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Flash Review 3, 5-21: Webslingers! Aliens!
....Just Another Night at City Ballet

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- In the day leading up to New York City Ballet's program on Thursday May 16, I'd immersed myself in pop culture. Settling into my seat at the New York State Theater, I was prepared to shift cultural gears and see some high art in a lineup featuring the official premiere of Albert Evans's "Haiku," Helgi Tomasson's "Prism," and "Symphony in C" by Balanchine.

I had just seen the movie "Spiderman," in which the protagonists contort themselves like insects and swoop through the air suspended by webbing or on hovercraft. I had also seen the "Star Wars" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, where among the numerous helmets, cloak costumes and space ship models stood a racy costume - a scanty construction made primarily of ribbon -- for the character Lyn Me. I looked at the mannequin's feet, and what ready-made footwear represented the exotic and enticing, but a pair of pointe shoes!

Cut back to State Theater. Evans' s Diamond Project commission, "Haiku," to a score by John Cage, had a sort of outer-spacy feel to it -- spare, hermetic, remote. Accompanied by percussion, whistles, and dotted piano chords, three women (Faye Arthurs, Aesha Ash, and Carla Korbes) moved in a hyper-Balanchine style, using extra care to fully straighten a leg or flare a splayed hand. The men (Stephen Hanna, Sebastien Marcovici, and Seth Orza) formed a ring and carried the women, seated, like three graces. The six dancers were well-rehearsed, emphasizing line to the extent that they looked like sculptures, bathed in sensitive lighting by Mark Stanley, who designed the entire evening's lighting. Evans pushed already-extreme penche lines a step beyond by having Arthurs walk her hands forward to form a triangle. Even in simple lifts in which the women echapped, their highly extended legs and feet -- Arthurs's in particular -- carved surprisingly curvy lines in the air. Evans utilized the dancers' inherent athleticism to supercharge ballet's proper vocabulary. Indeed, compared to the average citizen, these dancers might as well have been life forms from another galaxy, fully in command of their amazing physical capabilities.

We got a satisfying glimpse of City Ballet's very own Spiderman, Benjamin Millepied, in Tomasson's "Prism," a Diamond Project commission from 2000, to Beethoven's Concerto No. 1 for piano and orchestra. Millepied did not appear until the third and final movement, but when he did he blew onto the stage like a gale force wind, flying through the air in a huge, complex tour with a triple twist something or other, no webbing needed. Though he did not make six revolutions in each turn, just a few, his innate knowledge of ballet's essential vocabulary was a joy to watch. The first movement was led by Alexander Ritter, Lindy Mandradjieff, and Jeroen Hofmans, the last of whom displayed an elegant, finished line in his fully extended legs and honed feet. The two men partnered Mandradjieff in interesting ways, rotating her in attitude this way and that, though she appeared leaden in her jumps and only seemed to lose altitude as the work progressed. Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard produced a meltingly seamless partnership; even trickily-timed sequences which required both to follow different trajectories and meet up for a partnered turn were flawless.

The final work of the evening was "Symphony in C," which seems to be on every other program both at State Theater and the Met, in the hands there of American Ballet Theatre. The City Ballet corps performance was polished in the unison sections, allowing the formal structure of the choreography to clearly emerge. Jennie Somogyi shone, appearing luminous yet grounded -- as solid as a tree in releve arabesques. Wendy Whelan, paired with her frequent (and flattering) partner Jock Soto, milked all the musicality out of every phrase she handled, not to mention adding an intriguing abstract flair to each line. Soto acquitted himself well in their section's closing lift, slowly lowering Whelan to earth while spiraling down softly onto one knee. Antonio Carmena showed an appealing relaxedness intimating his comfort with the movement; he paired with Janie Taylor, who handled a repeating lyrical phrase with some balkiness. The final pairing was Jason Fowler and Pascale van Kipnis, whose low height in jumps only became more apparent in big ensemble segments. Fowler's long hands contorted the splayed hand line even more than on others.

By evening's end, the clear-cut line between high and pop culture had dissolved, with lingering memories of Benjamin Millepied slicing through space alongside Spiderman, and Wendy Whelan demonstrating just how alien these dancers are from the likes of you and me.

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