Dance Companies Save Money
featured photo
Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 6-26: Heat Without Light
Martins Marshals the Troops for Unremarkable Ballet

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

Peter Martins's new major work, "Harmonielehre," seen Saturday afternoon at the State Theater, is named after and performed to John Adams's textural score. The big, rambling dance in three parts seemed to be loosely based on the structure of the universe: water, air, fire, earth and other precious materials, which provided a good premise to make awe-inspiring backdrops with psychedelic patterns, primordial soup, nebulae, etc., and wonderful costumes (all by Alain Vaes) worn by the entire company. So much promise hung in the air, so many resources were invested; surely these high expectations can in part be blamed for the piece's appalling weakness, but I fear that the choreography is simply unremarkable, producing heat but no light.

The first part featured Janie Taylor and Jared Angle (earth), and Adam Hendrickson and Edward Liang (fire), joined by a corps of 16. Liang's presence and panache continue to impress and will no doubt merit him bigger and bigger roles. In the corps sections, Martins left no note unattended (and there are many in Adams's compositions). In an attempt to illustrate the music, the dancers never stopped bourree-ing, leaping, slicing straight arms into diagonals (punctuated by the signature -- and now eliding into the baroque -- winged-out hand), and otherwise evoking the Balanchine dialect in shorthand. So many filler steps were used that the dancers appeared to be panicking at the very thought of missing a step, or not being synchronized at key moments; they continuously strained their gazes to check on their madly dashing, cross-stage counterparts to align their timing, contributing to the overall state of chaos. In short, it was a mess which I'm not sure more rehearsals will fix.

Part II, more stately both music and dance-wise, featured Darci Kistler alternately moving between tableaux, and being relentlessly borne about by Charles Askegard and Jock Soto, with some lovely trio partnering mixed in. But even Kistler's regal bearing could not save her from becoming a piece of heavy luggage (she is forced to hang upside-down by her knees from Askegard's shoulders, rather like a bat) which was only reinforced in repetition. A poignant moment closed the act when she simply and slowly knelt from pointe, ever so carefully balancing in descent; it also underscored how effective a bit of silence can be when well-executed.

The third part persisted largely on styling cues (bare feet, light blue wingleted dresses and unfettered locks tossed about), but the allegorical couple in white was a misguided feat of casting. The female, Ashlee Knapp (a student of SAB) performed admirably and was no doubt chosen in part for her childlike stature. However, when paired with the solid, hulking James Fayette, who tossed her about like a cat on his shoulders, she could easily have been his child. Perhaps she was intended to be, but performed in the program's context of the romantic pairing, it made me a little queasy.

Speaking of romance, the final work on the program was "Vienna Waltzes," choreographed by George Balanchine to music by Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehar, and Richard Strauss. This meringue of a piece was at once charmingly sentimental, with its fond gender stereotypes, and yet from time to time, stultifyingly archaic with a very restricted movement language. Still, it brought home the inherent potential drama of the waltz form itself, slyly moving from pregnant ritard to a dizzyingly fast spinning cycle. It is dance itself. Standouts were Yvonne Borree, Peter Boal, Kyra Nichols and Nilas Martins, whose acting was admirable.

My colleagues have already discussed NYCB's performance of Merce Cunningham's "Summerspace" (see Flash Review 2, 6-7: The Aural Muse and Flash Review 1, 6-10: Ballet Lives!), so here are just a few observations. Cunningham is considered a dance revolutionary who made a major philosophical break with classicism, and yet his work seems heavily classical at times. His company is one of the most technically accomplished -- in modern or ballet -- currently working. When it performs, the sense of extending beyond the proscenium that Cunningham preciously fosters applies to the dancers as well, as though energy is being channeled through their bodies. When NYCB performed "Summerspace," I felt that the dancers were in tension; coiled; contracting within the deceptively simple yet fearsomely difficult vocabulary, effectively quashing the energy before it could move through the dancers. Still, watching such a demanding piece performed by virtuoso technicians was a treat. And the simple structure, performed so cleanly, was infinitely rewarding.

The "Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux," choreographed by Balanchine and performed by Wendy Whelan and Damian Woetzel, was a wonderful, dense nugget. Whelan's confidence with the language, with her own abilities, and with her well-suited and skilled partner, all shone in the way she spat out the phrases and appeared to actually be scat-singing along, trying hard not to keep breaking into a big smile. Her elegant, velvety port de bras, one of the most basic moves in ballet, summarized everything good and bad about the day's program -- through this simple gesture, she made time stand still.

Editor's Note: For more on this season's Peter Martins premieres, see Flash Review 2, 5-4: Tears for the Ballet.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home