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Flash Review 1, 1-10: Fire at NYCB
Hotter, Jenifer! Stab! Stab! Dim Those Bedroom Eyes, Maria!
By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier
NEW YORK -- George Balanchine made
"Cortege Hongrois" as a gift for Melissa Hayden in 1973, the year she took leave
of the New York City Ballet after two decades as one of its strongest, most vivacious
ballerinas. Almost three decades later, NYCB is blessed with a bevy of strong,
vivacious ballerinas, one of whom, Jenifer Ringer, made her debut in Hayden's
ballet Tuesday night at the State Theater.
"Cortege Hongrois" is a noisy, joyous
feast of a ballet, from its grand opening parade (with dozens of dancers in white,
green, and gold) to the last tinkle of the bells on the gentlemen's boots. The
company's dancers had a ball with it, kicking up their heels in fast, vigorous
character steps, chock-full of feisty Hungarian style. But the ballerina role
(especially its slow, intoxicating solo) is like the spicy blood-red wine for
which Hungary is famous -- and Ringer, with her sweet disposition, is more Chardonnay
than Egri Bikaver.
This role is not a natural fit for
her, despite her charm and verve. It's really a part for the likes of the fiery
Monique Meunier, who has been doing it marvelously of late, or for Jennie Somogyi,
to whom it might have made more sense to give the debut. Nonetheless, and although
she appeared somewhat tentative in her pas de deux with Damian Woetzel, Ringer
got through the ballet splendidly, showing in her lush arms and noble extensions
some of the dramatic flair she brought out last year as the Coquette in "La Sonnambula."
I just would have like to see her stab the ground a little harder with her pointes
-- something she may simply not be made for.
Woetzel, dashing as ever, sailed
through his charming variation and was a very attentive partner. Deanna McBrearty
and Eva Natanya made debuts in the first and second variations, Natanya giving
the more confident performance with her delicate footwork and enchanting smile.
With ribbons flying, Kathleen Tracey pulled out all the stops in an excellent
Czardas, joined by a lackluster Albert Evans. And my eye kept focusing on Ashley
Bouder, one of many in the corps. She moves with grand authority; she's present
every moment she's onstage, ready to learn something, show something, eat something
up. A thrill to watch.
Just before "Cortege Hongrois" came
Christopher Wheeldon's "Polyphonia," which premiered last winter and now seems
to be established in the NYCB canon. The ballet has more clever stuff in it than
I'd remembered -- the somewhat self-conscious semaphore hands in the last movement,
the fugue bits for Jason Fowler and Sebastian Marcovici, the tortured manipulation
of Wendy Whelan -- but overall it's a very well made piece that reveals, through
all its Balanchine-quoting, Wheeldon's particular voice. The ballet's moments
of whimsy, romance, glamour, and longing are all his own. The duet for Alexandra
Ansanelli (who looks wonderfully strong once again) and Craig Hall is the ballet's
masterpiece; her solo, after Hall leaves her alone onstage, brings tears to your
eyes. One of the most promising things Wheeldon showed in this work is his ability
to advance a dancer; in this solo, he brought Ansanelli to a new place in her
career. All her dancing since the day "Polyphonia" premiered has been marked by
her experience in it.
The evening also included Balanchine's
last ballet, the 1981 "Mozartiana," with Maria Kowroski and Philip Neal in the
lead roles and Daniel Ulbricht in the Gigue. Ulbricht is a very young and very
short man (some say no more than 5 foot 6) whose facility with jumps and turns
is matched only by his confidence onstage. Here, though, I thought he could have
been more playful, less classroom-serious. He tried too hard not to make the part
the jester role it seems to be on the surface, and in the effort somewhat overpowered
it. He took a while to find his way in his variation's demanding timing; when
he finally did, he was quick and cool as the deadliest card-sharp. Philip Neal
has never danced so well as he's dancing now. He has somehow integrated his upper
and lower body so that his movement has a continuity and a beauty it has lacked
in the past. He is still, however, not the best of partners. When he and Kowroski
danced together, it was not with the seamless flow this ballet demands (although,
to be fair, the Theme et Variations in "Mozartiana" is among the most difficult
few minutes in the ballet repertoire). They need more time in the studio in order
to make it through that pas de deux with steady legs.
Kowroski, beautiful and gifted as
she is, is not, it seems to me, quite ready for this part. Her "Preghiera" --
the ballet's opening "prayer" -- was gorgeous, all airy arms and long slim feet
in quiet bourrees. What was missing was a sort of introspection, a sort of private
life onstage. (It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but -- to make the unfair
comparison -- even in a photograph of Suzanne Farrell in this ballet one can see
her *meditating* as she moved.) This is not to say that Kowroski will not one
day have something compelling to say in this role; it's just that she hasn't found
it yet. (She also looks sometimes as if she's literally not getting anywhere when
she moves, like she's stuck in one place. She goes on top of steps, not through
them, which seems to be an effect of the length of her legs and the thrown-back
cast of her shoulders. Minor technical problems that have major consequences.
Ballet masters, take note before it's too late!) In the meantime, I wish she wouldn't
look at the audience as if she were trying to get them in bed.
Some of the finest dancing to be
found in Tuesday's "Mozartiana" came in the Menuet. The entirety of the NYCB corps
seems to have been revitalized. I've mentioned Ashley Bouder, and there are other
new dancers (such as Alina Dronova) who are fast coming into their own. In this
performance, though, it was a more seasoned class of dancer that really impressed.
For years Mary Helen Bowers has hung prettily around the edges of the stage, not
doing much of anything. Suddenly she moves like a fine satin ribbon, shining and
elegant. With the equally fine Dana Hanson, Melissa Walter, and Natanya, Bowers
filled the Menuet with a creamy serenity and a stunning rhythmic aplomb. Extra
bonus: before each sissone, there was a deep plie -- they really cared about it.
It's those details, after all, that begin to make it dancing.
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