Flash Review, 1-19: Riding the wind
Bouder rides the currents, Somogyi reverberates, Marcovici sculpts, and New York City Ballet opens new horizons
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak
For Joe Mazo.
NEW YORK -- Winds raged across the city yesterday, and to see her arms in luxuriant action in Balanchine's "Valse-Fantaisie" for the opening of New York City Ballet's Winter season last night at Lincoln Center, one might have thought that principal Ashley Bouder had been out practicing in them, captured them and brought them into the theater to play with. What I love about the Ballet is just when you think it has nothing new to show you, a dancer comes along and does something you've never seen before. Last night it started with Bouder's arms, riding currents of air and sound that only she could see and feel, standing apart from the hustle-bustle of life in New York City and our harried country and 120 bpm world in 2011, slowing down time itself if only for a fleeting 20 minutes, in an evening of performances as wild in their inconsistency as the opener, Balanchine's 1980 "Walpurgisnacht Ballet," used to be in its furious "bunhead's unbunned" finish, tamely rendered last night.
'Walpurgisnacht,' which had been my primary reason for attending the performance, was saved only by the timeless Wendy Whelan, humming the tune as usual and setting a graceful tone for the evening that wasn't always followed. Never mind if the company's 'senior' dancer seemed to slip at one point -- my unverified opinion is that she was sabotaged by a slippery stage-lip -- to her already legendary musicality was added a new (to me -- I hadn't seen her in a decade) heft, which of course lent the same to the music by Gounod, also known as Renoir's choir-master. ("Too bad," the master is said to have lamented when the lad chose painting instead. "The world has lost a great singer.")
Unlike Whelan, her stalwart partner, Charles Askegard, had previously never been a favorite, mostly because of a tendency to handle his women like meat racks, but here another surprise awaited, and I saw a new tenderness in both his touch of and regard for his partner. The second soloist, Ana Sophia Scheller, was not only unremarkable but next to Whelan, seemed to skip over the music fudgingly. Picking up the slack was demi-soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, with a verve that clearly set her apart from the dancers making up the corps.
Things went momentarily downhill, at least in the dance department, with the performance of Balanchine's 1972 "Duo Concertant," which theoretically puts the music on the same level as the dance by not only putting everyone on stage, musicians and dancers, but even starting out with the latter standing behind the piano while its player riffs with the violinist. But last night, if this were a music concert, I might just have wished for Sterling Hytlin and Robert Fairchild -- well, her anyway -- to scram so I could enjoy pianist Cameron Grant and especially the enthusiastic violinist Arturo Delmoni, unfettered. In the adagio sections particularly, Hytlin seemed like an allegro dancer trying very hard and visibly to restrain herself. While I dug Fairchild's animated head and resultant flying head of thick black hair, his leaden feet ultimately weighed the performance down.
Bouder, then, arrived just in time in "Valse-Fantaisie" to give a schooling in the virtues of not being bound by anything. I've been struggling with how to say this without being misinterpreted, so I guess I'll just have to ask you to trust me that when I say her arms seemed to move independently even of the music, I don't mean it as an insult, or to imply that she was ignoring the music, but rather to demonstrate just how uncannily Bouder found currents in the space that no one else could discern. (Really, I'm in earnest.) This is a gift even few ballerinas seem to have -- Tina LeBlanc comes to mind and may be the queen of it, Kyra Nichols and Maria Kowroski had it in snatches, particularly as Titania in Balanchine's "Midsummer Night's Dream," but Bouder's had an insistency that needs to be applauded and -- dare I hope? -- even emulated more in these too-fast times.
And this achievement came even while saddled with a partner, Andrew Veyette -- says here he's a principal??!! -- who seemed like he would have been more like that boy in the recital performance who really doesn't want to be there but was forced to take ballet by his 14 sisters. Granted Veyette was a -- perhaps last-minute -- replacement for Joaquin De Luz, are you really going to tell me that in a company of 92, City Ballet couldn't find one besides De Luz who actually knows the role?
The evening's other surprise, for me anyway, was "The Four Temperaments," a ballet which had never left an indelible impression in my mind, unless you count the time I saw Paris Opera Ballet give it a try only to have that company's greatest skill get in its way as the principals actually tried to act out the temperaments instead of letting their Balanchine-choreographed bodies do the talking. I'd no sooner ribbed a French dancer I know I ran into at the performance last night about this than another one (French dancer I mean) took the stage to not only prove me wrong but finally make me understand why this ballet is really such a gigantic testament to yet another of Balanchine's gigantic feats. As the lead in the "Meloncholic" section, Sebastien Marcovici used his supple, pliable body -- along with the Paul Hindemith score of course -- to basically bring to life the New York Abstract school of the 1950s. Or at least this is what I thought until I looked at the program and saw that this ballet was created in 1946, meaning Balanchine actually LEAD or at least was one of the leaders spawning that movement. Hard to imagine, isn't it, in an age when dance designers -- of what little's left of design for dance outside lighting anyway -- seem to be discovering for the first time art concepts that everyone outside dance was talking about 40 years ago that once upon a time there was a *choreographer* who gave to as opposed to belatedly borrowed from other arts? But to get back to Marcovici, as if his achievement in evoking this wasn't enough, it actually got better when his cohorts showed up, in the form of Pazcoguin again, Meagan Mann, Callie Bachman, Claire Kretzchmar, Jenelle Manzi, and Shoshana Rosenfield.
I could have gone home sated at this point, but then I would have missed La Somogyi, as in Jennie, a.k.a. surprise / something I'd never seen #3, in which the ballerina's feet would come to a stop, but the rest of the body, principally her head, would reverberate a couple of seconds longer, as if to demonstrate how the music had really coursed through her body, and thus took a second to wind its way fully from feet to head before it ground to a stop after some final ripples. Even Somogyi's partner, Jared Angle, seemed to be infected by this, exhibiting some of the same.
I'm down for seeing "Dances at a Gathering" tonight at City Ballet, but last night's performance has made me nervous. Imperfections aside, I"m not sure how even that giant of a Robbins ballet can top Bouder, Somogyi, Marcovici, Whelan, Pazcoguin and oh, let's not forget the sublime Rebecca Krohn, supine and masterfully languorous in the third couple for the opening "Theme" of the Four T's.
Suzanne Farrell once recounted how Balanchine, offering an image for "Chaconne," said that when she opened her arms it should be like she was opening a window to the sea. Last night, just when I thought I'd seen everything, Mr. B's company opened yet more windows to the world.