featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 1, 2-18: Arbor
In the Many-Splendored City Ballet Garden

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2003 Alicia Mosier

NEW YORK -- Ballet companies are always in transition. George Balanchine famously compared dancers to flowers and his company to a garden in which different men and women bloomed at different times. Some were fragile, some hardy; some had a fragrance that exploded right away, others a quiet scent that unfolded over years; the landscape changed before your eyes. New York City Ballet is no less a garden now than it was under Balanchine's watch. Its winter season has been a strong one, but the transition it is in is bittersweet.

The sweet could be seen Friday February 7 in performances of Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco," Jerome Robbins's "Antique Epigraphs," and Lynn Taylor-Corbett's "Chiaroscuro," all of which showed the strength of the company's established young dancers. "Barocco" has often been a disappointment in recent years, its neoclassical clarity muddled by inattentive dancing. Friday's performance was not just clear; it was thrilling. Behind the focused trio of Wendy Whelan, Jennie Somogyi, and Charles Askegard, eight senior corps women -- Melissa Barak, Saskia Beskow, Amanda Edge, Pauline Golbin, Deanna McBrearty, Eva Natanya, Carrie Lee Riggins, and Jamie Wolf -- brought out all the glints and contours of the ballet's architecture. They began simply, almost perfunctorily, then built to a slow burn as Askegard and Whelan led them into a close, moving braid in the second movement. In the finale's breathless rush, the corps women moved so fast you could hardly tell them apart, yet each movement was distinct and energized.

These three principals own this ballet now; there's no cast that does the lead roles better. In their duets in the first and third movements, Somogyi and Whelan were less like two violins -- the image often used for these roles in a ballet set to Bach's "Double Violin Concerto in D Minor" -- than the two hands of a single violinist, so in tune were they with each other's timing and serenely joyful mood. (In everything I've seen her do this season, Somogyi has been stellar: dedicated, unmannered, and full of fire.) Askegard partnered Whelan beautifully in the second movement, sending her soaring in long lifts and whooshing her gently across the floor. Maurice Kaplow conducted briskly but not flippantly, letting the music's minor-key poetry warm its somewhat rigid rhythmic structure.

"Antique Epigraphs" is set to music Claude Debussy wrote to accompany some Sapphic poems (later discovered to have been written not quite so long ago). The ballet evokes the atmosphere of Greece, with eight women in gorgeous filmy dresses grouped in poses reminiscent of those on ancient vases. It could be a lugubrious thing, but in this performance it was rich in beauty and emotion, both melting and alert. The four lead dancers showed what could be interpreted as different "faces" of women of the time. Jenifer Ringer, in chesnut brown, gave a piercing opening solo in which, eyes blazing, she seemed to ward off the Fates with her body, goading them away with a pointed finger, like a fiercely protective mother. Rachel Rutherford, in a debut as the woman in blue, danced lightly and gently with two companions; she seemed to me a happy young fiance. A sultry Maria Kowroski, in green, played up her solo's Middle Eastern influences with lush extensions and arms twisted above her head: a courtesan, perhaps. And Carla Korbes -- the most complete dancer among the younger rising stars -- made a ravishing debut as the woman in purple, leaping with her head thrown back and changing speeds in mid-pirouette, the curves of her body drinking in the space and the sound. With Beskow, McBrearty, Natanya, and Faye Arthurs, these women were a mesmerizing presence.

"Chiaroscuro," a Diamond Project product from 1994, is one of those ballets in which "fast music" means "aggressive movement" and "slow music" means "languid." I found it less than satisfying, but it had moments of ingenuity, and the dancers -- Somogyi, Jock Soto, Pascale van Kipnis, Miranda Weese, James Fayette, and Tom Gold -- gave it the full benefit of their energy. Soto was the controlling figure, embodying "the play of light and shadow" (the ballet's subtitle). Around him van Kipnis, Weese, and Fayette swayed listlessly (slow music) or leapt up on his shoulders (fast music). Every now and then Somogyi and Gold (the latter sporting a hairdo last seen on The Cure's Robert Smith, circa 1984) bolted out of the wings and scared everybody. Then Gold would stand at the back of the stage and hug himself. I sneer ... but the dancing, especially by Soto, was terrific, and the five black-gold-and-red panels hung above the stage (designed by Michael Zansky) were stunning to look at when the choreography became predictable.

A tinge of the bitter in this bittersweet season surfaced in Soto's appearance. He has been here for 22 years, and though his dancing has surged in strength lately, his career is nearing its end. Kyra Nichols has been here even longer -- since 1974 -- and with Darci Kistler she is the last of NYCB's Balanchine-era ballerinas. With every performance there's the knowledge that the company will be without her soon. But we've had many chances to savor her this season, in "Pavane" and "Davidsbundlertanze" and "Mozartiana" and, most gratifyingly, in "Chaconne," which she performed with Nilas Martins on Friday.

I say "performed with," but it was more "performed despite," for Martins seemed to have no clue as to the treasure he was partnering. He looked happy to be there and was making an effort, but his dancing was small, low-flow. In most of his roles, whatever else is going on around him, he simply does his thing and seems pleased with the result. He is not, in short, a creature of the theater, an artist who responds to the energy of the moment.

Nichols seemed bored by him, but in her generous way it was as if she said, "Oh well, it hardly matters." This is a ballet in which the woman is speeding ahead of the man at every moment anyway, leading him deeper and deeper into a choreographic labyrinth. Her attack throughout was extremely gentle, relaxed but never flimsy. Nothing looked like "technique" -- there was only music in her body -- and she danced with a simplicity of phrasing that gave a pleasing ease to this potentially boisterous ballet. Without the benefit of a strong partner, she serenely went it alone in the two big pas de deux at the beginning and end. Her lovely finale was mussed up only by the bumpy conducting of Richard Moredock, who sounded as if he was leading two orchestras at once via a satellite phone with a two-second delay. The finale never quite got off the ground. But Nichols never lost her cool. And nobody else on stage was even in her orbit.

The sense of loss that accompanied Nichols's masterful performance was lightened somewhat by the fine dancing of ten corps members who took soloist roles on Friday night. They appeared in the three pure-baroque passages that hover with a certain awkwardness between the misty opening and the baroque-ne-plus-ultra finale. Rebecca Krohn was sultry and willowy, though slightly rushed, in the pas de trois with Beskow and Stephen Hanna. Megan Fairchild and Adam Hendrickson, both making debuts in the pas de deux, were exemplary, as they have been all season. Hendrickson is growing as a cavalier, while Fairchild is a fresh breeze of pulled-up pirouettes with an invigorating stage presence (she had energy even in the simplest step-point, step-point sequence). And Carrie Lee Riggins -- once a spindly rebel, now a dancer of dusky sweetness -- led four women in a charming pas de cinq. There are many new flowers in this company's garden, and though there will never be another rose like Kyra Nichols, the steady growth of these seedlings is a joy.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home