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Flash Review 1, 5-12: Sample Platter
Gorging on Premieres at City Ballet Gala

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2005 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Five new works, count 'em, four of them premieres, were New York City Ballet's gift to its spring gala audience at the New York State Theater on May 4. And the glitterati were there in force, including Dana Joya, the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts and a balletomane, who made a few glowing remarks before the final number about how much he loves NYCB. (We can only hope NEA support for dance will reflect that declaration!)

The opener, Peter Martins's "Ta la Gaisma," lets the music shape its abstract plot: "Distant Light: Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra" by contemporary Latvian composer Peteris Vasks has long, slow sections without much kinetic stimulus. Martins explores the energetic qualities of his three ballerinas, softly lyrical Darci Kistler, elfin spitfire Sofiane Sylve, and athletic Miranda Weese, who by turns seduce and torment Jared Angle, their hapless male foil. Angle was a game replacement on short notice for the injured Jock Soto, on whom the role was created.

On first viewing, as the opening piece on the program, the abstract narrative about a man's dilemma over which woman he wants and their competition for his attention -- played out at a glacial pace and with numbing repetition -- is like watching paint dry. It has several conclusions before finally ending with Angle lowering each woman to the ground in a slow backward fall and looking heavenward. The repetitiousness can be blamed partly on Vasks's moodily indulgent score, which takes much longer to evolve than Martins's choreography.

On second viewing on a later program, performed after an upbeat opening ballet, subtler qualities emerge, and the piece's half-hour duration passes more fleetly. There is some really inventive partnering in the duets for Angle with each of the women, whose relationships with him vary: Weese matches him in physical prowess; Kistler is a pliant willow in his hands; Sylve darts mercurially, eluding commitment.

Soto's dramatic projection might have catalyzed the relationships more concretely than does Angle's cool lyricism, although he's a confident partner. And Mark Stanley's murky lighting against taupe draperies summons up Arctic twilight but makes it sometimes hard to see the dance clearly and casts a soporific pall over the long ballet.

Like Martins, the three choreographers from the company ranks, Albert Evans, Benjamin Millepied, and Edwaard Liang, reflect the ubiquitous influence of Balanchine's neo-classicism and often fall into Mr. B's trademark moves: forward thrust pelvises, S-curve stances with one leg turned in, ballistic high extensions, and contorted arabesques -- by now cliches. Still, each shows kinetic individuality in his inflection of the style. All three pas de deux are set to music by contemporary composers who bowed along with the dancers and instrumental soloists.

Evans's "Broken Promise," danced passionately by Ashley Bouder and Stephen Hanna, uses Matthew Fuerst's rhythmic "Clarinet Quartet" to back complex spins that change shape while turning, breath-stopping lifts that send her leaping recklessly from far away into his arms. Evans's driving kinetic motor and rhythmic drive are refreshing in the wake of the measured restraint of the Martins work that preceded it.

Millepied takes his title, "Double Aria," from Daniel Ott's "Double Aria for Violin Alone," played with elan by Timothy Fain, which uses extended techniques that stretch the instrument's capabilities. Stanley's lighting periodically silhouettes Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour against the sky and articulates the three sections of the piece with fade-outs on the dancers while the violinist remains in light.

The 12-minute dance seems to depict the perennial male/female power struggle. At the start, la Cour pushes Kowroski around and hauls her through the air in supported jetes; later, she assertively yanks his hands off her and takes charge. But the choreographic intention and structure need sharper focus.

Of the three fledgling company choreographers, Edwaard Liang certainly won the casting lottery, getting no less than Peter Boal and Wendy Whelan to dance his abstract duet "Distant Cries" to music by 17th-century composer Tomaso Albinoni. The dance premiered at the Joyce Theater in March, when Boal's company appeared there.

Boal's adventurous forays into post-modern dance have expanded his use of weight, momentum, and dynamic attack. He uses his torso and arms with such fluency that movements meld into seamless motion without the least sacrifice of exquisite line. And Whelan is slim as a line drawing, but oh, what an actress she is, investing every move with emotional nuance and silken-smooth transitions. Their artistry gives even less than profound dance making deep expression with their mature phrasing and nuance.

Christopher Wheeldon's rendering of Gershwin's "An American in Paris" brought the evening to a buoyant close. Costumes by Holly Hynes vivify the colorful Parisians who populate Wheeldon's world: streetwalker, cop, nun, school kids, bike racer, bohemians, and urban couples, who scamper blithely back and forth across the stage. Translucent backdrops that define his studio interior and the street beyond cut the stage into horizontal alleys, limiting the spatial variety.

With fast pacing, deft musicality, and wit Wheeldon draws piquant characterizations and moves his dancers around facilely. Damian Woetzel portrays a painter -- his style, as rendered by set designer Adrienne Lobel, resembles George Braque's -- who has romantic interludes with Jenifer Ringer as a girl-next-door type and Carla Korbes as a spirited vixen. Everyone does Wheeldon's breezy steps as if they're having a great time.

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