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Flash Review 2, 5-5: Gumption
New York Theatre Ballet Revives Classic Ashton, Balanchine, and Tudor

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2004 Susan Yung

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NEW YORK -- New York Theatre Ballet recently performed a varied evening of new work and revivals, including some gems, laughs, and clinkers. Seen April 23 at Florence Gould Hall, the highlight was Frederick Ashton's "Capriol Suite," one of Ashton's earliest ballets, choreographed in 1930 for Marie Rambert's students prior to Ballet Rambert's founding.The music, by Peter Warlock, was based on 16th century themes outlined in Thoint Arbeau's "Orchesographie." Ashton patterned the movement on social dances, taking Arbeau's and others' illustrations as inspiration rather than direction.

The costumes, designed by William Chappell, proved essential to the courtly atmosphere -- pink and black bustled skirts and bloomers, plus details such as white maiden's caps for the ladies and blue flowers laced onto the men's shoe tongues. Noriko Suzuki played a grand piano upstage, half hidden behind the curtain. Center stage, curved benches further restricted the already meager performing area. The dance comprised six sections of varying tempos. Couples promenaded, acknowledging one another with simple angled bodies and arms. Speedier segments ensued, including a rigorous men's quartet with jumping jack sautes and double turns in the air. Ashton built a tableau dancer-by-dancer: a man kneeled, two woman arched their backs over him, and finally a man framed the scene, picture perfect.

The program included two more humorous pieces by masters: George Balanchine's 1951 "A La Francaix" and Antony Tudor's 1938 "Judgment of Paris." The first piece, titled with a nod to its composer, Jean Francaix, sketched whimsical romantic antics on a spring day in Paris. It showcased the remarkable young Steven Melendez, still a teenager, whose accomplished technique and princely bearing should have the big ballet companies salivating. Tudor's work, in a debauched cafe redolent with ennui and set to Kurt Weill music, featured three disenchanted showgirls forced to vie for a client's attention by flaunting their dubious skills. NYTB's artistic director Diana Byer showed her comic talents as one of the dancers. Dragging a dingy feather boa, she stamped her bubble-gum pink shoe and unsuccessfully attempted to hide a leg injury.

The recently deceased John Taras was represented with his "Designs With Strings" (1948), for six dancers to Tchaikovsky's composition for strings and piano. Taras tweaked classical ballet, adding a bold curved-torso attitude turn, or staccato phrasing. An overall effect of cool elegance was achieved with form-fitting navy blue dresses and silhouetted and striated color lighting. The work showed Taras's dedication to Balanchine's principles, with pathos created by tempo and movement rather than acting.

Marco Pelle's work, "Solitude," set to a score by his brother, Federico Pelle, betrayed Marco's experience in opera -- revealing an equally heavy hand with both the symbolic and the literal. A young man sat with his back to us, staring into a mirror, presumably contemplating the stages of his life and the characters that inhabit it. Clever, graphic Picasso-esque costumes (by Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan) mixed in with some silly ones (beaded curtains for sleeves?). The piece ended with ten dancers jammed into a red-lit, fog-filled chamber, writhing like condemned souls.

The level of some of the program's choreography challenged the company technically; it showed particularly in the latter part of the evening when fatigue amplified any pre-existing problems. Yet the troupe's determination, dedication, and good old fashioned New York gumption cannot be denied.

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