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