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New York City Ballet

'Carousel (A Dance)', 'Zakouski', 'In Vento', 'Russian Seasons'

by David Mead

March 18, 2008 -- London Coliseum, London

Christopher Wheeldon's "Carousel (A Dance)" was created in 2002, one of a number of ballets made to celebrate the centenary of composer Richard Rogers' birth. Since then, Wheeldon has dispensed with the outline of a ferris wheel projected on to the backcloth, replacing it with a simple but highly effective string of fairy lights. The fairground image is strengthened even more by Wheeldon's formations for the corps, most often seen moving in a circle that seems to get faster and faster. At one point, he even has the women sitting on the men's shoulders holding gold coloured poles, very much suggesting merry-go-round horses. It's obvious, but it works. 

The ballet draws heavily on the romance of the Rogers and Hammerstein movie. However, while not a dance-drama as such, there is more than a hint of story - especially in the central duet and Rogers' evocative music, most notably, "If I Loved You". In this story that's not really a story, Damien Woetzel and Tiler Peck were nicely matched as the couple. Woetzel seemed totally consumed by his desire for his love. Peck appeared more shy, almost uneasy at his attentions, which gave the dance something of an edge. 

At first he just watches her, she inside the corps' swirling circle, he outside. It's like they meet for the first time, she unsure of his intentions. Eventually they meet for a duet. At first it's as if she has already fallen for her suitor but isn't really sure whether she should have. As truth dawns, the dance grows in intensity. Typically, Wheeldon makes great use of the floor, and while lifts are relatively rare, when they do come they are typically difficult and interesting - never safe but always secure. Suddenly the carousel returns, but the spell is not broken and our couple reappears. Since it's not really a story, perhaps it's appropriate that there's not really an end. The girl exits, pursued again by the man, leaving us all wondering what happens next. 

Unfortunately the planned final appearance of Nikolaj Hubbe in "Zakouski" did not happen; Andrew Veyette partnered by Yvonne Borree appeared in his place on the opening night. Peter Martins is something of a maligned choreographer, one of those people unfortunate to always be spoken of in terms of what he is not (i.e. another Balanchine) rather than what he is. Having said that, on this showing, "Zakouski" is not one of his better works. 

The work is danced to selections from a number of Russian composers. Apparently the work is supposed to explore the emotions in the music. On the first showing, there was little sign of any emotional connection though. Borree was quite sharp with neat, precise technique, but Veyette was quite the opposite. Two days later it was a very different story. Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz gave the work a completely different feel and the sharpness it should have. Even Barbara Matera's awful choice of costume colours looked better, although the combination of vivid orange, reds, deep lavender and greys remain hard on the eyes. 

Things picked up with Mauro Bigonzetti's "In Vento", which literally means "in the wind". The work opens with Benjamin Millepied, on the floor. Others then appear from the darkness behind, the men in black trousers but bare-chested, the women in sexy, slinky, very low back almost sheer black diamond-patterned leotards and black pointe shoes. The whole work has a wonderful intensity, helped along enormously by Bruno Moretti's specially commissioned atmospheric score and Mark Stanley's mix of light and shadow. 

The title suggests that the choreography is about the force of the wind or nature. Indeed, there are times when they form human chains, holding hands and moving as if being blown around by the wind or some other unseen force. But on the whole, it seems to be more simply a reaction to the music. There's lots of angularity, floor work but also some great turns and lifts. The dancers are generally anonymous and faceless, although at one point, a woman (Teresa Reichlen) is disgorged from the group for a solo and duet (with Jason Fowler) that includes one especially arresting moment when she turns to the back to reveal the plunging back of her leotard. The whole thing was quite spellbinding; magnetic and beautiful. On both showings you could have heard a pin drop in the audience, who quite rightly gave it the ovation it deserved.

The programme concluded with Alexi Ratmansky's "Russian Seasons", danced to Leonid Desyatnikov's twelve-part score for string orchestra, solo violin and soprano. The work uses elements of folk and jazz dance and has its moments. The music progresses through the seasonal and Russian Orthodox liturgical calendars, but the stories told in each of the dances do not always literally reflect the sung passages. For example, a girl in orange picks flowers and mourns as the singer recounts the story of a husband lost at war. Dancers are sometimes humorous, sometimes soulful. It doesn't always work, and the episodic nature of the piece doesn't help. Ratmansky does know how to end things though. A couple enters dressed in white. As the song lyrics mention "while wanting as much as we can, all we really need is a small piece of land and four walls," the couple walks off as the others look on.

Unlike "Zakouski", "Russian Seasons" did not improve on a second viewing, although following "In Vento" was always going to be difficult. On both evenings, the songs were beautifully sung by Irina Rindzuner. Sadly, the costumes were again less than satisfactory. They were a modern take on Russian folk dress, and while this time the mix of vibrant colours did work, the men's boots looked horrible indeed, and the less said about the pill-box style hats of the women the better.

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