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Dancers from the New York City Ballet

"A Celebration of Ballet"

Allegro Brillante
Music: Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75 (1892) by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

In the Night
Music: Nocturne Opus 27 No. 1 (1835); Nocturnes Opus 55, No. 1 and No. 2 (1843); Nocturne Opus 9 No. 2 (1830-31) for solo piano by Frédéric Chopin
Choreography by Jerome Robbins

Agon Pas de Deux
Music: Agon (1953-56) by Igor Stravinsky
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

Who Cares? - Excerpts
Music: by George Gershwin, orchestration by Hershy Kay
Choreography by George Balanchine

Lensic Performing Arts Center
Santa Fe, New Mexico

October 11 & 12, 2002
By Jeff Kuo


Touring units of the big ballet companies remind me of a military operation. Are they foraging parties … small units sent out into the wilderness to fend on their own until needed for the subscription season of set piece battles (is there a better term for the annual Nutcracker)? … living off the land on whatever sustenance they can find and with whatever discipline they can maintain? Or, are they like full size cavalry raids with their own armor and artillery support, spreading their army's name far and wide as they cover themselves with glory?

The "Dancers from the New York City Ballet" turned out to be something in between. They are a touring group of seventeen Company dancers – a generous helping of principals, soloists, and corps dancers (or, rather, sixteen dancers since a soloist was absent resulting in several substitutions).

Allegro Brillante, never one of my favorite neo-classical works served as an overture. Wendy Whelan (substituting for Alexandra Ansanelli), Jared Angle, and an corps of eight wielded what I imagine is pristine New York City Ballet technique – speed, attack, line – as if to put everybody on notice that this show won't be another Swan Lake to sleep through. I still shudder remembering evenings of "Stars of the *fill in blank*" type of show. These evenings were completely hyperglycemic, carb rush affairs, where one's head is hammered into jelly by a seeming endless succession of pas de deux: Sleeping Beauty Pas de Deux, White Swan Pas de Deux, Black Swan Pas de Deux, Nutcracker Pas de Deux, etc. One wonders if careful scholarship can trace Isadora Duncan's and Martha Graham's sweeping rejection of the dans d'Ecole directly to one too many of these evenings. Naturally, with a small company and budgetary constraints, something must be left behind. Even if this company brought neither orchestra nor sets nor fancy costumes, what they did bring was more important – intelligent programming.

Beginning with Balanchine's Allegro Brillante, this ballet is the evening's nod to the world of the Imperial Russian Court ballet. It is the world of elegant white tutus that look a little uncomfortable, brittle if brilliant pointe work, and hierarchical ensemble choreography. Allegro is also the closest the program comes to offering what in balletic terms might be the set piece battle – it's in the concerto's formally organized structure of introduction-melody-development-cadenza-coda.

Balanchine shows why the third concerto is so neglected – it takes a particularly well polished glamour to shine. I was looking forward to Alexandra Ansanelli, but was not sorry to see Wendy Whelan substituted. She smoothed over some of the flintier passages (such as the little diagonal run on pointe that always seems like a lame studio combination) while maintaining the attack that says, "This is why I'm here!" Jared Angle's partnering looked less secure than what I've seen on the State Theater stage; moreover, Balanchine allows the cavalier few chances to shine. The supporting ensemble looked like they might have been back in NYC – which is to say, somewhat grim and determined. They were Glenn Keenan, Abi Stafford, Janie Taylor, Jennifer Tinsley, Jason Fowler, Stephen Hanna, Sebastien Marcovici, and Jonathan Stafford.

If the bright smiles, élan, and pointe work of Allegro told the audience to sit up and take notice, In the Night shows us why. This work is not of the tradition of mythopoesis, but of the lyric mode where every little gesture matters: Rachel Rutherford's embrace of Sebastien Marcovici in the 1st Nocturne, a glance between Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard in the 2nd, a pout and a shake of the head by Jenifer Ringer in the 3rd. I thought Rachel Rutherford particularly beautiful in her violet tutu. Charles Askegard's partnering continues to grow on me.

In the Night was clearly the most inspired programming choice. Set to four of Chopin's very beautiful Nocturnes, this ballet solves very niftily the live versus canned music dilemma of the touring group. Full company tours have enough difficulty arranging suitable orchestral accompaniment much less touring units. Taped music is the reality for most small companies. Though I would rather see Dancers of NYCB performing to taped music than not at all, at first I couldn't help feel a sense of innocence lost. In a perfect universe, Wendy Whelan would never have to dance to taped music. However, if music is the heart of dance, then this In the Night had a living, beating heart – in its performance by pianist, Nancy McDill. Her playing was warm and assured, reflecting the performance onstage.

In the Night is one of my favorite ballets in the sub-genre of chamber music ballets. If the piano concerto form of Allegro claims the public dimension and the declamatory voice, the chamber form aspires to nothing less than the personal and its vocative mode is lyric. Its time is interior time measured not by public and social events but by heartbeats and private glances.

Choreographed a year after Dances at a Gathering, critics have suggested that In the Night is its sequel – the youthful camaraderie and flirtations of Dances replaced by the mature romance and struggles of an adult love. The boys and girls of Dances seem carefree and classless in their simple costumes, the suggestion of an outdoor space in which they gather, the choreography's care not to seem formally structured.

By contrast, class inflects the costumes of In the Night and the choreography seems lightly mannered. With the clean lines of their waistcoats, ruffled shirts, and aristocratic cravats, Sebastien Marcovici and James Fayette seem like all the amiable young men who marry all the deserving younger sisters in a Dickensian universe. Charles Askegard drew the Hussar's role in the first Opus 55 Nocturne.

Perhaps my favorite moment is the one in the last Nocturne, the Opus 9, I believe, when first the women, then the men see and acknowledge each other. A nod, a little bow at the waist. For a moment, it seems as if the women are going to talk – about garden parties, perhaps, or the men about horses. But in the lyric universe of this ballet, the intrusion of the real is tenuous and the ballet ends with each couple swept back into their private reveries. Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard in the 2nd Nocturne had eyes only for each other. Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette in the 3rd Nocturne played the coquette and the hapless swain but with that subtext that speaks of the spell of love underneath all.

The Agon Pas de Deux seemed a little perfunctory on Friday but became an arena of dangerous desire on Saturday. Wendy Whelan and Nikolaj Hübbe danced both evenings.

In excerpts from Who Cares? what happened to the girls' glamorous Karinska costumes? I'm trying to have an open mind and not object to change simply because it is change. But, Ben Benson's costumes look like satiny leotards with short, stringy, frilly salsa skirts. And, the little ornaments at the right shoulder strap and at the waistline on the left look like holiday ornaments that got sat upon.

The dancing improved greatly between Friday and Saturday. It was as if the dancers went out shopping and all found some objet d'art thing they really wanted (plausible given the density of the galleries by the Lensic). Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette gave a nicely nuanced performance, especially on Saturday. Particularly enjoyable were Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard in Who Cares? substituting for Wendy Whelan and James Fayette. They had the glamour, but not the steely kind of late, alcoholic nights in Manhattan with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, George M. Cohan, etc., but of ballet dancers rising to the height of their profession. Kowroski infuses in her dancing a soloist's hunger with a principal's confidence, though one notices that she is looking younger than ever (and this despite sharing the stage with such youngsters as Abi Stafford and Glenn Keenan).

Speaking of Keenan who danced My One and Only, as it was suggested of Tina LeBlanc in the Rubies seen as part of San Francisco Ballet's Jewels, there was "not enough hip action." This could have applied here as well. But, Keenan's technique was clean and fresh. In a sense, the soloist variations for I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise also seemed as if Janie Taylor (Friday) or Abi Stafford (Saturday) could use a little of the local chili peppers (to, as the immortal Emeril says, "kick it up a notch!"). Both dancers seemed too young for this role; as if they got down pat the steps and the gestures but not exactly how to put in the "oomph."

The Dancers from NYCB presented roughly the second half of the complete Who Cares? from The Man I Love to the final I Got Rhythm. Again, inspired programming wins as this suite of dances provides chances for brilliant solo variations and some romantic duets. Yet the suite is unified by the Gershwin score and by Balanchine's insistence on classical movement rather than upon reliance on non-balletic dance forms that the music might suggest.

Nikolaj Hübbe's Liza showed plenty of show biz pizzazz. In fact, maybe a little too much … as if he was in danger of forgetting that this is ballet and not, in fact, a show number. But, with the way Balanchine gives the soloist what looks like a soft-shoe number and some parts that beg for hamming, who could blame him?

The duets, The Man I Love for Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette and Embraceable You for Jennifer Tinsley and Jared Angle (Friday) or Rachel Rutherford and Jason Fowler (Saturday), really anchored this abridged Who Cares? Kowroski's and Askegard's Who Cares? really was the pinnacle. All in all this was a very enjoyable performance – one that does credit to the complete Who Cares? that I still remember seeing by the full Company in New York a while back.

Though one may wish to argue to what extent these works by Balanchine and Robbins, dating between 1956 and 1970 really celebrate the richness of the balletic art, the evening was neither dumbed down nor excessively ambitious. As I left I overheard more than one promise to make it to New York City to see the full Company.

A final note about the Lensic Theater. It's a cozy but plush theater located just a few blocks from the Plaza. It's small, looks as if it seats less than 1500, but the house seemed completely sold and the audience was enthusiastic.

 

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Basheva.


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