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Flash Review 2, 5-10: Glittering and Charcoal
Diamonds, Shiny and in the Rough, in NYCB Gala

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- New York City Ballet's season began in earnest with Tuesday night's gala at the State Theater celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Diamond Project. Some audience members had no doubt blown a bundle on a new gown or tux, while others retrieved from storage a decade-old favorite which still managed a dim, yet unremitting, sparkle. And so it was onstage, with an all-Diamond Project program including three world premieres by Mauro Bigonzetti and Peter Martins and two vintage Diamonds by Ulysses Dove and Martins.

Bigonzetti's work, "Vespro," to a commissioned score by Bruno Moretti, felt refreshingly different. Moretti sat at the piano, centerstage, flanked by countertenor Steven Rickards and soprano sax player Albert Regni. Benjamin Millepied sat atop the piano (on a constructed platform), his squirming arm spotlit in a shaft of light, which also caught Moretti. Millepied's intensity and technical excellence were rewarded in this showcase role. He interrupted Moretti's playing by banging different limbs on the lower keys. A huge, precise turn in second with five revolutions kicked off the dancing, picked up by two pairs (Maria Kowroski and Jason Fowler, and Alexandra Ansanelli and Sebastien Marcovici) and eight others. Bigonzetti favored big, bold, angular movements -- spidery-legged, split-second lifts; and gate-legged fouettes, cloche-ing from front attitude into a free-swinging second. Sporty, geometric, short unitards with ruby velveteen panels were designed by Julius Lumsden. While evocative of Jerome Robbins's "The Concert," "Vespro" was also one step removed from the theatrical process -- the dancers who were not performing clustered around the piano as if in a dugout, watching the players, rather than departing the stage. In Fowler, Kowroski found a partner to match her height, which -- with her commanding stage presence -- can overwhelm her partner.

Martins contributed two premieres, "Bach Concerto V" and "The Infernal Machine," both relatively short works featuring the durable Jock Soto. He paired with Darci Kistler in the Bach; they work well together physically, his gravity balancing her regal bearing. Kistler found a lovely ritard at the toe end of a front developpe lift. Martins focused on the fondu, performing repeating pique arabesques and hops on bent leg. A comfortable looseness hung about this work, which also featured Amanda Edge, Lindy Mandradjieff, and an ensemble of eight. "The Infernal Machine" was a duet for Soto and Janie Taylor, titled after the music by Christopher Rouse. The wispy Taylor seemed like a young wild animal -- eager to break away, yet needing protection; she mustered an appropriate amount of ferocity, and the sheer age difference between her and Soto offered a certain amount of vulnerability.

"Jeu de Cartes," a Martins Diamond Project from 1992, received brilliant new costumes and sets by Ian Falconer, creator of the popular "Olivia" children's books. The painted backdrop of stacks of poker chips on a green table was grand, yet simple. Although the King (Nikolaj Hubbe), Queen (Jenifer Ringer), and Jack (Millepied)'s costumes looked like a deck of cards that went through a Cuisinart, the corps looked sharp in white tutus and tunics dotted with red and black hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs. Damian Woetzel was the Joker, in black and white stripes. Sadly, the costumes were the highlight. Set to a long-feeling Stravinsky, the piece evinced an over-reliance on diagonal arms with the signature splayed-out City Ballet hand, baton-twirler style. The movement looked fussy and filigreed, filling in with sketchy little strokes the skeletal music. Still, Woetzel emanated charisma even when not moving, and Hubbe was charmingly relaxed and playful with his part. The quick footwork was lost on Ringer's small feet, clad in black pointe shoes.

The other vintage work was "Red Angels," choreographed in 1994 by Ulysses Dove. A tribute to electric violinist Mary Rowell, who played Richard Einhorn's music live, it was an engaging if somewhat dated-feeling stab at rock-ifying ballet. Wendy Whelan and Peter Boal, another satisfying pairing, respectively sliced the movement into angular chunks and smoothed out all its edges. Helene Alexopoulos partnered with Albert Evans, who showed an aggressiveness I had not yet seen.

Mark Stanley designed the lighting for the entire program.

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