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New York City Ballet

All Rodgers Program: 'Thou Swell', 'Carousel (A Dance)', 'Slaughter on 10th Avenue'

by Colleen Boresta

May 5(m), 2013 -- Koch Theater, New York, NY

The first week of New York City Ballet’s American Music Festival ended with an all Rodgers program. The afternoon begins with Peter Martins’ ‘Thou Swell’, which was created in 2002 in honor of Richard Rodgers’ 100th birthday. It is set in a 1920’s art deco nightclub, where four elegantly attired gentlemen await the arrival of their dates. The wait is certainly worth it as the ladies arrive dressed to the nines in gorgeous gowns. The evening’s entertainment is provided by a three piece jazz combo and two soulful lounge singers.

Martins’ choreography for the eight main dancers is simple, but both the ballet and ballroom steps are beautifully mated. All the couples are enchanting, but I especially enjoyed Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild’s light and playful manner. Fairchild just gets better each time I see him dance. No NYCB dancer embodies charisma, debonair smoothness and bravura technique quite like him. Teresa Reichlen stands out for her breathtaking extensions and her glorious arabesques penchee.

I loved “Thou Swell” so much that I didn’t want it to end. Rodgers’ music is presented flawlessly by both the singers and the musicians. My only complaint concerns the inclusion of the song “Getting to Know You”. It does not quite fit the 1920’s nightclub flavor of the Rodgers and Hart tunes. (The lyrics for “Getting to Know You” were written by Oscar Hammerstein II.)

The next ballet on the program, Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Carousel (A Dance)’, is a distillation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical ‘Carousel’. Wheeldon’s choreography matches the swirling scope of the Rodgers music perfectly. The way Wheeldon uses his dancers to create the image of a merry-go-round is highly imaginative. The moment when the men lift the female dancers holding poles onto their shoulders as they all twirl endlessly is absolutely captivating.

As the lovers (based on ‘Carousel’s’ main characters, Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow) Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette are flawless. At first Veyette’s Billy is a bit menacing and Peck’s Julie is definitely wary of him. By the time they perform their pas de deux to “If I Loved You”, however, it is clear that the pair have fallen for each other. No NYCB dancer inhabits a role as completely as Peck and her Julie is no exception. As Billy, Veyette’s astonishing leaps and turns serve the bravado of the character wonderfully.

The afternoon ends with George Balanchine’s ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’. ‘Slaughter’ is a show within a show. It is an ideal mixture of Balanchine’s choreography and Richard Rodgers’ music.

‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’ is the tale of a ballet company’s premier danseur (Russian naturally) who wants to get rid of his main rival. That competitor, Phil Dolan, has created a new jazz ballet in which he will also star. The Russian hires a hit man to shoot Dolan at the exact moment the character he plays commits suicide. This way the audience members will think that the noise they are hearing is a fake gunshot. Unknown to both the danseur and the hit man, a member of the company has eavesdropped on their conversation.

The ballet choreographed by Phil Dolan is about a hoofer who falls in love with a striptease girl working in a dingy Prohibition era speakeasy. Incensed by the Hoofer’s interest in his stripper, the Big Boss tries to shoot the Hoofer but ends up killing the Striptease Girl instead. In despair, the Hoofer is supposed to shoot himself. At that moment a note is given to the “corpse” by the ballet company member who overhead the conversation between the Russian and the hit man. The “dead” stripper gives the note to the Hoofer. It tells him not to shoot himself. He should keep on dancing until the police can arrest the hit man, who is seated in a box at the theater. When the police finally arrive, Dolan collapses with relief and exhaustion.

As the Striptease Girl, Maria Kowroski is spectacular. Her legs, which seem to go on forever, show off her ceiling high kicks splendidly. Kowroski’s beautiful backbends highlight her meltingly expressive upper body. Tyler Angle’s portrayal of the slightly goofy Hoofer is spot on, but he needs to sharpen his tap dancing skills a bit.

Hoxha Spartak, Troy Schumacher and Giovanni Villalobos are very funny as the high flying “three blind mice” policemen, who can’t see the patrons and workers at the speakeasy hiding right under their noises. The bartenders, Cameron Dieck and Andrew Scordato, perform smartly in unison and sweep up the dead bodies with aplomb.

All in all it was a magnificent afternoon at the ballet. I can’t wait to see New York City Ballet’s next American Music Festival performance. (For me it’s the Saturday matinee on May 11th.)

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