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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.
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