicality and subtlety radiated in the smallest gesture, as when he presented an invisible gift to the audience in his upturned palm. He was partnered by Miranda Weese, whose clean and proper turns gave a polish to their pairing. Throughout, Tharp balanced action and stillness, hi-lit musical climaxes in surprising ways, and managed to work in quotes of the jitterbug too.

For more on NYCB's season, please visit its web site.

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