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Flash Review 2, 2-19: Balanchine's Democracy
Caviar & Champagne, Ice Cream & Cotton Candy

By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2001 Diane Vivona

New York City Ballet on a Saturday night in an all-Balanchine program -- what could be better? This is caviar and champagne, or ice cream and cotton candy, depending on your age and preference for sweet or savory. This evening at the State Theater offered a tasting of each and, as I sat between a preadolescent girl and a septuagenarian man, both equally enthralled, I was reminded of Balanchine's ardor for American democracy. He created dances in a wide spectrum of flavors and colors and presented them all equitably. In his own presidential way, Balanchine gave the audience an electoral vote and choreographed a little something for all.

The evening opened with the Bach/Balanchine crystal jewel "Concerto Barocco." Wendy Whelan and Jennie Somogyi were distinctively paired as the dueling string soloists. Whelan is steel-cored, her limbs resonating each melodic vibration in generous overtones; Somogyi is a waterfall of fluidity. It is surprising to see the two in unison. Somogyi matches Whelan's speed with calm alacrity but leaves behind a trace form of all that has come before. Whelan etches her movements in photographic realism. She dances as if there were nothing before this moment, right here, now. Caught between these two is the smudge of imbalance that makes this piece rise beyond form and structure. The wild arms and overstepped lines, the broad variations of head tilts and shoulder dips only add to the exultant excitement of the choreographed composition. For both Bach and Balanchine, the technical complexity of the work serves as a wonderful formula to evince human individuality as nature's proudly flawed perfection.

Yvonne Borree made her debut in "Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux," but her partner, Damian Woetzel, stole all the glitter from her tiara. Woetzel attacked every turn, batterie, and leaping twirl of bravura with unmatched fearlessness. Even his partnering work had the mark of a winning gladiator. Woetzel exudes confidence and we gladly cheer him on. He is the star quarterback leading us to the Super Bowl of virtuosity and he knows it. Borree, despite her glamour, seems miscast in this exuberant work. She lingers in the few moments of sustained adagio as if wishing she could live there. I wished she could live there, for in these brief passages Borree was exquisite. Unfortunately for her, this work is far from languid and serene. As the duet progressed, Borree appeared more restrained and reserved and by her last series of turns she had fully retreated. Certainly Borree does not lack the technical ability required for this role, but she could pocket a little of Woetzel's ample strut.

In the midst of the 1970s' influx of European 'new dance,' Balanchine did not escape the challenge of trying his hand at nouveau expressionism. "Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir" is his retort to the popularity of this European style; in particular, it targets the work of Maurice Bejart. As it was choreographed in 1974, one can't help but feel that the work is somehow related to the defection by Suzanne Farrell to Bejart's company. The after-taste is dark and bitter, not a usual flavor in the Balanchine repertoire. "Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir" is at once striking in its visual extremity and numbing for its lack of content. Tom Gold is the sighing figure. Dressed in a pale unitard with thin black stripes, his hair and face coated in grayish-white, he is part Butoh, part dust mite. Sometimes his distorted movements -- a mouth gaping open at the end of a long extended back bend, a crawl on pointed elbow and knees, a seal like twist to the floor-- seem on the verge of consciousness, as if they might add up to something. Gold tries to find an internal logic to his movements, but three quarters of the way through he gives up and so do we.

Helene Alexopoulos is beautiful as the door. Adorned with a bobbed black wig and a diamante waistline, she is the quintessential 1920s Erte figure. Her voluminous costume -- a sheet of black silk by Rouben Ter-Arutunian which covers the stage and has its own intricate choreography -- is a masterpiece of fluid fabric sculpture. Alexopoulos models this work well. In one section, her figure is enlarged in silhouette. The curtains part and move, begging her to move with them. She follows, flexing her nimble spine to create shapes in the style of art deco lamps and vases. To follow her shadow, she bends over and crawls with extended limbs and at once we see the handicap of her beauty. Though lovely to look at, she is imprisoned by the extreme of her vanity.

The final image swaths both figures in the dark folds of oily silk. The fabric billows and slides and the moment is drained of dramatic content. Fashion, albeit Euro-fashion, rules. I like this piece, or sections of it, but the images don't amount to anything. Somewhere along the way Balanchine lost his train of thought or his muse or his anger. Or maybe he just had to go to another rehearsal.

"Chaconne" is a fluffy piece with dancing that roams across the pleasantries: romanticism, classicism, neoclassicism. If none of the previous works suited your taste buds, this piece will suffice. Here technique is highlighted and incorporated into friendly divertissement. Margaret Tracey astonishes with a series of repeated entrechat six, Jennifer Tinsley and Edward Liang perform a tight duet whose multiple pirouettes even they seemed pleased to accomplish, and Dena Abergel and Pauline Golbin are delightful in their lyrical demi-soloist roles. Throughout, the women appear in various attire: long chiffon dresses with their hair down, short tight tunics and miniskirts with their hair up, leotards with calf-length skirts for those who like something in-between. It is indeed something for everyone -- and isn't that nicely democratic?

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