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Flash Review 2, 6-11: Dancing Hard, Hard Dancing
City Ballet: Just Your Typical (World-class) Regional Company

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Balanchine's successor, current New York City Ballet ballet master in chief Peter Martins makes solid, well-crafted ballets, among them "Symphonic Dances" to the eponymous Rachmaninoff music. Martins knows how to move dancers around the stage (though I wish he'd find more imaginative ways to enter and exit than running into place), and he occasionally produces a breath-stopping lift or innovative combination of steps.

It's hard to match Rachmaninoff's big orchestral sound with movement; Martins uses a lead couple, four featured couples, and eight corps couples. He makes good use of close order canons to juice up the visual action without information overload. Seen Saturday at the State Theater, Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici were an energetic lead couple, though he tilted his head slightly to the right in pirouettes, throwing him off sooner than he'd like. Their difficult pas de deux could have profited from more attentive coaching of transitions and phrasing.

It's much harder to enunciate a distinctive voice in ballet than in modern dance, because the vocabulary is codified. Choreographers have stretched it, distorted it to make their own statements: William Forsythe, Dwight Rhoden, Alonzo King, among notables of the current crop, and of course, George Balanchine, who gets credit -- and blame -- for starting it all. NYCB's new resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon vividly demonstrates the ability to speak in his own strong voice, using the ballet lexicon.

In "Carousel (A Dance)" the "boy," Damian Woetzel, against a background of deftly rendered merry-go-round images, pursues the "girl," Alexandra Ansanelli. William David Brohn's fresh arrangements breathe new life into Richard Rodgers songs from the legendary musical. The central pas de deux misses the unique poetry of young love with its fairly conventional partnering. But in "The Carousel Waltz" Wheeldon arranges ballroom waltz steps, supported cartwheels by women lifted by men, cascading couple movement, and a stunning culminating picture that draws applause: a carousel of women riding the men's shoulders, as they revolve around Ansanelli.

Richard Tanner choreographed "Sonatas and Interludes" to prepared piano music by John Cage. Elaine Chelton sat stage left at the concert grand, its strings treated to thin the sound to that of a freaked-out harpsichord. Gorgeous, leggy Maria Kowroski swung her legs repeatedly into five-past six-o'clock arabesques or arched into perfect back attitude promenades, ably partnered by stalwart Jock Soto. Wearing Carole Divet's nowhere-to-hide white leotards belted with gold embroidery, the couple twisted themselves into Tanner's Balanchine-esque contortions. Tying the movement slavishly to Cage's start-and-stop phrasing made it predictable, albeit attractive.

Balanchine's vintage "Brahams-Schoenberg Quartet," which closed the program, is four dances in one, each with its own cast of soloists and corps. Karinska's lush costumes for each section depict different eras. In Part One, "Allegro" Philip Neal partnered Jennie Somogyi, a romantic fairy-tale couple, and corps member Ellen Bar, in a featured role, danced her heart out, but kept drifting off her center mark. In "Intermezzo" James Fayette in a tailcoat was a gracious courtier to Jennifer Ringer with three nymphs -- Dena Abergel, Pauline Goldbin, and Dana Hanson -- wafting between their duets. Benjamin Millepied's virtuoso variation -- the most refined and technically crisp of the program -- highlighted the "Andante" section. And Kyra Nichols and Woetzel led a rowdy band of Russian gypsies in the faux-folk "Rondo and Zingarese."

Watching the Saturday matinee, I was reminded that, in fact, NYCB is a "regional" ballet company, as opposed to, say, American Ballet Theatre, which is international in stature. Granted, New York's regional company is world-class. Still, because the repertoire is so large and the principals so overworked, performances are rarely transcendent: on Saturday, technical bobbles abounded, and a couple of crashing spills would have upset the emotional continuity, had the ballerinas not recovered with such aplomb. In addition, the notorious speed and intricacy of the core repertoire, Balanchine's ballets, don't leave space for the dancers to embellish. An insightful colleague of mine characterized it thus: Most ballet dancers are busy showing off their dancing, while City Ballet dancers are too busy dancing to have time to show off.

Veteran dancer, choreographer, and critic Gus Solomons jr was a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and currently co-directs Paradigm dance company. To read more Flash Reviews by Gus Solomons jr, please click on the search engine button on our Home page, then enter "Gus Solomons jr" in the search engine window.

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