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New York City Ballet:

'Ocean's Kingdom' and 'Union Jack'

by Colleen Boresta

September 25 (m), 2011 -- David Koch Theatre, New York, NY

Ocean’s Kingdom is the silly story of Princess Honorata, the daughter of King Ocean, who falls in love with Prince Stone, the brother of the earthly ruler, King Terra. King Terra also desires the Princess, and with the aid of Scala, Honorata’s chief handmaiden, kidnaps her. Feeling guilty about helping Terra abduct Honorata, Scala frees the Princess from Terra’s palace dungeon. Then she conjures up a huge storm which kills King Terra, his henchmen (the Terra Punks) and Scala herself. Princess Honorata and Prince Stone live happily ever after in her underwater kingdom.

New York City Ballet’s production of Ocean’s Kingdom has been anticipated for months. The main reason for this is that the score has been composed by Paul McCartney. Sir Paul also wrote the libretto for Ocean’s Kingdom and his daughter, Stella McCartney, designed the costumes. Does Ocean’s Kingdom live up to the hype? In my opinion, not really. The score is very nice, but nothing special. Some critics have found the music to be better suited for a film, but I found it to be very danceable.

The choreography for this ballet was created by New York City Ballet’s Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins. To me, Ocean’s Kingdom is a typical Peter Martins’ work, with dance movements which are both bland and repetitive. I did, however, find the choreography for King
Terra and the Terra Punks to be punchy and edgy. The ballet comes to life whenever Amar Ramasar (King Terra) and his crew appear on stage.

There is not much character development to be found in Ocean’s Kingdom. The performers are given so little to do that not even proven dance actors like Sara Mearns (Princess Honorata) and Robert Fairchild (Prince Stone) can make much of their roles. Ocean’s Kingdom is a ballet crying out for an innovative and inventive choreographer like Alexei Ratmansky. The Little Humpbacked Horse is basically a silly story, but Ratmansky created a delightful ballet from it.

I sincerely doubt that I’ll ever see Ocean’s Kingdom again, unless it’s paired with a ballet as phenomenal as George Balanchine’s Union Jack. Union Jack is a three part salute to Great Britain which uses regimental military tattoos, Scottish ballads, British folk music, music hall ditties and sailor’s hornpipes to set the desired moods. The score is provided by Hersey Kay, who did similar arrangements of music for Balanchine’s cowboy ballet, Western Symphony, and his Sousa work, Stars and Stripes.
Part I is a tribute to the Scottish and Canadian Guards Regiments. 70 members of these clans, dressed in their complete tartan finery, march onto the stage in complex formations. Then the parading evolves into spectacular dancing. The highlight of these is the MacDonald of Sleat variation, where the lead dancer performs a very fast paced solo to a staccato drumbeat. Wendy
Whelan has owned this solo for years, but on Sunday she slipped and fell halfway through the variation. She immediately got up, finishing beautifully, and was rewarded by a tremendous round of applause.

Part II is the Costermonger pas de deux. It is set in an Edwardian music hall, where a down at their heels husband and wife team perform. Andrew Veyette shows a goofy charm as the Pearly King and Megan Fairchild is delightfully hammy as his wife, the Pearly Queen. At the end of the pas de deux, their daughters, the Pearly Princesses, arrive in a cart pulled by a donkey. Some of the funniest moments of Union Jack are provided by the donkey who wants nothing more than to leave the stage at the David Koch Theatre. His little boy handler cannot bring the donkey under control, so Andrew Veyette, staying in character as the Pearly King, gets the animal calmed down.

Part III is a tribute to the Royal Navy. All the dancers enter into the spirit of high flying hijinks. Maria Kowroski is the leader of the Wrens, the sexy pin-up girls who perform to the “Colonel Bogey March” (the theme from the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai). Unfortunately, Kowroski fell during her variation, but she recovered quickly. (After seeing two principal dancers fall during Union Jack, some audience members wondered if the stage was slippery.)

My favorite part of Union Jack is the second section of the Royal Navy salute. In my mind’s eye, I still see former NYCB principal, Damian Woetzel, performing the solo. He always made the endless leaps and turns look so light and effortless. And it was all done with such a happy swagger! Charles Askegard, an elegant dancer and wonderful partner, is miscast in the Damian Woetzel role. I would love to see Joaquin DeLuz in this part. He has the charisma and technical brilliance to carry it off beautifully.

As always, Union Jack ends on a happy note. As the orchestra plays “Rule Britannia”, the cast uses hand flags to signal “God Save the Queen” and the Union Jack flag rolls down the back wall of the stage at the David Koch Theatre. All is well with New York City Ballet.

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