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Flash Review, 5-30: Inconsistency at NYCB
Swains from the Shoddy to the Sublime, and a Soloist Stops and Starts

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2001 Alicia Mosier

It was an evening of replacements last night at the State Theater -- some disappointing, some exciting. On a New York City Ballet program featuring "Walpurgisnacht Ballet," "Ancient Airs and Dances," and "Dances at a Gathering," the only consistent element was the ponytails on the women.

The most disappointing replacement came in Jerome Robbins's "Dances at a Gathering," in which five dancers were to have made debuts in various parts. Instead, because of injuries and illnesses and subsequent substitutions in "Ancient Airs and Dances," we saw pretty much the same cast that took shape last season: Helene Alexopoulos in mauve, Jenifer Ringer in yellow, Maria Kowroski in green, Rachel Rutherford in blue, Yvonne Borree in pink, Jared Angle in purple, Peter Boal in brown, James Fayette in blue, Sebastian Marcovici in green, and Antonio Carmena in brick. Ringer and Alexopoulos were stronger and more impassioned than ever in their parts. I hadn't seen Boal, Borree, Angle, or Carmena in their respective roles before; all of them brought unusual perspectives.

Boal had something on his mind when he came onstage for that opening meditation. Pensive, almost preoccupied, he showed us in a few brief moments a precis of the whole ballet, its breezy dance tropes and the shadows of emotion that linger behind them. His seriousness washed through the whole performance.

In pure dance terms, few of the young men at NYCB can touch Angle right now, but his tremendous focus was not the asset here that it is elsewhere in the repertoire. I thought the little competition between the boys in purple and brown was a guaranteed laugh-getter; as in the rest of this performance, not a single laugh was got. (Except, that is, during Kowroski's brilliant turn as the girl in green, in which her take on it -- playing it almost as a girl playing "grown-up" at her mother's vanity table -- was even more nuanced than it was last season.) But Angle shone in his late duet with Borree, who made very much her own the part danced for so long by Kyra Nichols, filling it with a dreamy abandon I wish she'd show more often. I love this duet -- with its exploration of the varieties of tenderness and its emotional foreshadowing of the work's heartrending end -- more than almost anything else in the ballet. Angle and Borree, looking like teenagers in love, gave it a slightly worried sweetness. Carmena, a buoyant jumper, made a darling thing of his early duet with Ringer. In adagio sections, Cameron Grant's tempi at the piano dragged the pace of the dancing. On the whole, however, this was a wonderfully relaxed -- if too sober -- performance.

A quite different atmosphere prevailed in Richard Tanner's "Ancient Airs and Dances," a paint-by-numbers suite to Renaissance-inspired music by Respighi. The opening ensembles, in Holly Hynes's black tights and tunics, never miss a chance to intrude on one another; the fidgety stepping never stops. The first third of the ballet manages to be both busy and boring. Saskia Beskow, Jenny Blascovich, Stuart Capps, and Stephen Hanna wouldn't leave poor Kowroski alone in her Gagliarda pas de deux with Nilas Martins, who with his shoddy partnering almost ruined her exceptional performance. Kowroski's funny-girl roles this season in "The Concert" and "Variations Serieuses" seem to have loosened her up; here, as in "Dances at a Gathering," she danced warmly, theatrically, and fearlessly.

After an awfully sketchy first part, the ballet was literally saved by Jock Soto and Miranda Weese in the Siciliana pas de deux. Here was the most thrilling replacement of the night: in the middle of a bad ballet, a better ballet appeared. Ah, the power of partnering! It helps that this is the best duet of the three in "Ancient Airs and Dances," but it was Soto's deft, dangerous handling of Weese that suddenly turned the ballet into something interesting. In a thunderstorm of lifts all over the stage, Soto let Weese flash like lightning. The audience couldn't restrain its excitement; it broke into long applause halfway through the duet. Jennie Somogyi and Marcovici followed this tour de force with a terrifically energetic performance in the Passacaglia. (Marcovici needs to watch his shoulders, which tend to hunch up and give his upper body a "Huh?" expression.) Messy conducting from Maurice Kaplow blurred the final Bergamasca ensemble, but the memory of that scorching Siciliana carried the ballet to a place I haven't seen it reach before.

The partnering of Martins (it could be the title of a scholarly essay) again did some damage in Balanchine's "Walpurgisnacht Ballet," but he was out of the way before too much went wrong. Wendy Whelan was full of ginger in the principal role, going for super-fast double pique turns when a mere single was asked of her, finding every bit of fire in Charles Gounod's exuberant music. Alexandra Ansanelli, in the soloist part, kept repeating a disturbing pattern: she'd start brilliantly, with a triple pirouette or a big grand jete, then almost immediately her feet would start to sickle and her strength would peter out. Her long absences from the stage have left her with very little stamina. I look forward to the day (if, God forbid, it's not already past her) when she'll do a triple at the *end* of a variation.

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