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New York City Ballet

'Square Dance', 'Prodigal Son', 'The Four Seasons'

by Cecly Placenti

January 18, 2008 -- New York State Theatre, Lincoln Center, NYC

George Balanchine will forever be known as a choreographer with a love for storyless ballets. He wanted audiences to watch the dancing, listen to the music and make of that interplay whatever they chose. That is not to say that he did not slip bits of narrative into his ballets, and he certainly knew how to tell a story when he wanted to.

Choreographed in 1929 for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, “Prodigal Son” tells the biblical story of lost innocence, repentance and forgiveness with an expressionist vision not dissimilar to early modern dance. With blunt, often deliberately unbeautiful, un-balletic movements and the symbolic use of a set piece, the young Balanchine seemed to be exploring modern movement and spatial design, pushing the boundaries of classical dance. The title role was danced this evening by the enthralling Damien Woetzel, an explosive force of nature that captivates audiences in a spell of fierce power and exuberant dancing.

Woetzel is pure magic, dancing with a barely contained force and abandon. He is at once explosive and aggressive, sinewy and direct   like a lion stalking then attacking its prey. His energy is single-pointedly focused and his passion is palpable. As usual when Mr.Woetzel takes the stage, all eyes go to him; he is the most committed and facially involved of all the committed dancers, his dancing somehow bolder, louder, more ferocious. Even when he is not the center of attention, performing jumps that explode and turns that cause hurricane winds, he is spellbinding. In a moment upstage when he gently and longingly touches the impassively seductive Maria Kowroski, you can feel his tense desire, see it in his torso as it inclines slowly towards her. Ms. Kowroski was a slinky temptress, her impossibly long body perfect for the serpentine movements. Their duet was deliciously sexual and both dancers proved their mastery over their bodies  –-the very un-classical movements, involving contractions and undulations, looked perfectly natural and their technique a means to a very expressive end.

Opening the program was Balanchine’s “Square Dance,” much changed from its 1957 premiere. Out were the sly comparisons between baroque and American dances and the live caller calling out instructions to the dancers. In were crisp classical steps at dazzling speeds, pliant plies and needlepoint jumps. Megan Fairchild as the female lead dances with a buzzing excitement, like a child on Christmas morning. She is extremely powerful in her slight frame, elfish in the tilt of her chin and shine of her eyes. Her legs and feet move like the needle on a sewing machine while her upper body rides along, expressive and supple, her upper back pliant and fluid. Andrew Veyette’s long legs, elastic as a rubber band, seemed to perfectly point out the buoyancy of the choreography. His jumps rebound with crisp energy. The ensemble work was very impressive clean, sharp, perfectly together. Their timing was impeccable and very well-rehearsed.

Rounding out this evening of NYCB traditions was Jerome Robbins’ “The Four Seasons.” Robbins, as influenced by Balanchine when he was a young member of the company, also believed that dancing is inescapably theatrical and that it is unnecessary for the choreographer to spell everything out for audiences. It was the dramas that arose out of music and dancing that interested him. The dances of “Spring” and “Summer” tell musical tales of mood and climate the world born anew in April, courting time, the indolence of August days. Amid the more formal patterns of Winter, Robbins made little jokes about hostile male winds, shivering snow maidens, and allusions to ice skating.

Sara Mearns and Philip Neal in “Spring” moved with understated effortlessness no matter what the speed or technical difficulty of the steps. Rachel Rutherford in “Summer” danced with a subtle sultriness, reminding this winter audience of the coming summer in the city. Ashley Bouder in “Fall” danced with an extremely graceful port de bras atop lighting legs. Daniel Ulbricht as the fawn had the miraculous hang time in his jumps that Tom Brady gets in his deep passes of the football. This ballet, as does this company, emphasizes the dancers talents and skills human beings that are talented, poetic, beautiful and generous.

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