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Flash Review 1, 5-7: Of Perilous Pirouettes and Safe Dances
From the Mundane to the Glorious at City Ballet

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier

NEW YORK -- The centerpiece of New York City Ballet's spring season is a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Diamond Project, an initiative funded by Irene Diamond to encourage the creation of new ballets by choreographers from both inside and outside the company. The project began in 1992, with follow-up "festivals" of new work in 1994, 1997, and 2000. Forty ballets have been choreographed for the project over the years, and NYCB has chosen 15 of them for this retrospective. A few, like Christopher Wheeldon's "Mercurial Manoeuvres" and Richard Tanner's "Ancient Airs and Dances," are well-known and frequently programmed; others, like Lynne Taylor-Corbett's "Chiaroscuro," are not. (Also to be brought back are David Allan's "Reunions," Christopher d'Amboise's "Circle of Fifths," Robert La Fosse's "Concerto in Five Movements," Miriam Mahdaviani's "Correlazione," William Forsythe's "Herman Schmerman Pas de Deux," Angelin Preljocaj's "La Stravaganza," Helgi Tomasson's "Prism," Ulysses Dove's "Red Angels," Kevin O'Day's "Viola Alone," and Peter Martins's "Them Twos," "Harmonielehre," and "Jeu de Cartes.")

It has been suggested that the real reason behind this retrospective is that the company wants to give a big Bronx (or rather, Lincoln Center) cheer to those critics who have commented on the conspicuous paucity of Diamond Project ballets in NYCB's permanent repertory and the general mediocrity of the ballets themselves. Of course, a season-long retrospective does nothing to combat the former complaint; it's entirely possible that many of these ballets won't be seen again at the State Theater until the next 10-year anniversary. But it seems the company wants to make a statement, presumably one along the lines Anna Kisselgoff laid out in Sunday's New York Times, that the Diamond Project has not only been worth the money but has contributed something substantial to the company and to contemporary ballet. So let's let it have its say.

As exhibit A, we have Allan's "Reunions," which was part of the first Diamond Project in 1992. Set to Ernest Bloch's enchanting Concerto Grosso No. 1, the ballet (seen Friday at the New York State Theater ) features six of the company's most pleasing young dancers: Alexandra Ansanelli, Ashley Bouder, Lindy Mandradjieff, Antonio Carmena, Amar Ramasar, and (in the part created for Ethan Stiefel) Seth Orza. And it's a pleasing work, despite all the head-clutching and hand-clapping and standing in place (first with bent knees, then extended arms, then twisted torsos, and so on). The dance floats atop the music, not particularly ignoring it but not engaging it either. The deep-stained, almost iridescent unitards and sheer short skirts by Holly Hynes -- in purple-blue, berry-burgundy, and orange-brown -- are gorgeous. But to quote the immortal words of Dorothy Parker, "Reunions" runs the gamut from A to B, which is to say it looks like something your average group of 18-year-old dancers might have made up themselves for a school recital.

Carmena -- lately resembling a baby Angel Corella with his long dark hair and soulful eyes -- carried the brunt of the music's "tortured" element in a long solo in the second movement. This chance to do something other than bound around the stage was good for him. In the part's big arabesques and big, fluid arm movements, he looked for the first time like a grown-up dancer, like soloist material. I just wish he'd been given more dancing to do and less woeful posing. ("He looked just fine a minute ago in the first movement!" said a snarky voice from inside my handbag.) Mandradjieff, a dancer whose giggling-teenager look onstage can be distracting, looked eager and centered here. Bouder and Ramasar brought much youthful spunk to their fun duet; in her twining pas de deux with Orza, Ansanelli was stunningly lush. Orza, a handsome fellow whom I haven't much noticed before, did a fine if somewhat careful job in the ballet's central role. With his broad torso and short legs, he was not able to make its many grand jetes soar as they should have, but he is a strong dancer who will surely grow more comfortable with being placed center-stage.

The audience responded enthusiastically to "Reunions," but to my eyes it was the terrific energy of the dancers that merited the applause, not the ballet itself, which is as immature and incoherent (though not intolerably so) as the performers were mature and well-focused.

The ballerina's part in George Balanchine's "Raymonda Variations" is quickly becoming my favorite Jenifer Ringer role. Of the music, from Alexander Glazunov's "Raymonda," Balanchine said he loved its "grand and generous manner, its joy and playfulness" -- words that describe exactly the qualities Ringer brings to the ballet. With Peter Boal as her easygoing partner Friday night, Ringer radiated a sweet pastoral calm (though their first pas de deux had a few minor lapses in partnering and was not helped by a screechy violin solo). Eva Natanya was winning in the first variation, despite a painful-looking fall off pointe; Amanda Edge was quick and clean in the second; Dana Hanson almost got there in the fifth, held back from an unqualifiedly lovely performance only by what appeared to be a bad case of nerves.

Bouder and Abi Stafford faced off in the sixth and seventh variations. To see them one after another is to get a lesson in musicality. Even with Hugo Fiorato's speedy tempo in the pit, Bouder took her own time and, miraculously, was never rushed or behind. It's that pitch-perfect sense of timing -- that rock-solid embeddedness in the music -- that enables her to draw you so deeply into her performances. Stafford, despite an extraordinary series of pirouettes, never commanded the stage in the same way, never drew the music into her movement. At this point in her career, she is, unlike Bouder, only a technician.

Friday's program concluded with an excellent performance of Balanchine's "Symphony in C," conducted with vigor by Maurice Kaplow. The strong lead cast included Jennie Somogyi and Philip Neal in the first movement, Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard in the second, Janie Taylor and Benjamin Millepied in the third, and Pascale van Kipnis and Alexander Ritter in the fourth. Rachel Rutherford deserves special mention for her elegance as one of two supporting couples in the first movement; ditto for Stephen Hanna, who is dancing very well these days. Kowroski and Askegard brought a heady twilight perfume to the second movement, winding through the other couples onstage like lovers through a grove of trees. (The mood was broken only by an egregious hyper-penchee courtesy of Kowroski -- thankfully, there was only one.) Taylor, new to her role, held her own with the high-flying Millepied, though she sometimes seemed more interested in holding her own than in exploring the music. As is often the case, van Kipnis was far and away the most satisfying dancer onstage -- sunny, womanly, happily unafraid of the choreography's many perils and happily conquering them, particularly that pirouette with the kick-to-the-side inside it, delivered by van Kipnis like an easy one-two punch.

NYCB's spring season at the State Theater continues through June 30, with fourteen more Diamond Project ballets and six new works to come.

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