New York City Ballet
'Interplay', 'Zakouski', 'The Seven Deady Sins', 'Vienna Waltzes'
by Colleen Boresta
February 12, 2012 (m)-- David Koch Theatre, New York, NY
In these tough economic times ballet companies like New York City Ballet are really feeling the pinch. One ploy to get more paying customers into the David Koch Theatre is to invite guest artists from other venues, such as Broadway, to perform with the company. This is exactly what NYCB did by adding a new version of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Seven Deadly Sins” to their repertoire. Musical comedy legend Patti LuPone sings the role of Anna 1 in this ballet chante (sung ballet).
Weill’s and Brecht’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” was first performed in Paris in 1933. It was directed, produced and choreographed by none other than George Balanchine. Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya, sang the part of Anna 1. Tilly Losch danced the character of Anna 2. In 1958, Balanchine revived “Sins” with Lotte Lenya revising her Anna 1 role. NYCB principal, Allegra Kent, was Anna 2. Nothing remains of the two Balanchine versions of “Seven Deadly Sins”. In 2011 choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett completely reimagined the Weill/Brecht work for New York City Ballet. In 2012 Taylor-Corbett’s “Sins” has been revived for NYCB’s 2012 winter season. As already mentioned, Patti LuPone sings the part of Anna 1 and NYCB principal, Wendy Whelan, dances the role of Anna 2.
The ballet begins with Anna 1 and Anna 2 leaving their home in Louisiana to find fame and fortune. Anna 1 and 2 seem to be different parts of the same person. As they travel throughout America, Anna 2 encounters those seven deadly sins, one for each city they journey to. Anna 1 sings about all the temptations Anna 2 faces. Anna 2 does all the heavy lifting while Anna 1 takes most of the money her sister (Anna 1 refers to Anna 2 as her sister) earns.
Their family back home in Louisiana consists of a mother (sung by a man in drag), father, an older brother and a younger brother. They function as a sort of Greek chorus/barbershop quartet. For some reason, both Anna and the Family constantly criticize Anna 2. Anna 2 doesn’t seem to be committing the sins she encounters in every city she goes to. Her family and sister sing about how lazy she is (for the deadly sin of sloth), but Anna 2 is shown scrubbing the floor with all her might. Her anger seems justified in response to a movie star (Sara Mearns) firing her dance partner when he accidentally bumps into her.
Poor skinny little Anna 2 is not even allowed to eat a chicken leg, yet her Family accuses her of gluttony. And how lustful is it when Anna 2 is forced to give up the man she loves (Craig Hall) to become the mistress of a wealthy man (Zachary Catazaro)? The sin of envy has Anna 2 stealing a baby. She doesn’t seem envious of the baby’s mother. To me it looks like Anna 2 has finally cracked up due to all the pressure Anna 1 and the Family have placed on her to make money for them.
In the Epilogue Anna 1 returns to her family in Louisiana wearing a mink coat. Due to all the money Anna 2 has made for them, the Family is now living in a mansion. Anna 2 goes back to Louisiana as well, only to collapse to the ground and die. Her body is then pulled off the stage.
“The Seven Deadly Sins” is all right as a novelty, but it is not a ballet I want to see very often. Besides the storyline bordering on the ridiculous, the choreography is pedestrian at best. As Anna 2, Wendy Whelan tries very hard, but she really doesn’t have much to work with. It’s always good to see Patti LuPone, but both the music and lyrics are pretty forgettable. Obviously, even great artists like Weill and Brecht have their failures. This time at least I was able to understand what LuPone was singing. When I saw Sins” last May, I was barely able to make out a word being sung. If Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins, wants to get guest artists from Broadway or television or the movies or the music world, he has to give them a better performance vehicle than Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s “Seven Deadly Sins”.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of two lightweight ballets – Jerome Robbins’ “Interplay” and Peter Martins’ “Zakouski” and one sublime work – George Balanchine’s “Vienna Waltzes”.
Jerome Robbins choreographed “Interplay” in 1945 to a jazzy score by Morton Gould. “Interplay” is a slight but enjoyable ballet. It gives its young dancers a chance to shine as they play hopscotch, do cartwheels and try to outdo each other with their leaps and turns.
“Zakouski” is a trifle of a piece choreographed by Peter Martins and set to the music of four Russian composers – Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. It is very well danced by Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette, but there’s not much to this ballet.
The afternoon ends on an extremely high note – with George Balanchine’s “Vienna Waltzes”. The ballet is a series of four waltzes and one polka, with music by Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehar and Richard Strauss. The sets by Rouben Ter-Arutunian are magnificent – from the forests of the Vienna Woods to the haunted ballroom of “Der Rosenkavlier. Karinska’s period costumes are gorgeous.
“Vienna Waltzes” begins with “Tales from the Vienna Woods”. Savannah Lowery is lovely as a young debutante with Tyler Angle her attentive cavalier. Next is the only section danced on pointe – “Voices of Spring”. Janie Taylor is a sparkling sprite. Antonio Carmena excites the audience with his tremendous elevation and dancing rich with musicality and joy. Erica Peirera and Adam Hendrickson are very funny as they dance “The Explosions Polka”.
The Silver and Gold Waltz is a disappointment. Jonathan Stafford is stiff rather than dashing. Teresa Reichlein as the Merry Widow looks like she’s playing dress-up. Reichlein’s widow lacks both mystery and allure.
The most romantic dance of the afternoon was performed by Sara Mearns, alone, in front of a mirror. She is a woman haunted by memories as a phantom lover (Jared Angle) waltzes in and out of her life. Mearns is absolutely perfect in the role – with just a wave of her arm she conveys a whole world of meaning. The gorgeous arch of her pliant back shows the depth of her heartbreak. The Hollywoodesque finale, with chandeliers aglow and white gowns swirling, is as intoxicating as ever. I can only hope that NYCB will dance “Vienna Waltzes” for many years to come.
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