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Flash Review 1, 1-23: Bloomers, Late and Early
Martins Finds His Adams Groove; Stafford to Soloist

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier

NEW YORK -- Last night the State Theater witnessed a splendid occasion in the history of dance, and a splendid performance by the New York City Ballet. In celebration of George Balanchine's birthday, in its annual "New Combinations Evening," the company presented a new ballet -- "Hallelujah Junction" by Peter Martins -- as well as Martins's "Zakouski" and two of Mr. Balanchine's most radiant works, "Raymonda Variations" and the "Theme and Variations" from "Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3." As if that weren't enough, it was announced yesterday that NYCB has a new soloist in Abi Stafford, who celebrated her promotion last night with a charming performance in "Theme."

One of Stafford's great virtues over the past two years has been her modesty on stage: she is a young woman who doesn't try to dance older than she is. Her lovely form and strong technique (I love the way she stretches her pointes in entrechats six), combined with a sweet manner and an unobtrusive confidence, makes her a fine addition to the soloists's ranks. I can't disagree with those who say there are others, such as Rachel Rutherford, who ought to have been made soloists long ago. Stafford has some classroom crispness to shed, and some power of presence to gain, before she will really be ready to rise further. There were a few technical glitches last night in her "Theme," and she had some trouble (as almost everyone besides Gelsey Kirkland and Merrill Ashley has) with clarity in her gargouillades, but especially in her pas de deux with Damian Woetzel she danced with a gentle, regal style. Woetzel gave us the extra pleasure of double pirouettes inserted into his double tour/single pirouette combination -- a little present tossed into a buoyant performance.

"Hallelujah Junction" is the seventh ballet Peter Martins has made to the music of John Adams, and finally he has found an Adams score that has inspired him to make an interesting dance. Or maybe, as his last few works for NYCB suggest, he is simply having new and better ideas. The Martins perpetual motion machine is still in operation in this ballet, and an "edgy" atmosphere still darkens the stage, but the piece is sharp and propulsive without being irritating. There's a charm and a sensuality here, a lightness of spirit and step. He uses a fascinating and unmessy array of patterns and groupings: Vs and double lines, two trios and a duet moving side by side at once, one man punching in and out of a line of four women. In their black leotards with sheer sleeves and wraparound skirts, Stafford, Ashley Bouder, Glenn Keenan, and Sarah Ricard were feisty, glamorous insects. Craig Hall, Antonio Carmena, Amar Ramasar, and Jonathan Stafford, all in white, provided muscular support in high-flying partnering.

"Hallelujah Junction" premiered last spring at the Royal Danish Ballet; at last night's performance (the NYCB premiere), two marvelous guest artists from the RD, Gitte Lindstrom and Andrew Bowman, took the lead roles, bringing a warm glow to their intertwining pas de deux. In a variation on Martins's familiar scheme of two men partnering one woman, Benjaman Millepied played in the middle of Lindstrom and Bowman, jutting in between and around them with sharply driven arms and super-fast turns in attitude front. (Millepied has the fastest head-spot in the business.) The set was a stunner: black wings edged in a wide white stripe, and two pianists (the excellent Cameron Grant and Richard Moredock) hovering in the background above the stage, facing each other and lit from above behind a black scrim.

Last week I commented that, although she did a fine job in her debut in the ballet, Jenifer Ringer was not well suited to the lead role in "Cortege Hongrois." Last night Ringer made a debut in a piece that has her name written all over it -- "Raymonda Variations," a pink posy of a ballet suite, in which you're just waiting for someone to fly in on a swing a la Fragonard. But it's not all peaches and cream: there's powerful magic in this wonderland. "Raymonda Variations" contains some of Balanchine's speediest footwork -- the lightest hops, the quickest pas de chat, the most perilous stuff on two pointe shoes. In their variations, Amanda Edge, Carrie Lee Riggins, and above all Bouder (who makes everyone else look lazy) moved with lightning speed and strength, never sacrificing either delicacy or passion. Philip Neal had a marvelous series of brisees volee. And Ringer absolutely sparkled in this little perfumed bower. She exulted in every shift in timing in her pas de deux with Neal, holding balances forever and a day, then falling like a petal from a pirouette into his just-around-the-corner arms. Parts like this are what Ringer was put on earth to dance. Go and see her in it; you won't stop smiling for hours.

Last night's program also included a very frolicsome rendition of "Zakouski" by Margaret Tracey and Nikolaj Hubbe, both looking relaxed and happy, accompanied by Moredock at the piano and Catherine Cho on the violin.

Please visit the NYCB web site for more information on upcoming performances of all of these ballets.

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