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New York City Ballet

‘Polyphonia,’ ‘Thou Swell,’ ‘Symphony in C’

Ups and downs in California

by Art Priromprintr

October 1, 2004 -- Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California

The third program of New York City Ballet’s Southern California performances presented some rather extreme ups and downs for the company, both choreographically and in the quality of the dancing. It was a mixed bill in the truest sense of the word “mixed,” opening with Christopher Wheeldon’s wonderful “Polyphonia,” continuing on to Peter Martins’ weak “Thou Swell,” and ending on George Balanchine’s masterful but disappointingly danced “Symphony in C.”

Reversing the usual momentum of programming, Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” opened the program as the overall best piece. There was first great dancing all around, with each dancer fully committed and impassioned about their roles. Great work came especially from Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto in the first and last pas de deux, and Alexandra Ansanelli in the sixth movement, with a pas de deux and solo. Choreographically, the whole piece was very smooth and fluid – it floated above the music in an ethereal way, with Wheeldon’s choreography providing fascinating movements and combinations.

Southern California last saw this work danced by San Francisco Ballet, which seems to prefer a sharper attack to the piece, more in line with the jagged, near-pounding nature of the opening piano movement. But New York City Ballet’s more fluid interpretation works better: it’s not as jarring and it doesn’t look as much like “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” the way San Francisco Ballet's interpretation did.

“Thou Swell” followed as the middle piece on the program, and here the evening’s choreographic quality fell. Created as a tribute piece for Richard Rodgers’ centenary, “Thou Swell” felt like an entertainment on a cruise ship, with the the musicians and singers especially adding to the lounge act atmosphere. The dancers were fine, especially Darci Kistler and Maria Kowroski, but still, the choreography is unremarkable and the piece continues for longer than it really should. The dancing for the men was more Broadway in style – but unfortunately, this style doesn’t fit well on the company’s very classical men. Their dancing was too pretty – too balletic – without enough “pizzazz” or raw abandon that Broadway dancers exhibit.

“Symphony in C” closed the program as the sole Balanchine piece on the program. This also, however, revealed – all within a single ballet – the ups and downs of NYCB’s dancing. There was, on the one hand, the corps de ballet, disappointingly sloppy and sluggish, sapping much of ballet’s momentum. In the Fourth Movement allegro vivace, where the dancing is supposed to build to a crescendo of unified movement, the corps’ disunity was alarming and made the ending very anticlimactic.

But then, on the other hand, there was Sofiane Sylve in a truly mesmerizing Second Movement adagio that proved the highlight of the evening. Her dancing had mystery to it; there was some real personality, as well as being wonderfully musical. It was clear that Sylve was the ballerina of the evening, and it served as a reminder for the way “Symphony in C” is supposed to be danced.

So far, the company has done far better in the more modern-looking ballets – “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” “Polyphonia,” and “Rubies” in particular while the more traditional ones especially “Diamonds, “Serenade” and “Symphony in C “ have suffered. This is a bit troubling -- at first I thought it might be a fluke on opening night but seeing “Symphony in C” in such a state was a bit nerve-racking.

Alan Moverman and Susan Walters were the pianists for "Polyphonia," Paul Gemignani conducted "Thou Swell" with vocalists Debbie Gravitte and Jonathan Dokuchitz , and Richard Moredock conducted "Symphony in C."

Edited by Jeff.

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