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New York City Ballet

A Banquet of Dance - 'Raymonda Variations', 'Antique Epigraphs', 'Afternoon of a Faun', and 'Evenfall'

by Cecly Placenti

February 24, 2007 -- New York State Theatre, NYC

The curtain rose on Balanchine’s “Raymonda Variations” to display pasted smiles on cotton candy-clad women. Those that don’t know Balanchine’s wit and genius might have expected a stereotypically pretty, mindless dance- and been pleasantly surprised at what they saw.

For the principal couple and the five women who perform the variations, the ballet presents a flowing stream of technical challenges. Present is Balanchine’s signature humming bird-quick footwork, his rhythmic playfulness and sudden weight and direction changes that keep audiences alert and delighted. Megan Fairchild was perfectly impish and as sprightly as an elf. Her crisp footwork and gracious head positions reflected both the playfulness and generosity of Alexander Glazounov’s score. While the other women dancing were bright and perky, their smiles were stagnant and often clownish. Farchild,on the other hand, looked vibrant and coy. As she dove toward the audience into Joaquin De Luz’s arms just before the lights went black, her smile, confident and mischievous, was her final flirtation with the audience.

From playful to subtly seductive, the next course in this feast of dance was Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun.” Loosely inspired by the story of a faun and the nymphs who visit him, Robbins used Debussy’s moody composition to underscore the poignancy of an encounter between two young dancers in a rehearsal studio. The electricity, the understated sexual energy, was palpable. Sebastian Marcovici, seeming to wake from a dream, a bare-chested milky god, was all longing and desire. Janie Taylor, sumptuously long limbed, golden hair loose all the way down her back, was the epitome of female seduction. Her slightly parted lips, lingering stares at the audience, as if she couldn’t quite tear her eyes away, prevented our eyes from turning away. She embodied the refined grace and sophisticated sultriness of an old film star. She is all woman, yet as impetuously daring as a child. Marcovici was enamored. At one moment he held her parallel to the floor as he moved across the stage. As the musicians hit a clear and solitary note, Taylor lifted her back slightly higher and bent her elbows like a breath had moved through her torso. It was exquisite. Before Marcovici returns to sleep, he kisses her gently on the cheek as they kneel together. She doesn’t look at him. The only sign that she registered the kiss at all was the delicate contraction of her chest, the diaphanous ripple of her torso as she retreats through the doorway, her hand covering the place where his lips were. The power and passion radiating from Taylor and Marcovici came from their quiet intensity and they left the atmosphere a slowly kindling flame.

Robbins' second serving of Debussy was, like the score, lyrical and refined. Gone was the quiet sexiness of “Afternoon of a Faun”, replaced by the classical beauty of “Antique Epigraphs.” Eight women dressed in gorgeous earth toned sheer over-dresses, are Greek sculptures come to life. Two-dimensional shapes melt seamlessly into softly unaccented dancing as a chorus of seated women, like drawings on an antiquated vase, serves as a backdrop for idyllic solos. Robbins was fascinated by the potential in stillness and created a moving inscription in space. The last section, in which the dancers create a linear series of frieze scenes, was the most resounding. As the lights faded, the Lincoln Center audience murmured a collective sigh of pleasure, as if just tasting a perfectly mouth-melting piece of rich chocolate cake.

For the final course in this lavish meal of dance, Resident Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon served up a grand work for 18 corps dancers and two principals in "Evenfall". Set to one of Bartok’s final unfinished compositions- a gloriously heartfelt piano concerto and a boisterous final movement- Wheeldon hints faintly at loss and parting. The corps work is not merely background for the ravishing Miranda Weese and debonair Seth Orza; the spatial patterns of the 18 women weave in and out like threads in an intricate tapestry or paint swirling in water. Dressed in the colors of dusk- twilight purple and soft plum- the groupings swirled like clouds, whisking Weese and Orza off stage with them. With her beautiful port de bras, Weese repeatedly tries to embrace Orza, who keeps slipping like silk out of her arms. As the cloud-like corps ushers Orza off stage again, there is a moment where Weese, in a deep lunge, arms scooped as if cradling the sky, chest and neck offered up vulnerable and alive, seems to give herself up to the inevitable. It would have been a magnificent ending, a moment to stick in one’s mind for hours afterward. But, as there was another section left in the score, the mood of spiritual revelation gave way to boisterous comings and goings and left the audience unfulfilled. However, this final section serves perhaps as a reminder that life moves on, meetings and partings are continually repeated to the stoic indifference of each new day.

Sadly for NYCB fans, this was Ms. Weese’s last weekend with the company before her debut with Pacific Northwest Ballet. Her delicate femininity and bold expressiveness will be greatly missed. New York audiences have seen Ms. Weese evolve into a dancer with such a gentle airy grace that she can almost seem to come from a forgotten century. She dazzles with strength and an incredible ease and reassuring calm in her upper body. Her effortless port de bras makes even the most challenging and quick steps look like child’s play.

This banquet of dance was full of delicious morsels and rich dancing. I left feeling not overstuffed, but pleasantly satisfied.

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