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Flash Review 1, 1-28: Bloodless at the Ballet
Martins Mines Balanchine, Dancers Deliver

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- On Thursday night, the audience at the New York State Theater was presented with "Viva Verdi," another Peter Martins New York premiere for City Ballet, a Verdi Festival commission which premiered in Parma last September. Martins seems lately to be plumbing the technical Balanchinean wellspring more than the dramatic boundaries of his dancers, in the process challenging his dancers to ever-bigger physical feats. To "Variations on Verdi's La Traviata" by Verdi and Marc-Olivier Dupin, the ballet was severe, emotionally sparing, and academic, if at times downright merciless in technique. The adept dancers handled Martins's terpsichorean trickery with elan, but the lingering impression of "Viva" was still somewhat bloodless.

Maria Kowroski replaced Darci Kistler that night in the lead role, partnered by Charles Askegard. The two towered over the three supporting dancers in yellow tutus, Ashley Bouder, Lindy Mandradjieff, and Abi Stafford, who were purposely identical in physique from the audience's distance, down to hair color and height. Each of these three women are accomplished in their own right, albeit in the petit allegro ideal of a tightly coiled, quicksilver fireball. And yet they often looked like children, in one scene even resembling a small pack of dogs being walked by Askegard, who held their hands like leashes as they twined around him. The women were, however, given meaty sections of allegro movement to show off their substantial technique, adding hummingbird-quick battus to their passes and jumping through second position in the air from pointe, back to pointe, which ranks up there in degree of difficulty.

In an opening sequence, Bouder, Mandradjieff, and Stafford joined hands to help Kowroski promenade at a regal pace. Kowroski's long legs, exceptional feet, and hyperextended knees add up to a remarkable line, and she demonstrated perfect pace in outside coupe turns. Her height makes it a challenge to match her with a physically suitable partner. Except for one passage in which he seemed to struggle as he lowered her from a lift to her feet, Askegard was a good fit. He possesses a stately air, displayed in an adagio section which incorporated arabesque promenades executed with two rhythmic hops, and in arm-swapping port de bras through high and low fifth positions. Askegard and Kowroski swapped solos back and forth for a bit, giving way to the group of three, who showed how Martins can be musically playful with movement in piques in which the trailing leg circled from second to the front, slurring the phrase visually.

Also on the program was "Stravinsky Violin Concerto," one of a remarkable eight Balanchine premieres presented as part of the NYCB Stravinsky Festival in 1972. Bristling with edges, full of quirks, jokes, and question marks, the choreography shows how suited Stravinsky and Balanchine were for one another. Featured were guest artist Gitte Lindstrom, who performed with a poised sparkle, and Wendy Whelan, a scientist in the labororatory of ballet, finding ways to pull new shapes out of old moves. Nilas Martins and Jock Soto provided solid partnering, each showing a bit of the flare that got them there: Martins in surprisingly buoyant entrechats six, and Soto in an aggressive chain of grand allegro movements directly downstage. Jerome Robbins's "Dances at a Gathering" led off the evening. Peter Boal showed his quiet charm and elegant technique in the leading solo scene, and later in a series of big turns, which he finished with his signature plush confidence. Pascale van Kipnis (dancing in place of Kowroski) performed the green dress role of demonstrative flirt with snap and youthful energy. Both the choreography and Chopin piano music of "Dances" suits Yvonne Borree to a tee, allowing her to show her strong cards of delicacy, fluidity, and a keen awareness of her entire body's attitude when being lifted, particularly when paired with Nikolaj Hubbe. (See also my review of this ballet at its January 11 performance.)

 

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