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Danses Concertantes

'Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir', 'Circular Motion', 'Liturgy', 'Hallelujah Junction'


by Kate Snedeker

October 23, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London

In the last of their Sadler’s Wells performances, Benjamin Millepied’s touring group Danses Concertantes presented an eclectic mixture of ballets. The four pieces on the program included selections by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon, Peter Martins and Millepied himself. Though not an ideal selection to showcase this outstanding group of dancers, it did provide an all too rare chance for London audiences to see current New York City Ballet talent.

One of Balanchine’s oddities, "Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir" (Variations for a Door and a Sigh) is a pas de deux for a creaking door and hyperkinetic sigh set to Pierre Henry’s electronic music.  The ballet is not an ideal selection to open an evening’s program because it immediately plunges the audience into the surreal and the unknown.  However, the performances by Maria Kowroski as the venomous, spider-like door and Tom Gold as the tortured, twitching sigh, were powerful and captivating. She toyed with the groveling sigh then finally and perhaps fatally sucked him into the depths of her vast, undulating black cape.  This is the first time the ballet has been performed outside of New York City, and the shallower dimensions of the Sadler’s Wells stage forced Kowroski to dance unnervingly close to the stage edge to accommodate her huge cape. There were also issues with timings of lighting cues, a problem which continued throughout the evening.

"Circular Motion," a loosely woven ballet for four men, was Millepied’s contribution to this year’s program.  Danced in practice clothes on a bare stage framed by four lights and the usual stage debris, the ballet has an informal and improvisational feel.  The men dance across the diagonals and alternate in brief solos while the other three stand casually at the corners.  Though the choreography occasionally seems somewhat unfinished, it is a nice vehicle to show off the impressive and individual talents of current New York City Ballet soloist Jared Angle, corps members Craig Hall and Amar Ramasar and former soloist Alexander Ritter.  Of the quartet, Ramasar made the most memorable impression.  An elegantly proportioned dancer, he has a pleasing line and makes the most of it in the high, stretching jumps.

The undisputed highlight of the evening was Christopher Wheeldon’s sublime pas de deux, "Liturgy", danced with a mesmerizing fluidity and intensity by Jock Soto and Wendy Whelan.  If this is indeed Soto’s last performance in the United Kingdom - he has announced his retirement from the New York City Ballet following the 2005 Spring Season – he has left on a stunningly high note. Whelan and Soto’s on-stage partnership has been a long one, and together they slid through Wheeldon’s choreography as if made of silk, not a hitch nor a hesitation in their movement.

The magnetism of the performances was reflected in the choreography, where she runs off only to be drawn back by his presence on the stage.  In one of the most striking moments of the ballet, Whelan is balanced across Soto’s knees, fully stretched out. The balance of the lift is so perfect that the contact between the two is barely noticeable, and she seems to be flying in mid air.  It’s as close to perfection as can be seen on the ballet stage.  Eric Crambes was the solo violinist, playing Arvo Pärt’s score along with pianist Cameron Grant.

The program ended with Peter Martins’ fast paced "Hallelujah Junction".  The sleek blue and white clad corps of four men and four women sliced their way through the choreography, led by Millepied, Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici.  Millepied was the stand out, determinedly speeding his way through whippet quick turns in attitude and multiple pirouettes.  Taylor and Marcovici were more solid than spectacular in the pas de deux.

Despite a rather odd repertoire, this visit by Danses Concertantes served was rare, welcome chance to see some of the emerging and established talent at the New York City Ballet.  If, as the program appears to indicate, the group will not be returning to Sadler’s Wells next year, it is indeed a loss for classical ballet fans in London.

Edited by Jeff.

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