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Review 3, 1-23: Broadway Orphan
Thou May Be Swell, But What art Thou doing in the New York State Theater?
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- Last night,
on the occasion of what would have been George Balanchine's 99th
birthday (and, sadly, a day that saw the passing of the great dance
patron Irene Diamond, who was in her 90s), Peter Martins threw a
big bouquet to Mr. B with the New York City Ballet premiere of "Thou
Swell," a suite Martins choreographed to 16 songs by Richard Rodgers,
whose centennial is being celebrated this season. "Thou Swell" bursts
with lavish production values: a live band and singers on stage;
detailed set (by Robin Wagner) evoking the Rainbow Room, complete
with illuminated tables and daisies made of brushed aluminum, and
a monstrous mirrored panel angled so we could see everything in
plan; Oscar-ceremony gowns by Julius Lumsden, who worked with It-cobbler
Manolo Blahnik to design the women's entrance shoes (later discarded
for more practical pointe shoes)... and so on.
"Thou Swell" radiated
a sort of Broadway essence that Martins rarely invokes, like the
old bottle of cognac in his parents' forbidden liquor cabinet, daring
little Peter to take a swig. The sets and costumes are, in fact,
quite a bit more elaborate than many you'll see in Broadway theaters,
and therein lies an interesting conundrum. As it turns out, Martins
is a perfectly adequate Broadway choreographer. But why were we
sitting in the New York State Theater watching some of the finest
ballet dancers around parade in evening gowns and tuxes, with some
brisk waltzing and some stock lifts thrown in?
As demonstrated in "Slaughter
on Tenth Avenue," on the same program, even Balanchine stomached
a bit of grotesquerie every now and again. What Martins is decidedly
allergic to is ugliness. This may not be a sin, but it sure can
be boring. He has built birdcages for each dancer, especially the
women, and labelled each one carefully. Maria Kowroski's says "long
legs." This gifted dancer is becoming so predictable it's not necessary
to watch her to know what she's doing. Anytime her foot leaves the
floor it must reach her or her partner's ear, and this we must have
witnessed dozens of times during the evening. (She nearly decapitated
poor Damian Woetzel more than once.) Darci Kistler's says "lovely
arms." Yvonne Borree's says "coquettish," and so on. (Rachel Rutherford
substituted for the injured Jenifer Ringer. Promisingly, she doesn't
have a label yet.) They were partnered by, respectively, Charles
Askegard, Jock Soto, James Fayette, and Nilas Martins. On a bright
note, Fayette showed some bravado in his big jazz number, and Soto
looked really happy to be there.
"Thou Swell" seemed
to be congratulating its principals (many long-time onstage partners)
on surviving thus far, but it simply reinforced the qualities we've
been observing in them, like a sort of wax museum. Most disappointingly,
Martins never developed characters for any of them over the long
course of this set of familiar, lovable, romantic tunes. We were
reminded of how little time we may have left with these principals
when the four cocktail waitresses sat down to daydream at the tables
vacated by the current leading ladies. Time waits for no one.
Susan Yung is the Dance Insider's Broadway editor and, with Alicia
Mosier, its chief ballet critic.
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