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PostPosted: Thu Mar 20, 2008 11:31 am 
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Location: London UK
I have managed to see Programmes 1, 3 and 4 of the NYCB’s London season though sadly had to miss Programme 2. here are some thoughts on the first two performances I saw.

It’s about 25 years since the company last came to London although there have been some sightings of company members here when a small group came over a couple of times during their summer break (I have very fond memories of a stunning performance of In the Night) and of course Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowroski danced with Christopher Wheeldon’s new company just a few months ago, so a small number of the dancers are familiar faces.

The first programme was made up of Balanchine classics: Serenade, Agon and Symphony in C, three ballets that are danced by the home team at the RB and by just about everyone else for that matter, so in many ways this was bringing coals to Newcastle but nevertheless the standards of performance in the first two works were an eye opener to me.

Serenade nowadays suffers from the silly titles now customarily given to the leading soloists and the distracting practice of allowing the leading girls on stage with their hair loose. On reading the cast list I was heartily relieved to see none of the roles had been given names but disappointed that they left their hairpins in the dressing room. What was so special about this performance of Serenade was the speed at which it was danced: utterly thrilling. Agon danced by NYCB is a real contrast to Agon danced by RB because although the latter company always dances it very well, it also dances it a little too reverently. NYCB seemed to me to inhabit the work in an easy way that made the dancers approach the roles in an almost casual manner as if Stravinsky were the easiest composer in the world to dance to when we know he’s anything but. Everyone danced well but the pas de deux with Whelan and Albert Evans was a stand out. Symphony in C was a bit of a let down when compared to the last performance I saw of the work danced by the Bolshoi led by the incomparable Alexandrova. The dancing looked good in the work but in the recent past I’ve seen it look sensational. The girls were hampered by ugly tutus and even uglier blobs perched on their heads. Redesigning the costumes needs to be a priority. Interestingly I was told by several people that had seen the second cast of S in C that it was superior to the first cast.

Programme 3 was four works new to London and was therefore the programme I was most looking forward to seeing. The opening ballet, Carousel, was a kind of condensed version of the famous musical with innocent girl meeting rough-trade boy at a fair ground. As Christopher Wheeldon’s works tend to be what I’d describe as reflective melancholy, this was quite a departure from what I’ve seen from him up to now. He used the music exceptionally well with broad sweeping movements matching the music’s swell and repeatedly using a circular motif suggesting the carousel of the title, indeed near the end the girls sit on their partners’ shoulders clutching poles just like riders on a merry go round. The two leading dancers (not identified as Julie and Billy on the cast list) were Tiler Peck and Damian Woetzel, she being demure and he not required to show what an unpleasant character Billy actually is: so rather a sanitized précis of the story. The music of Carousel is special for me as it was the favourite of my brother and sister in law, both now passed away, and on this occasion it was played so beautifully under the baton of Fayçal Karoui that it brought a tear to my eye.

Zakouski is a kind of extended pas de deux on Russian themes, folksy and amusing in the main and danced by Yvonne Borree and Andrew Veyette who were good with the nuances but could have given it a bit more Russian verve. Choreographed by Peter Martins this piece should have staying power and it would be interesting to see a Russian couple have a go at it such as Osipova and Merkuriev for example.

The third work, In Vento, choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti with an absorbing score by Bruno Moretti, seemed to mark a new phase of maturity in his work. Dancing on a darkened stage the featured soloist was Benjamin Millepied, perhaps as a suffering everyman. There is an air of mystery about this hugely atmospheric piece with an interesting concept of the girls looking conventional from the front and sexy from behind in costumes that leave their backs almost totally bare. The highlight of the ballet was the very beautiful and inventive pas de deux near the end. The audience loved it and it received noticeably more applause than the two preceding items.

Finally Russian Seasons; and as a fully paid up member of the Alexei Ratmansky fan club, this was the work I was looking forward to the most. In structure the ballet is similar to Dances at a Gathering with six couples expressing a variety of moods through the passing seasons. Full of the originality that I’ve come to expect from Ratmansky he used the rather unusual score featuring a solo soprano voice (Irina Rindzuner) very imaginatively and had his American dancers dancing with some real Russian soulfulness. Costumed in stylized sarafans and traditional headdresses for the women and loose shirts for the men it all looked very authentic. Wendy Whelan stood out from a terrific cast as the woman who ends the piece as a bride, her immersion in every role she dances leaves me in awe.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2008 3:09 am 
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Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2001 11:01 pm
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Location: Rugby, UK / Taipei
Programme 3 - Further thoughts, March 20 evening

After what I said about “Zakouski” two days ago, last night saw a different cast and quite honestly it could have been a different ballet. Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz gave it just the sharpness it needed. Even those costumes looked better! Elsewhere, Tiler Peck and Damien Woetzel were again a joy in “Carousel (A Dance)”, and “In Vento” looked even more stunning. You could have heard a pin drop during it and quite deservedly it got by far the biggest ovation of the evening. “Russian Seasons” does not improve though, and I for one will be quite happy never to run across it again.


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 Post subject: Programme 4: Ballet and Broadway
PostPosted: Sun Mar 23, 2008 2:33 am 
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Location: Rugby, UK / Taipei
‘Thou Swell’, ‘Tarantella’, ‘Western Symphony’, ‘West Side Story Suite’ - New York City Ballet
London Coliseum; March 19, 2008


After the disappointments of the Robbins programme and the mixed bag that was programme 3, New York City Ballet’s final London programme finally gave us the excitement and good time feel we were all looking for. It was not however the best of starts. Like Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance)”, Peter Martins’ “Thou Swell” is another ballet created as part of the Richard Rogers birth centenary celebrations. First impressions are promising, an art-deco ballroom dominated by a giant mirror hung above the stage at such an angle that those in the lower levels see everything in duplicate, the men in tuxedos, the women in the most glorious dresses, a three-piece band in the corner, and two singers to help things along. But first impressions can be so misleading.

The work is pleasant enough but it takes a good twenty minutes to really get going. The couples dance to songs that come thick and fast, occasionally coming together, occasionally getting a rest as four delightful dancing waitresses take the floor. The ladies, especially Darci Kistler and Sara Mearns, looked great and equally at home with the grace or occasional speed Martins’ choreography required. The men however looked much less sure and all too often seemed very stiff uncomfortable, although it has to be said that the second performance was a distinct improvement on the first. The exception was Amar Ramascar, who has been a delight throughout the season and who along with his partner Mearns simply radiated the feeling Martins seems to be looking for.

The season suddenly exploded into sheer brilliance the second Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht burst on to the stage for George Balanchine’s “Tarantella”. From the very first slapping of hands you just knew this was going to be something special and boy did they deliver. Ulbricht gave a performance full of bravura and energy. His leaps and turns around the stage were so high and fast you felt he could be stopped for speeding at any moment. But they were not just fast, they were precise. And you couldn’t help feeling sorry for his tambourine, which was hit with such force that it started to fall apart, the final beat on it as he exited after his solo sending discs flying in all directions. And Bouder was not to be outdone. She simply oozed quality and is clearly a star in the making. Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia the following evening equally didn’t put a foot wrong, but they were not in the same league.

While there are a few ballets that scream ‘America’ and ‘Balanchine’, the most fun one just has to be “Western Symphony”. It’s long been an audience favourite and it’s easy to understand why. Easy on the eye, easy on the ear, Balanchine’s ode to the American West, full of cowboys and chorus dancers is a delight from start to finish.

Everyone threw themselves into it with great enthusiasm. The performances from both the principals and corps were wonderfully sharp as they revelled in the choreography that’s very classical but that equally draws heavily on square dance, Western mannerisms and even galloping horses. All three principal pairs gave performances to be proud of. Nilas Martins, who looked so unhappy in “Thou Swell”, suddenly seemed completely at home, while Abi Stafford’s extensions simply took the breath away. In the Adagio, Albert Evans’ Rhinestone Cowboy is so over the top it’s hilarious. When he just stands there and grins at the audience you just can’t help but laugh along. And Sterling Hyltin is no stranger to comedy either. In the Rondo, Teresa Reichlen and Stephen Hanna looked like they were trying to outdo Bouder and Ulbricht, so fast were their pirouettes and tours.

And so to “West Side Story Suite”, Robbins’ distilled version of his choreography from the wonderful musical. Although it is very much a piece fro the men, in some ways by distilling the story down to thirty minutes or so, Robbins actually emphasises the connection with “Romeo and Juliet”. And like all good choreography, it seems so simple. The whole piece was performed with great gusto and feeling. Damien Woetzel, due to retire at the end of the season, gave us a Riff that had the ladies swooning from the moment the curtain went up. At one performance he was even greeted with a few wolf whistles! Unusually, the dancers are required to sing, and while they may not be the best you’ve ever heard, having someone else do it would take so much away from the work.

And so the season ends. Despite the huge amount of new work Martins and the Diamond Project has produced, and some of it has been very good, it’s still the old favourites that really seem to get the company’s pulse going. Peter Martins is not afraid to present new work, and neither should he be, it is essential for any living company, but New York City Ballet still seems to be at its best when it looks back to Robbins and especially Mr.B.


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 Post subject: Final thoughts
PostPosted: Sun Mar 23, 2008 2:37 am 
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Location: Rugby, UK / Taipei
New York City Ballet - Final Thoughts

On the whole it was a wonderful season. If there was a disappointment, apart from “Russian Seasons”, it was the Robbins programme. It seemed strange to bring “The Concert”, a work The Royal Ballet actually dances quite well, when there is so much more to choose from. Where, for example, was something like “Interplay”?

Highlights, in no particular order:
    Damien Woetzel in “Carousel (A Dance)” and “West Side Story Suite.” He was at his boyish, bouncy best. He is going to be missed when he retires in the summer.

    The delightfully innocent Tiler Peck, also in “Carousel (A Dance)”; clearly a great talent and a star in the making.

    Darci Kistler, simply gorgeous and a joy to watch.

    Amar Ramasar in everything he did. He is one of those dancers who seem to say “watch me”. And we do!

    Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht in “Tarantella”. Energy by the sackful, but equally such great speed and precision. I remember seeing these two a few years ago in their graduation performances at the School of American Ballet and thinking they had great futures. The great news is they are getting better and better.

    “In Vento”. Easily the best of the newer works. Spellbinding.

    “Western Symphony.” Balanchine at his exuberant best. Corny, yes; over the top, yes; but great fun? You bet!

    “Serenade”. OK, I know it’s a signature work and you would expect it to be done well, but it was quite simply beautiful. Even better, it was danced with just that bit of extra energy and speed that British companies so often fail to give it.

And of course, the sheer energy of the whole company. Every dancer in every performance gave their all. A friend overheard someone say that the men seemed to have springs in their shoes. Quite. Everything was delivered in spades. New York City Ballet is maintaining its heritage while still producing lots of new work, which should be the lifeblood of any company. It would be nice to think another company down the road might take note.

So it’s time to say goodbye. Memo to Peter Martins: Don’t leave it so long next time.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 24, 2008 8:03 pm 
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Location: SF Bay Area
Thanks for the round-up, David. Sounds like the company left some positive impressions in London.


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