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Flash Review 2, 1-7: Dancers Wobble & a Good Ballet Falls Down
NYCB Dancers Fail Martins in Premiere

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- "Quartet for Strings," choreographed by Peter Martins to Verdi's String Quartet in E minor, was given its New York premiere this week by City Ballet at the State Theater. It was situated in Saturday afternoon's program between a segment of two Balanchine shorts and a Sean Lavery duet, and Jerome Robbins's entertaining dance, "The Four Seasons." Based on recent years' work by Martins, I had anticipated that any weakness in "Quartet" would lie within the choreography or an overambitious scope; to my surprise, it was poor execution on the part of the company that ultimately failed the piece.

"Quartet" began with what emerged as a strong suit for Martins -- a lyrical stage-crossing phrase full of quick changes of direction and movement. It reminded me of something a teacher might give students toward the end of class to loosen things up, to demonstrate that ballet can indeed be fun. This passage showed Martins's tendency to illustrate the music, but in a pleasing, loosely-sketched way, rather than a factual, tedious reading. (A case in point of the latter: a dry passage comprising two duets executing coupes and hops, repeated.) Martins created some memorable motifs, including percussive port de bras from high to low fifth, and lifts in which the women would wag their bent legs to and fro.

Yvonne Borree was in the midst of giving a particularly focused, crisp, and lively performance with her partner, Sebastien Marcovici, until they came to a lengthy passage in which he carried her in various positions and was unable to secure both of her shoulders to lower her down, dropping her awkwardly. Sadly, Marcovici never seemed to regain the bold confidence he'd had theretofore, but it was wonderful to see Borree finally take charge of the stage. Margaret Tracey and Nikolaj Hubbe paired off well, at times in a hypnotically dreamy mood. Tracey performed airy split lifts, but also seemed to have her own technical glitches, and I wanted her to be a stronger presence. Hubbe -- who could pass for a young Peter Martins from afar -- offered handsome, solid grounding. Jennie Somogyi seems to attract vibrant roles in which she is free to be aggressive and solitary, and flourishes as such. The ending, though, was particularly weak technically, with the five soloists disagreeing musically, and the three women -- in standing backbends over the men's linked arms -- wobbling like mad as the curtain descended.

Balanchine's contributions to the program were "Monumentum Pro Gesualdo" (1960) and "Movements for Piano and Orchestra" (1963) both very short works to Stravinsky. The first's score was stately and regal, reflected perfectly by Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard. Kowroski's wonderful line is helped out by well-shaped, long feet; Askegard provides a worthy partner, but seems to hold tension in his shoulders onstage. In "Movements" he was paired with Helene Alexopoulos, who wound vertically around his body in gymnastic partnering. She matched the jazzier, more abstract tone of the music, opening and closing her bent leg like a gate.

The other short work was the balcony scene from "Romeo & Juliet" (to Prokofiev) choreographed by Lavery in 1991, and danced Satirdau by Peter Boal and Borree. Boal offered lovely, quiet arabesque finishes to triple pirouettes, and an impeccable deep lunge landing from a big scissor-legged tour. Borree was a charming Juliet; in a partnered promenade in which she changed positions several times, she looked for all the world to be on a marvelous, magical journey.

"The Four Seasons" (1979, to Verdi's music) showed Robbins's unique success in walking a tightrope between opera and musical theater. It was full of humorous touches out of the ballet idiom, yet perfectly comfortable with technical "tests." In "Winter," the corps rubbed their hands together and shivered; Ashley Bouder exuded bright confidence, full of ripe potential. Her male mates, Antonio Carmena and Sean Suozzi, were serviceable, but both demonstrated the need for the company to develop its men's feet as more refined tools. Jennifer Ringer was luminous in "Spring," paired with a substituting Philip Neal, whose charming stage presence matched hers, somewhat uncharacteristicly for a male. Ringer was regal and luxuriant in her timing, never rushing unnecessarily; her solid pique attitudes and her ability to actually look at the audience while turning in circles away from us radiated a deep confidence. James Fayette and Monique Meunier partnered in the pulsing "Summer" section, which had a more bluesy undercurrent, on a sultry pace for the long, hot months. "Fall," the boffo ending, featured Alexandra Ansanelli, Damian Woetzel, and the explosive Daniel Ulbricht. Ansanelli was impressive not just from a technical standpoint, but as a captivating, dramatic presence. Woetzel looked slightly weary, or indifferent, but his physical ability rose to the occasion, manifested at one point in six turns which finished in a slow developpe in second. It was Ulbricht, though, who stole this segment; dressed as a faun, he hit big splits in tours and demanded to be watched.

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