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New York City Ballet

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

When heaven was the Rainbow Room

by Jeff Kuo

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

The evening began with resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's "Polyphonia," set to piano compositions by Ligeti. This is a deceptively delicate work set on four couples in violet tights dancing on a barren stage under low level lighting. They dance in pairs or trios with a kind of study hall earnestness that is actually kind of encouraging: ballet is, after all, not all fun and games. "Polyphonia" seems delicate because of the spare music and the stark neo-classical movement vocabulary but it has the robust compactness of an imagist aesthetic.

Wheeldon opens the ballet with the parodic mode (the opening "Desordre" movement where the dancers dance with their own shadows) but for the most part the ballet is neo-classical with little stretches on the idiom here and there.  "Polyphonia" might be considered "cutting edge ballet" but it might be in the tail end of modern ballets in the humanist tradition. When so much contemporary ballet seems to have embraced the post-modern free for all of irony, parody, and pastiche (think Mats Ek, Angelin Preljocaj, and Matthew Bourne), "Polyphonia" still believes in the choreographer's ability to fashion Ballet as Art.  I'm not certain which is a more comforting thought -- Ballet as Art or choreographers who believe in Ballet as Art.

The casting for "Polyphonia" was as follows: Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, Lindy Madradjieff and Edwaard Liang, Faye Arthurs and Jason Fowler, and Alexandra Ansanelli and Craig Hall. Ansanelli and Hall were particularly fine in the "No. 2 Hopp ide Tisztan"). The pianists were Alan Moverman and Susan Walters.

Peter Martins' "Thou Swell" came after the intermission. In this tribute to Richard Rodgers, Martins has assembled a suite of dances for four couples and a small corps. They dance in a make believe musical theater ballroom complete with a central dancefloor over which hangs a gigantic mirror that allows the audience to see the dancers from above. An onstage three piece jazz trio costumed in white tuxedos accompanies singers Debbie Gravitte and Jonathan Dokuchitz. Sixteen songs of Rodgers and Hart (except for one with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein) bring us men in black tuxes and glamorous women in full length, Hollywood evening gowns. It's like heaven was imagined as the Brown Derby or Chasen's or the Rainbow Room where everybody who was anybody would eventually turn up. It's a George Cukor and Cecil Beaton world where everybody looked like they just won the double header at the races as Ascot.

There was a lot to savor, especially the Rodgers and Hart tunes, and there was a leisure class glow to everything. The choreography for Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard emphasized her pure line suggesting what it might look like if Aurora of "Sleeping Beauty" had awoken in a Golden Age musical. Jenifer Ringer seemed to have fun as the teasing siren in dark satin. James Fayette was her partner. Darci Kistler and Jock Soto were smooth and Yvonne Borree and Nilas Martins did their best to smoulder. I'm afraid, however, "Thou Swell" just didn't do it for me. The costumes looked uncomfortable and unflattering and the design seemed out of sync with the ambitions of the dance. But, I'm happy to take another look at this work, and reconsider.  Paul Gemignani conducted.

I just love "Symphony in C" in all its classical purity, masterful ensemble choreography, and thunderous build up to theatrically, big finish with practically the entire company onstage.  "Symphony in C" betrays a kind of naive excitement -- it's the prototype of the ballet where being clean, shiney, well groomed are what the fun people do (there are too many ballets where being the good sisters is (dramatically) the kiss of death ... think of who gets what in "Prodigal Son" for example).

To me, everybody looked in good form. Janie Taylor was great in the first movement with clean, precise pointework. Sofiane Sylve and Stephen Hanna danced the 2nd movement adagio in beautiful form though the amount of effort in the dance showed several times. Megan Fairchild and Benjamin Millepied just about stole the show in the 3rd movement Allegro Vivace -- Millepied's jumps seemed to sing with power and pleasure, and Fairchild seemed in complete command of her considerable technique (she's not just the "Tarantella" girl anymore). Carrie Lee Riggins and Arch Higgins looked quite smart and no doubt we'll be seeing more of both.  Richard Moredock conducted.

Edited by Editor.

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