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Flash Review 1, 5-4: NYCB Springs Back
Sparkling Start to City Ballet Season

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2001 Darrah Carr

It is difficult not to enjoy a program including three Balanchine ballets and a work by Jerome Robbins. New York City Ballet did an excellent job of interpreting these classics, as well as a more recent piece by Peter Martins, Wednesday at the New York State Theater.

From this impressive line-up, Balanchine's "Movements for Piano and Orchestra," returning this season, stands out as the most remarkable. The choreography is at once about utter extremes and attention to small details. Helene Alexopoulos, who creates a dynamic partnership with Charles Askegard, executes a 180-degree penche, then drops her head to her knee. She flashes a piercing front extension, then completes it with a sharply jutting hip. Askegard drags her from a balanced arabesque, to an off-balance penche. The angle of Alexopoulos's extension is thus stretched to a further extreme, which she punctuates by flexing her foot. The harsh angularity of these positions, as well as the corps' flexed wrists and splayed second position plies, mirrors Igor Stravinsky's slightly dissonant score. A tense, taut, high-strung sexuality runs through the work, and is particularly palpable in the energy between the lead couple.

The audience enjoyed another Balanchine/Stravinsky combination in "Monumentum Pro Gesualdo." Maria Kowroski, a relative newcomer, at least to the ranks of principal (since 1999), shone in the role in which she made a debut this week as the lead female, displaying clean technique with great poise. She, too, made a powerful pairing with Askegard. The ballet's most indelible image comes at the end, as all seven couples, with women in white leotards and men in black tights, line up in a diagonal, side by side, like piano keys. The men kneel, while the women first bend backwards, then slide forward into graceful splits.

The third Balanchine ballet on the program, "Divertimento No. 15" is an absolute masterpiece of compositional craft, from Mozart's score, to Balanchine's choreography, to the marriage of the two. The minuet stands out as an example of Balanchine's genius. He manipulates eight corps dancers through a virtual kaleidoscope of ever-shifting spatial patterns: squares, concentric circles, diagonals, etcetera. The patterns are by no means predictable, yet they are so well crafted that the minute the dancers arrive at a new formation, one has the extremely satisfying response of, "Ahhh -- of course! Of course that is where they should go! And, there is no other place they could have gone!"

Jerome Robbins's "The Four Seasons," set to Verdi's score, is a bit more predictable in structure, only in that being based on the title theme, it is divided into four obvious sections. Even so, it was no less delightful than the Balanchine works, and in many ways, much more theatrical. Jenifer Ringer captivated the audience as the sparkling lady of Spring. Her dancing is graceful and full and she performs with a gentle, but genuine smile. Fall was announced by the quick, dramatic entrance of 16 corps dancers, who burst from the wings like a flurry of autumn leaves, tossed in the wind. They provided an engaging framework for Damian Woetzel's breathtaking variations.

Peter Martins's duet "Valse Triste," with music by Jean Sibelius, abounds with haunting, if slightly melodramatic, images of love lost. Darci Kistler gives an evocative interpretation of her role as a woman revisited by, and ultimately abandoned by, her partner, Jock Soto. Her artistry is great and enduring.

New York City Ballet performs a variety of programs now through July 1 for its Spring Season at the New York State Theater. For program and casting info, please visit the NYCB web site.

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