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Flash Review 1, 2-19: Mr. B Winces
At NYCB, 16 Ways to Interpret One Beat

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

On Thursday at the State Theater, the New York City Ballet played Jekyll & Hyde. The all-Balanchine program comprised one folly balanced by two large fundamental ballets, one of which showed just how differently 16 people can interpret one moment in time; the other, by contrast, showing how precisely similar that interpretation can be.

"Symphony in Three Movements" (1972), to Stravinsky, opened the program with a proverbial fire alarm. A diagonal line of 16 women moves in what is presumably designed to be unison, but in actuality was anything but -- how so many interpretations of one beat could exist simultaneously is a marvel of human individuality, something that no doubt had Mr. B wincing in his dress circle seat in the sky.

The first section was earmarked with strident, geometrical movement: fists pumping; lunges in a crossed position with flexed hands; repeated phrases of preparation, attack, and release in jumps; turns; and stage crossings. Part two starred Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto in an avian ritual in which her crane-like legs carved arcs in promenades, and their hands flipped in and out, or sliced through space horizontally in a gesture at once protective and menacing. In the last part, the men executed inside turns, at the last moment shooting their released leg into crossed lunge.

"Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir" ("Variations for a Door and a Sigh") seems to be a folly that has been remounted in the interest of preservation and variety as much as testing the temporal waters. On paper, it is intriguing -- a duet to a set of brief sonorities (of course, sighing and door noises) by Pierre Henry, with dramatic scenery/costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. Tom Gold embraced the role of the sigh with great enthusiasm. His character was vulnerable -- emotional and clearly at the mercy of the female/door, danced by Helene Alexopoulos, whose regal authority was enhanced by the vast tent of a skirt that consumed the stage, and, eventually, the dancers. She was all angles and planes, opening and shutting and generally controlling the relationship at will.

I was leery of "Stars and Stripes" as I tend to run screaming from patriotic-themed ballets, but the corps' crispness and synchronized turns softened me up immediately despite Kristin Sloan's falling out of a simple double turn. And the costumes (by Karinska) somehow felt more French in style than American, mercifully not red, white, and blue, even though the music (based on Sousa) was unavoidably Fourth of July. As a showcase of the entire company's basic technique, it fared well, though I felt for the women when they had to developpe their legs in second while holding their heels, on pointe. The men's corps looked sharp, no doubt in part due to their snappy little uniforms, but they managed to execute cleanly synchronized circles of jetes in pairs.

Damian Woetzel and Miranda Weese had the tour de force duet; the highlight was a thrilling, repeated sequence in which he walked in a semi-circle as she moved into preparation for an arabesque turn, timed perfectly so that he joined her to partner her turn. Later, Weese seemed to be fatigued in a series of plodding passes, but Woetzel killed in a turn that began as a normal outside turn, then sped up as he lowered his foot down his leg, and decelerated as his leg was raised to a final, braking passe.

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