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Review 2, 6-17: Chiselers
Wheeldon Carves, Whelan Glows, and Balanchine Rounds 'em up for City
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- New York
City Ballet presented Christopher Wheeldon's "Liturgy," the final
premiere of the company's spring season, on Saturday evening at
the New York State Theater. Set to Arvo Part's "Fratres for Violin,
Strings, and Percussion," "Liturgy" is a stunning duet for Wendy
Whelan and Jock Soto. Like a sculptor, Wheeldon chose top quality
materials which he expertly chipped away and polished to reveal
the essence of each fine component.
Wheeldon clearly knows
Whelan and Soto's strengths, choosing to create "Liturgy" on this
habitual pair that may as well be one dancer with two heads, so
synchronized are their movements, even their breathing. The piece
began in twilit dimness to a coursing violin line played by Colin
Jacobsen. Whelan, bathed in a lunar glow (lighting by Mark Stanley),
stood a few feet in front of Soto. Their arms cut alternating diagonals,
sometimes the same, sometimes not. As the music quieted, the dancers
began partnering work. Soto lifted Whelan gently, skimming her across
the floor as she stood on pointe in second, and supported her as
she extended her toe upward and dropped her head back to gaze beyond
it. Part's composition, conducted Saturday by Andrea Quinn, is a
wonderful setting, like a deep, dark evening sky full of shooting
stars and space and comforting mystery. While it is not out and
out narrative, it is remarkably theatrical, a perfect foundation
for Wheeldon's particular Balanchinean vocabulary. (I'd guess many
choreographers will thumb through Part's growing oeuvre for inspiration
after seeing this, if they haven't already.) Futuristic, minimal
leotards were designed by Holly Hynes.
As a strummed violin
and percussion phrase turned ominous, Whelan and Soto arranged themselves
like sculptures, she leveraged horizontally on his thighs, or her
legs wrapped around him, torso up and forward, like a kiddie's inflatable
dragon-shaped life preserver. It was only when Whelan abruptly exited
that I realized the depth of the couple's thus-sketched dependency.
I was relieved when she soon returned, but she repeatedly exited
and entered, and each time I thought, "Jock needs you! Come back!"
Wheeldon excels at creating
seamless, interesting, just-complex-enough partnering sequences,
and stops short of forcing the pair to perform experimental or ambitious,
yet awkward, moves. The music ended, the lights dropped to dim moonlight,
yet the dancers continued windmilling their arms in the silent darkness.
Whelan also starred
in "Walpurgisnacht Ballet," choreographed by Balanchine to Gounod's
"Faust." She seemed to relish each developpe, releasing her upper
spine backward, topping each one with an "ahh!" When called upon
to swoon, the back of her hand against her forehead, she dandled
this romantic quote like a new toy. Whelan danced here with a sensitive
musicality, a solid axis pole in pirouettes (especially in a nifty
coupe derriere) and rapid-fire pique turns. Philip Neal partnered
her ably, but faltered in the last of his double tours into a lunge.
Janie Taylor displayed sprightliness and stamina in a mine-field
sequence of petit allegro and on-toe hops, never stumbling.
Jerome Robbins's "Piano
Pieces," to a suite by Tchaikovsky played by Cameron Grant, featured
Benjamin Millepied in several songs, including a saucy hotplate
solo where his feet touched the stage for the sole purpose of immediately
springing off of it. Jennie Somogyi, partnered handsomely by Seth
Orza, performed with a focused gravity bordering on dutiful, with
her usual technical solidity -- crisp and mercurial. (She is better
suited for roles that require her to be haughty, noble or superior.)
On the other hand, Alexandra Ansanelli -- paired with Sebastien
Marcovici -- looked delighted, with an open, light-hearted countenance
and a fluid, easy technique. And Maria Kowroski and Stephen Hanna
made an appealing pair, dancing a careful, sculptural duet.
a 1954 work by Balanchine to music by Hershy Kay, made for a goofy
endcap to the evening. The ardent, efficient James Fayette paired
with the flirty and demanding Pascal van Kipnis. Albert Evans, whose
western garb dripped with rhinestones, matched an imperious yet
needy Janie Taylor, who flung herself over four women to land in
Evans's arms, twice. Damian Woetzel was a perfectly natural pistol-packing
rodeo boy, all adrenaline and cocksure charm. Kowroski, across from
him, could not quite keep pace, her energy tapering off prematurely
in difficult repeated developpes, and later fouettes. As the curtain
fell, the entire cast of 30 performed pirouettes in a dizzying ensemble.
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