CriticalDance Forum

New York City Ballet 2013-14
Page 4 of 6

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Mar 04, 2014 12:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

Alastair Macaulay summarizes the strengths of the just concluded Winter Season and has praise for the corps.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Tue Mar 04, 2014 8:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

February 25, 27,2014
“La Stravaganza,” “A Place for Us,” “Todo Buenos Aires’
“Bal de Couture,” “DGV: Danse a Grand Vitesse,” “The Four Seasons”

-- by Jerry Hochman

Much of New York City Ballet’s 2013-2014 season reflects a ‘holding pattern’ consisting of less than the usual quota of masterpieces, and more than the usual quota of repeated programs. Nevertheless, NYCB’s final winter season week featured more memorable performances from its outstanding dancers, including from its current crop of super-soloists.

In summary, last week’s performances provided my first viewings of Angelin Preljocaj’s “La Stravaganza,” and Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins’s “Todo Buenos Aires;” my first view in decades of George Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” and “La Valse;” and repeat views, with different casts, of Liam Scarlett’s “Acheron,” Christopher Wheeldon’s “DGV: Danse a Grand Vitesse,” and Robbins’s “The Four Seasons” and “Afternoon of a Faun.” Mr. Wheeldon’s “A Place For Us” and Mr. Martins’s “Bal de Couture” were also reprised, with casts essentially identical to those in performances previously reviewed. This review focuses on the programs on Tuesday and Thursday of last week.

‘La Stravaganza’, translated from the Italian, means ‘extravagance’. But it can also mean ‘craziness’ or ‘weirdness’ or similar, depending on the context. To me, Mr. Preljocaj’s “La Stravaganza,” which premiered in 1997, fits neatly within the latter definition. Like “Spectral Evidence,” Mr. Preljocaj’s second piece for NYCB which premiered last season, “La Stravaganza” is a ‘concept’ dance. But unlike “Spectral Evidence,” it doesn’t work nearly as well because it doesn’t say anything or have a point of view – it’s just the visualization of a very weird idea.

Mr. Preljocaj here imagines a culture clash between contemporary dancers and dancers from the 17th Century Baroque era. But he gives this idea, which itself is a reality twist, another twist – he also envisions the contemporary dancers moving to Baroque music (selections from Vivaldi), and the Baroque dancers moving to contemporary electronic music (from a potpourri of sources). And onto this twist he concocts a ballet in which never the twain shall meet – except at times they do (whether in a dream within the fantasy ballet or in real ‘merged’ time is not clear), and at times one of the contemporary dancers is drawn to the Baroque dancers (or maybe to the electronic music to which the Baroque dancers are moving) but is forbidden to switch sides. Maybe the twain are never supposed to really meet. Or maybe she’ll be vaporized if she really time travels. Or maybe she’ll just contaminate the contemporary flock with Baroquian, or electronic, parasites. Whatever, it’s strange and somewhat intellectually tickling, and at times lovely to watch, but nothing more.

Weird concepts are fine, and oftentimes have been translated into effective dances. [Indeed, much of ballet can be seen as a visualization of strange concepts.] But the double-twist of the idea, and the incomplete references to a potential reconciliation between the cultures, renders any ‘read’ on what Mr. Preljocaj is trying to say impossible. And that’s fine – but it could have been so much better. At Tuesday’s performance, Sara Adams, Brittany Pollack, Gretchen Smith, Devin Alberda, Joseph Gordon, and Allen Peiffer were the ‘contemporary’ dancers, and Emilie Gerrity, Clair Kretzschmar, Lydia Wellington, Daniel Applebaum, Craig Hall, and Sean Suozzi were the Baroque-era dancers.

On the other hand, Mr. Martins’s “Todo Buenos Aires,” also on Tuesday’s program, is considerably less complicated, and considerably more successful. The piece, which originally premiered in 2000, was revised to its current, expanded, form in 2005 (led at that re-premiere by guest artist Julio Bocca). It’s all Argentine tango converted into ballet steps and a relatively standard ballet form of presentation. That is, although the emphasis throughout is on the tango’s emotional passion and aggressive, testosterone-driven action, this sense is communicated through the music (five different tangos by 20th Century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, who expanded and revolutionized the tango by adding jazz and classical elements, resulting in a style known as ‘nuevo tango’) with ballet steps, and in the context of a ballet divided into discrete segments into which one group of dancers or another dance (as pairs, trios, all male, or solo). It’s not the tango, but it is. And it’s not ballet, but it is. It’s tango-infused ballet. But whatever it is, it works – perhaps not with the finesse evident in Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” (with respect to ‘Western’ American dance forms and music), but it’s very entertaining. Maria Kowroski and Ashley Laracey, smoldering appropriately and matching each other in intense aloofness, shuttled between their respective partners Jared Angle and Robert Fairchild, and Adrian Danchig-Waring and Amar Ramasar. And Joaquin De Luz, whether dancing solo or leading others, tied the piece together with extraordinary vitality and pizazz. The music, which was arranged by Ron Wasserman, was played with consummate skill by Kurt Nikkanen on violin, Steven Hartman on clarinets, Mr. Wasserman on double bass, Nancy McDill on piano, and JP Jofre on the essential instrument of the tango, the bandoneon.

Tuesday’s program was completed by “A Place For Us,” performed by Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. It premiered last spring with the same leads, and, though superbly executed, is not one of Mr. Wheeldon’s best efforts. It’s intended as a ‘thank you’ to Mr. Robbins, and structurally resembles ‘Other Dances’. But to me the music chosen (by Andre Previn and Leonard Bernstein) doesn’t have the compositional substance to which dances, even brief duets, would naturally adhere the way the Robbins dances adhered naturally to the Chopin music he used. The music fades into the background (despite being excellently played by Steven Hartman on clarinet and Ms. McDill on piano), and the dances go with them. It also suffers from a particularly unfortunate title which, together with the tributee, evokes memories of “West Side Story” that the piece does not, and apparently was not intended to, fulfill.

On the other hand, ‘DGV’ is a memorable ballet, one of Mr. Wheeldon’s finest efforts, and one that is thrilling to watch from beginning to end. On Thursday, and except for a repeat performance by Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia as the second couple, the cast was different from that seen several weeks earlier.

As the initial featured couple, Sara Mearns and Robert Fairchild assumed the roles that I previously saw danced by Teresa Reichlen and Craig Hall. Although I preferred what I saw as Ms. Reichlen’s more crisp, less balletic, execution, Ms. Mearns, with Mr. Fairchild’s attentive partnering, performed the role flawlessly.

Equally fine was Brittany Pollack’s execution of the role I saw performed earlier this season by Ms. Peck. Ms. Pollack’s performance (partnered by Mr. Ramasar) represented another strong outing from this ballerina. Although she appears taller than one of NYCB’s ballerina speed demons, she nevertheless seems to thrive on speed, dancing with engaging abandon to accompany her secure technique. I haven’t seen her misfire in any role in which she’s been cast since she was promoted to soloist last year.

But the most significant cast change was evident in Lauren Lovette’s performance in the role danced previously this season by Ms. Kowroski.

I was unable to see Ms. Lovette’s ‘DGV’ debut two weeks ago, but word travels fast. During intermission at the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s opening night, a friend with whom I was speaking received a text from another friend who was attending NYCB that night. He wrote excitedly that Ms. Lovette had just killed the role. [For those uninitiated in ballet-goer jargon, that means she nailed it – only more emphatically.]

Ms. Lovette, who seems to generate excited ‘buzz’ in whatever she dances, ‘killed it’ at Thursday’s performance as well.

This role in ‘DGV’ is almost painful to watch. It requires meticulous execution, but because it’s unveiled slowly, it also looks particularly tortured and difficult to perform. There’s no margin for error; nothing that the ballerina’s body does can be hidden from view. It’s either danced perfectly, or it’s not. With her extraordinary extensions and remarkable control, Ms. Kowroski dances the role perfectly; seemingly no one could dance it better. And perhaps no one can. But based on Thursday’s performance Ms. Lovette already dances it extraordinarily well herself, and brings with it a personal style that makes her performance of it yet another particular and individual triumph.

Ms. Lovette is several inches shorter than Ms. Kowroski, but somehow her performance delivered the same physical impact. The legs couldn’t be as long – but they looked as long. And, aided by superb partnering by Mr. Hall, her control appeared equally remarkable. But more importantly, she added a personal quality that makes her different, and makes each of her performances different, here converting what usually is a relatively cold and mechanical role where technique is everything into a performance to appreciate based on watching her dance it, rather than ‘just’ by watching a ballerina execute the steps to perfection. In the middle of this demanding role, which looked excruciating, Ms. Lovette broke the automaton barrier and smiled, either very pleased with her performance, Mr. Hall’s partnering, that she had gotten through the toughest part, or, most likely, because that’s just her infectious personality. It made her portrayal human, and warm, and wonderful. And it prompted a text from me to a friend that I might be a little late leaving the theater in order to gather my socks – which Ms. Lovette had knocked off.

When she danced her first featured role in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” three years ago, I observed that Ms. Lovette appeared small and pretty enough to be a cute soubrette, but also to be talented enough to be a lot more than that. For Ms. Lovette to have excelled in her debuts in both this role and that of the ‘girl in apricot’ in “Dances at a Gathering” a few weeks earlier fulfills exactly what I saw then, perhaps more than any of the other roles that she has successfully assayed to date – her facility in performing roles that require dramatically different features of character as well as choreographic requirements. It also is indicative of, and demonstrative of, the extraordinary range required in a principal dancer.

The final piece on Thursday’s program was “The Four Seasons,” a crowd-pleasing piece that at the same time skewers and enhances, and perfectly visualizes, Vivaldi’s score. I’ve seen Erica Pereira dance the lead in ‘Winter’ previously, and her natural effervescence continues to make her rendition particularly special.

I’d not seen Sterling Hyltin previously dance the lead in ‘Spring,’ so her portrayal was new to me – but it proved no different from her execution in each of her other roles that I’ve seen. I’ve written before that Ms. Hyltin adds a measure of individuality and intelligence to whatever she does – she thinks through every step and gesture. At this level, of course, that’s not exceptional – every dancer does that. But Ms. Hyltin doesn’t think it through just to get the performance technically ‘right’, but to get it to conform to her independent idea of what the role should look like. She doesn’t reinvent steps, she just executes them in a way that gives the role added meaning. So she did (abetted by Tyler Angle) in her role in ‘Spring’. The position of her head, hands and arms when she responded to some musical or visual stimulus communicated spring ‘awakening’ as much as anything in the steps, the music, or the set. This is not one of the more complex roles in her repertoire, but that doesn’t seem to matter – as Ms. Hyltin often does, she made this role look just a little different, and made it look just a little better.

The portrayals of ‘Summer’ and ‘Fall’, by, respectively, Ms. Reichlen and Mr. Danchig-Waring, and Ms. Peck and Mr. Veyette, were fine performances, matching the excellent portrayals I had seen in these roles two weeks earlier. However, as the ‘puckish’ solo male lead in ‘Fall,’ Antonio Carmena was fine, but could not match the ebullience or crisp execution of Daniel Ulbricht in the same role.

A repeat performance of “Bal de Couture” completed Thursday’s program, and was notable for the return of Chase Finlay, who partnered Ms. Lovette, following a lengthy period of injury recuperation. His return, and their appearance on stage together, reawakened images in my mind of Farrell/Martins (which I’ve mentioned previously), and, even in a lackluster ballet, illuminates NYCB’s future. And it makes the imminent disappearance of the JR Art Installation on the Koch Theater’s mezzanine floor, arguably this season’s greatest new artistic success, a little less difficult to take.

corrected multiple times on 3/4 for spelling errors

Author:  balletomaniac [ Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

March 1, 2014 Evening
“Acheron,” “Afternoon of a Faun,” “Walpurgisnacht Ballet,” “La Valse”
-- Janie Taylor/Sebastien Marcovici Farewell

-- by Jerry Hochman

In the years I’ve watched Janie Taylor dance with New York City Ballet, I’ve rarely seen her smile. A blonde whisper of a dancer, Ms. Taylor typically leaves no emotional trail behind her: she dances cleanly and impeccably, but appears as a simple, albeit extraordinarily skillful, vessel onto which choreography is molded. Even on those rare occasions when I’ve seen her walk down the street toward the NYCB stage door, her demeanor appeared similarly emotionless. But with Ms. Taylor, being emotionless is a reflection of focus, not vacancy. And this quality of intense concentration creates a stage persona not of emptiness, but of purity – a quality that she brings to every role I’ve seen her dance. That being said, it would be nice once in a while to see her smile.

Ms. Taylor and her husband Sebastien Marcovici, both NYCB principal dancers, gave their farewell performances Saturday night, dancing in “Afternoon of a Faun” and “La Valse.” Their performances exemplified the quality work that both have done over the years (Ms. Taylor joined the company in 1998; Mr. Marcovici in 1993). I’ll address their performances and their farewell celebration later in this review.

In addition to being a festive farewell, the program also provided a second opportunity to see a new ballet, Liam Scarlett’s “Acheron.” While the second time isn’t quite the charm, the performance highlighted the difference that changes in a cast may make on a piece’s impact.

On Saturday night, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild executed the roles previously performed by Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring; and Sara Adams and Andrew Veyette assumed the roles danced initially by Rebecca Krohn and Tyler Angle. Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar repeated their opening night roles. Overall, my opinion of the piece remains as it was following its world premiere – that although Mr. Scarlett is clearly attempting to communicate something through this ballet (that is, it’s not purely abstract), and despite very strong performances, the piece does not provide sufficient clarity to enable the viewer, or at least this viewer, to comprehend what he’s trying to say.

Nevertheless, the different cast – and primarily the performance by Ms. Peck – changed the dynamics of the piece considerably. Although she is consumed by something, Ms. Peck’s character is not necessarily consumed by sadness or weakness as was Ms. Mearns. Rather, I saw Ms. Peck’s portrayal as that of a strong woman suffering equally with her partner. Both she and Mr. Fairchild were mesmerizing.

As a result, I saw the three featured couples in a new, more balanced light. I no longer saw the women as victims and the men as predators. Rather, the three couples were expressive of different and individualized forms of suffering. This was a significant change in perception that to me improved the tone of the piece considerably. Indeed, even though the Adams/Veyette couple maintained the dominant/submissive relationship that I saw previously with the Krohn/Angle pair, it appeared less visually disturbing within the overall context.

But even with more clearly defined distinctions between the featured couples, the meaning of “Acheron,” whatever Mr. Scarlett intended it to be, doesn’t come through. If this is a voyage to Hades, whether actual or metaphorical, focusing the action on three couples with interpersonal and erotically charged issues converts the events portrayed on stage into a somewhat Boschian garden of earthly delights. That may be Mr. Scarlett’s point, and that’s fine, but interjecting a sole male dancer as some sort of singular survivor on the journey (and/or who is better off being uninvolved in the unfulfillable heterosexual relationships) diminishes the piece’s intended significance, whatever that is, and converts it into simple random choreographed snapshots of doomed people. Be that as it may, “Acheron” is a work of intelligence and has moments of rare beauty, and as I observed initially, should be seen for the performances alone.

“Walpurgisnacht Ballet” has a long history. Balanchine first choreographed dances to music from Gounod’s opera “Faust” in 1925, which, in the context of the opera, were performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. He subsequently created dances for other productions of the opera, but the ballet’s present form, which premiered in 1980, was its first incarnation independent of the performance of the opera. Perhaps because it’s was intended to be standalone, the connection now of “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” to the opera is virtually nonexistent. The temporal setting for the ballet is the festivities prior to May Day, as depicted in the opera, when the souls of the dead are released to wander at will. Even here, however, the story is distilled and limited to presenting a tribe of alluring women, one of whom entertains a passing danseur, while the others, led by their principal blithe spirit, party to Gounod’s bacchanalian music. Giselle’s willis reimagined as Sylvia and her nymphs.

To me the ballet is not one of Balanchine’s better creations, and, as a friend suggested, is known primarily for its concluding section when the women dance with their hair down – a nod to sensuality and, in context, perhaps lost inhibitions. But although a ‘story’ isn’t the ballet’s strong suit, the steps for the two lead ballerinas are. As the ballerina paired with the danseur (Mr. Danchig-Waring), Ms. Mearns appeared at first much too doleful – more like the tribe’s designated sacrificial virgin than its queen (her title, if there is any, isn’t specified). But muted excitement then kicked in, and her dancing thereafter featured sufficient enthusiasm to match her impeccable technique. As the leader of the nymph pack, Lauren Lovette executed Balanchine’s feverish footwork with ease, and was a benevolent but commanding presence. This was another of Ms. Lovette’s new roles this season, and it was as successful as the others: her naturally-conveyed joy dominated the stage, and she nearly stole the piece from Ms. Mearns. When it ended, a woman who appeared to be in her seventies leaned over to me and said: “That was very good, wasn’t it? And that Lauren Lovette is something else.” Indeed.

But the evening’s prominence, and probably the reason for the performance being as well-attended as it was, was Ms. Taylor and Mr. Marcovici’s valedictory.

It might have been better had Ms. Taylor and Mr. Marcovici’s final performance included ballets for which their performances are justly renowned: for example, Balanchine’s “La Sonnambula” or “Orpheus,” or Robbins’s “The Cage.” And ending her career dancing to Balanchine’s “Serenade” would have been perfect for Ms. Taylor. But considering that this schedule was apparently cemented long before their retirement plans were announced, the ballets were excellent vehicles for them that highlighted their strengths, and, most importantly, were delivered memorably, and with their usual class.

First choreographed by Vaslav Nijinksy for the Ballets Russes to Debussy’s 1894 score (which in turn was based on an 1865 poem by Stephane Mallarme), “L’apres-midi d’un faune” reportedly created a sensation at its 1912 premiere. In its original incarnation, and in subsequent recreations I’ve seen, the piece shocks all the senses. Robbins transfers the story to a ballet studio, with the faun and lead nymph in the original production replaced by a male and female dancer. And instead of being exotically sensual, the atmosphere is ‘real,’ and the sensuality depicted is normal hormonal arousal amplified by characters whose existence is measured by physicality and narcissism – all taking place in a dream-like haze of self-intoxication. But the end result is no less erotic than Nijinsky’s original – it’s just not at all shocking (in fact, it not only exploits the preconception of dancers as beautiful people, it confirms the audience’s presumption that these idealized dancers are as attractive to each other as they are to the rest of us).

I had not previously seen either Ms. Taylor or Mr. Marcovici in these roles, but that’s my loss. Although they’re now more experienced than others I’ve seen in this piece, this did not distract in any way from its inherent eroticism. The role suited Ms. Taylor well – she was every bit the knowingly unknowing self-absorbed seductress. But Mr. Marcovici’s appropriately understated portrayal of the aroused and abandoned dancer visibly overwhelmed with barely restrained passion was particularly compelling, and it proved to be one of his finest performances.

“La Valse” also has connections to Ballets Russes. The score, by Maurice Ravel, was commissioned by Diaghilev, who ultimately – and, to Ravel, scandalously -- rejected it. Balanchine resuscitated it in 1951, adding an introductory section choreographed to the eight waltzes comprising Ravel’s “Valse Nobles et Sentimentales” to create the mood leading to the eventual catastrophe that “La Valse” relates.

According to the brief program note, Ravel was ‘intrigued by the disintegration of the waltz form’, and “La Valse” was ‘intended to represent its apotheosis’. I don’t see it, or hear it, that way. Although Ravel is known as an Impressionist composer, as was Debussy, to my uneducated musical ear “La Valse” sounds more akin to the work of Romantic composers such as Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz. To me, and consistent with its melodramatic aura, it represents a dizzying loss of control exemplified by the waltz’s increasing frenetic intensity (similar, in a way, to Ravel’s “Bolero”), perhaps intended (if there was any specific intention) more to represent the decay and demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as it was to reflect a purportedly dying musical form. Regardless, the ballet is a macabre piece in which the waltz becomes an emotional and physical whirl of movement leading to the suddenness, the purposelessness, and the hopelessness of death. There’s no reason for it – it just is. It’s Balanchine’s “Vienna Waltzes” turned on its head and painted black.

“La Valse” is not one of Balanchine’s masterworks – not because it is dark and brooding and possessed, but because it doesn’t do what Balanchine’s masterpieces do: it reflects the music to which it is choreographed, but it doesn’t enhance it. Aside from Ms. Taylor and Mr. Marcovici, it was performed well by Jared Angle as the Angel of Death, Kristen Segin and Troy Schumacher, Brittany Pollack and Daniel Applebaum, and Faye Arthurs and Andrew Scordatto as the three featured couples, and a cast of 25 supporting corps dancers.

Mr. Marcovici was the tortured soul who finds his mate but loses her to death, and his performance matched his finely-tuned renderings of similar characters in other ballets in recent seasons. But Ms. Taylor’s multi-dimensional portrayal of the doomed woman in white took the piece to a higher level: she moved seamlessly from happiness to despair to resolution to death. And although seeing Ms. Taylor’s lifeless body uplifted by a phalanx of tuxedoed pallbearers isn’t exactly how I would have wanted to see her last performance image (the final image in “Serenade” would have been so much more stirring), mentally converting the image to one of Ms. Taylor being carried aloft in tribute, albeit as a dead character, is not a bad way to say goodbye.

When the curtain came down, the celebration began. The “La Valse” cast first applauded the two of them as they stood center stage during the course of the usual post-performance bows, and then one by one they were greeted with roses by principal dancers, soloists, and Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins, as streamers and confetti and more flowers both from dancers and from members of the audience who didn’t want to let them leave coated the stage floor. And for once I saw something I hadn’t seen unless it was programmed into a ballet – I saw Ms. Taylor smile.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Mar 18, 2014 1:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

Sophie Flack's tribute to the retiring Janie Taylor for the Weekly Standard.

Weekly Standard

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Mar 28, 2014 11:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the Washington Post, Sarah Kaufman talks to NYCB soloist and choreographer Justin Peck.

Washington Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Mar 28, 2014 1:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the Washington Post, Sarah Kaufman previews NYCB's April 2014 performances at the Kennedy Center, with emphasis upon Justin Peck.

Washington Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Apr 02, 2014 6:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

Sarah Kaufman reviews the Tuesday, April 1, 2014 performance of Balanchine's "Jewels" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. for the Washington Post.

Washington Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Apr 03, 2014 1:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the Washington Post, Sarah Kaufman reviews the Wednesday, April 2, 2014 performance of Christopher Wheeldon's "Soiree Musicale," Justin Peck's "Year of the Rabbit" and Alexei Ratmansky's "Namouna, a Grand Divertissement" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Washington Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Apr 17, 2014 11:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Michael Cooper previews the May 8, 2014 Gala in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the New York State Theatre.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Apr 28, 2014 8:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Gia Kourlas previews "Les Bosquets," a work by French street artist J. R., which opens on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Apr 30, 2014 1:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Brian Seibert reviews the Tuesday, April 29, 2014 performance of "21st Century Choreographers."

NY Times

Apollinaire Scherr reviews the same program for the Financial Times.

Financial Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu May 01, 2014 2:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New Yorker, Joan Acocella discusses the choreography of Justin Peck, whose new work, "Everywhere We Go" will have its premiere on May 8, 2014.

New Yorker

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu May 01, 2014 8:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Roslyn Sulcas interviews choreographer Justin Peck and composer Sufjan Stevens about "Everywhere We Go."

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Fri May 02, 2014 11:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

April 29, 30, 2014

21st Century Choreographers Programs:
“Les Bosquets” (world premiere), “This Bitter Earth,” “Barber Violin Concerto,”
“Herman Schmerman Pas de Deux,” “Namouna: A Grand Divertissement” (4/29)

“Les Bosquets,” “Year of the Rabbit,” “La Stravaganza,” “DGV: Danse a Grand Vitesse” (4/30)

-- by Jerry Hochman

To continue to grow artistically and recruit new audiences, legacy companies created largely as vehicles for their founding choreographers must expand their ‘classic’ repertoire. So when New York City Ballet opens its Spring Season with a week of ballets created by 21st Century Choreographers, including one by an artist who isn’t a choreographer, you know that Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins is trying very hard to convince its audiences – existing and potential – not only that the company isn’t just Balanchine and Robbins anymore, but that it’s relevant. As much as I’d prefer to see every season open with “Serenade” or a comparable classic, I concede that that’s not a wise course of programming.

Part of this effort toward relevance has been to integrate representative contemporary artists into the theatrical atmosphere, either by having them directly involved in a production (architects acting as set designers; haute couture designers creating dance costumes; pop musicians creating ballets), or by surrounding the theater with art that is popular to Gen Xers and Millennials rather than Baby Boomers and their parents. Last season, for its second annual contemporary art series, NYCB showcased a montage of images of NYCB dancers photographed and assembled by French contemporary artist/photographer JR. The images covered most of the floor of the DHK Theater’s ‘Grand Mezzanine’, and were arranged so that the dancers’ images formed an eye – perhaps representing a new way to ‘see’ the dancers. I, and many others, thought it was fabulous.

Whether a component of NYCB’s original arrangement with JR, or a new commission based on the success of the floor installation, JR, who to my knowledge has no ballet or dance background, has now created a ballet. Billed as a ‘piece d’occasion’ and opening each evening performance during the company’s first week of its Spring 2014 Season, I anticipated seeing another example of pandering to an artist’s whim with the goal of bringing in new patrons, rather than creating a dance of any artistic merit.

Well, “Les Bosquets” isn’t a great ballet, but it’s really not bad. Indeed, having watched it twice, I see it accomplishing what dances several times its length (and possibly expense) fail to do – it says what JR wants to say expeditiously and effectively, and then stops.

JR’s first installation of mounted images was 2004, in Cite des Bosquets, a neighborhood of low income residential projects in Clichy-Montfermeil, a suburb of Paris. JR settled in the area, photographed its residents, and attached the images to local building walls. Collectively called “Portrait of a Generation,” these images formed an unintended backdrop to media coverage of rioting that took place in that area a year later. Set to an original and vibrant score by Woodkid, “Les Bosquets” is JR’s interpretation of the riots, focusing during its 8 or 9 minute length on a representation of the rioting, and the interaction between a local artist (and probably JR surrogate), ‘guest artist’ Lil Buck, and a journalist, NYCB soloist Lauren Lovette. The ballet’s concept and staging is attributable to JR, and ‘additional choreography’ is credited to Lil Buck (presumably for his own movement quality) and by Mr. Martins (presumably for Ms. Lovette).

In a nutshell (my description will take nearly as long to read as the ballet took to dance), the piece opens, to the score’s percussive ‘call to battle’, with an army of rioters and police (who are intentionally indistinguishable from each other) running horizontally back and forth across the stage. As the staged rioting progresses, Ms. Lovette is seen emerging stage left, dressed in what appears t be a white paper tutu. With pretend camera in hand, she bourees around the perimeter of the rioters and at times penetrates the rioter/police ‘lines’ as she records the events. At about same time, Lil Buck (whose real name is Charles Riley) emerges stage right, examining, and troubled by, the devastation around him. The rioters gradually form an increasingly compressed mass of bodies center stage. Ms. Lovette descends into the mass, presumably to gain a more close-up view of the action. The rioters then collapse seemingly on top of her, and she becomes trapped within the mass of bodies.

When the rioters disperse (and the score calms), Ms. Lovette is left on the ground apparently seriously injured. She struggles to gain her composure (moving somewhat like a Dying Swan in reverse), and suddenly sees Lil Buck standing by her, concerned for her plight. The sight of him scares her, and she dances away from him at first. Eventually she sees that he will not do her further harm, and she grows less scared of him (another ‘Swan’ reference, this time to the opening of Act II when Odette first confronts Prince Siegfried). They approach each other, and then each in turn looks up to the other from the stage floor, as if seeing the other person for the first time. As they look into each other and gradually see each other as human beings, their arm movements and close-up facial and body images are projected, seemingly in ‘real time’, on the back of the stage wall. Then a single line of rioters/police struts across the stage horizontally, stage left to right, splitting the two apart into their separate worlds.

Lil Buck is known for his “The Dying Swan” interpretation, which became an internet sensation. I saw his performance at a Fall for Dance program a couple of years ago, which was modified thereafter to a duet (called “Swan”) with Nina Ananiashvili, which was danced at a Youth America Grand Prix gala last year. Here he tones down his ‘street dancer’ manipulations so they look less mannered, and more believable as communication rather than expression. Ms. Lovette danced beautifully (and looked, appropriately for the piece, like a strange visitor from another world), but there wasn’t much for her to do choreographically. Where the two particularly shined, however, was in the brief acting they did: her fear, his concern, and their brief recognition of the humanity in each other. As I’ve observed previously, Ms. Lovette has an innocence about her that is perfect for this role: she looked like a sacrificial swan. And as I’ve also observed, she’s also a fine dancer/actress, conveying emotion full to the fingertips in everything she dances where emotion is called for, as it is here. Her fear was palpable. Lil Buck was able to convey concern honestly, with a surprising (to me) depth of feeling. For the minute or two they interacted (without actually touching each other), it was quite moving.

My first reaction to this ballet was: ‘why bother?’ and that Ms. Lovette’s talents were wasted. But the more I thought about it, and after seeing it a second time, this little dance and the performances in it got to me. I admire JR’s exciting portrayal, in abstract terms, of uncontrollable rioting/policing. I was moved by a minute or two of acting by Ms. Lovette and Lil Buck that said everything with a minimum of extraneous movement. And I got angry – because as soon as I saw Ms. Lovette swallowed up by the mob, and left dazed and injured, it brought to mind the real-life perils of female journalists/news correspondents, and I thought particularly of a similar ‘real’ event that happened during rioting in Cairo. I don’t know if this was in JR’s mind as he conceived the piece (or perhaps there was a similar incident, less notorious, in the 2005 Les Bosquets riots), but the message, whatever its genesis, was vividly communicated. The fact that I remember the ballet and the feelings it engendered in me the next day, and probably will if anyone asks me about it a year or two from now – is one indicia of a successful production.

Credit should also be given for the costumes by Marc Happel, and the cinematography by Graham Willoughby (directed by JR). Each corps dancer wore a harlequin-like unitard of small black and white diamond shapes, with the size of the diamond shapes and the dominant color varying among the dancers. The result gives the appearance of a black and white ‘wave’ of movement, even when the dancers were standing still. Like other things in this little piece, in its complex simplicity, the costuming makes a statement. The film that mirrors the gestures of Ms. Lovette and Lil Buck obviously was prepared in advance and timed to correspond to the live movement on stage, but it’s remarkable in its unobtrusiveness. Not only does it not interfere with the stage action, it enhances it.

In September, 2011, in the context of reviewing a NYCB performance at which the Jerome Robbins Award was given to those NYCB dancers who had worked directly with Robbins, I observed that the evening provided the opportunity to see a timeline of ballerinas, and of performing excellence, from NYCB’s past and into its future. An example of this timeline was two of the ballerinas who performed that night: one was Ms. Lovette, who had been with the company the shortest period of time and who was a representative of the company’s future; another was Wendy Whelan, who had been a ballerina with the company the longest. So when Ms. Whelan followed Ms. Lovette on Tuesday’s program, it was déjà vu all over again.

Together with Tyler Angle, Ms. Whelan danced “This Bitter Earth,” a pas de deux (excerpted from “Five Movements, Three Repeats” by Christopher Wheeldon) that they premiered during the Fall 2012 “Valentino Gala.” I enjoyed the piece a great deal when I saw it two years ago (much more than the complete ballet, which I saw later), and still do. It’s a hauntingly evocative pas de deux, and Ms. Whelan, who has announced her retirement next fall, still able to deliver an emotional tour de force.

Choreographed for NYCB in 1992 by William Forsythe to music by Thom Willems, and seen relatively infrequently since, “Herman Schmerman Pas de Deux” is a strange ‘battle of the sexes’ piece. It’s all lines and angles and staccato arm movements, but it’s not overly didactic, and it has a sense of humor that is at once subtle and broadly painted. Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar, in role debuts, made the artificial-looking movement look both believable as movement quality and interesting to watch.

The opening night program was completed by repeat performances of “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement,” choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, and Mr. Martins’s “Barber Violin Concerto.” ‘Namouna’ still doesn’t hold together as a complete ballet – it’s more like some third act of a story ballet where the story isn’t particularly clear. But when considered as a series of semi-related divertissements with little connection to each other or to some unseen larger ballet, it’s fun to watch (though self-indulgently long), and a brilliant display of Mr. Ratmansky’s wickedly dry sense of humor.

Cynics might say that Mr. Martins put this program together so that one of his pieces would be the best of the night, but “Barber Violin Concerto” was, and the more I see it, the more I enjoy it. This ‘battle’ between classical ballet and modern dance isn’t as contrived-looking as it sounds. On the contrary, as it progresses from its exposition of the two dance styles, to feigned competition between them, and then to an amusingly vibrant display of frustration as the couples change partners, the dance meshes seamlessly. Mr. Martins has played with choreographing different styles of dance before, and purists might complain that he doesn’t get the style he’s mining right, but this isn’t a display of orthodox ‘modern dance’ style (whatever that is). It’s dance entertainment, and highly entertaining. Megan Fairchild and Jared Angle repeated their roles as the ‘modern dance’ couple, but the ballet pair, Sara Mearns and Ask la Cour, was different from that previously reviewed. Ms. Mearns’s execution was technically flawless as usual, but she made her role look more tragic than necessary. Ms. Fairchild was as extraordinarily accomplished and vivacious as she was previously in this role – it’s one of her finest, and even if nothing else on the program was worth seeing (which is not the case), seeing her performance alone would have been worth the price of admission.

In addition to “Les Bosquets,” the April 30 program, the second of the ‘21st Century Choreographers” series, was marked by repeat performances of “Year of the Rabbit,” “La Stravaganza,” and “DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse.” Mr. Wheeldon’s ‘DGV’ continues to impress as a contemporary ballet of remarkable dynamism, befitting a dance inspired by music that was a tribute to France’s superfast railroad train, and Angelin Preljocaj’s “La Stravaganza” continues to disappoint as a curious, but purposeless, concept dance. Justin Peck’s “Year of the Rabbit” remains as refreshing to watch as it was when it debuted. Indeed, my only criticism of this delightful abstract ballet is that it ends too soon. This performance was notable for two role debuts: Ms. Lovette assumed the role previously danced by Janie Taylor, who is now retired, and Tiler Peck danced the role that was previously performed by Ashley Bouder. Both executed to their usual high standards, but Ms. Lovette, with the more choreographically complex assignment, continues to display remarkable accomplishment and versatility.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat May 03, 2014 1:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Roslyn Sulcas reviews the Thursday, May 1, 2014 performance of Program 3 of the Festival of 21st Century Choreographers. The program included: Richard Tanner's "Sonatas and Interludes," Mauro Bigonzetti's "Vespro," Benjamin Millepied's "Two Hearts" and Liam Scarlett's "Acheron."

NY Times

Page 4 of 6 All times are UTC - 7 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group