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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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