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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.
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.
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