New York City Ballet

54th Winter Season Opening Gala: "Land of Nod," "Carousel (A Dance)," "Thou Swell"

New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
New York City, NY

November 26, 2002
By Maria Roche

On Tuesday night, New York dressed up in all its finery and paraded into the State Theater, to join the New York City Ballet in celebrating the music of Richard Rodgers with three new works from Robert La Fosse, Christopher Wheeldon, and Peter Martins respectively. Rodgers is widely known for his partnership with Oscar Hammerstein, but also wrote extensively outside the partnership, and created some of the best known Broadway musicals including Oklahoma!, The King and I, and The Sound of Music in his lengthy career.

The night began in surrealist fashion, with a new piece from Robert La Fosse. It was, to put it mildly, somewhat unusual. We were treated to the site of La Fosse himself as "Uh-Oh the Clown" amid a circus spectacular. Uh-oh indeed. A reminder that ballet dancers really shouldn't give up the day job, as La Fosse's clowning met with mystified silence from the audience. The curtain opened then upon what appeared to be the anxiety dream of a young circus girl, played by Megan Fairchild, who falls in love with Sebastien Marcovici's street cleaner, only to be separated from him by Uh-Oh the Clown.

It was a spectacle, with female dancers appearing in multicolored tutus, that made them look like giant pompoms, and the males in black mirrored costumes. Yet somehow it failed to be spectacular. The choreography lacked coherence, and sometimes almost slipped into parody. We were treated to all the clichés in the book including a street cleaner dancing with a broom, a kaleidoscopic marching band, and an evil clown. The dancers did their best, with Marcovici being notable for his swift, light neat dancing, but ultimately I found it un-engaging. Fairchild's performance was graceful, but seemed mannered amidst the chaos, whilst La Fosse failed to enthrall. It looked like a rehearsal for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade had got hopeless lost, and had accidentally found their way to the State Theater.

I found the piece like candyfloss – overly colored, spun a little too thin, sticky, and ultimately unsatisfying. And something that should only be indulged in during trips to the circus or the fairground.

It was followed by Wheeldon's piece, set to the music of Carousel, which was to me the highlight of the evening. The more of his pieces I watch, the greater my understanding and respect of his choreography grows. Wheeldon managed to create a piece that captured the spirit of Rogers together with an understanding of ballet. The choregraphy was reminiscent of the music hall translated through the classical technique, with a definitive contemporary edge. It was extraordinary in how sequences of movements could bring with them the look of a 1930s Follies production, with great patterns of dancers emerging and coalescing on stage, only to break into a traditional pas de deux replete with the edginess of contemporary lifts. Here indeed was the appropriate tribute to Rodgers, with his music allowed to shine through, showing that despite being written over 50 years ago, it is still affecting and bewitching today.

The piece flowed gracefully, with beautiful dancing from all the corps. Wheeldon uses certain motifs through the piece, such as rond de jambes en pointe, and all the dancers were able to perform them with lightness and joie de vivre in the mellifluous part of the pieces, and alacrity in the faster parts. The repetition of the movements with different emphasis was particular effective.

Alexandra Ansanelli as the female protagonist was extraordinarily beautiful, with a tenderness to her dancing that gave real grace to her presence. Damian Woetzel, a somewhat older dancer, had great power and speed in his dancing, and partnered her well. There was a lyrical sensuality to their partnering, with his earthiness an effective accompaniment to her exceptional line and lightness.

The piece flowed to the end to finish with the female corps sitting aloft their male counterparts carrying brass poles to create the eponymous carousel, with slowed rotated around the centre stage. It was a remarkable image to be left with, striking, unusual, and powerful. Not only did it take immense skill to execute, but the force of the visual imagination behind it was astounding. Wheeldon was rightly received with great acclaim by the audience, and it is delightful to know that we can expect many more works from him.

The last piece from Peter Martins opened with the stage set as a 1930s nightclub, complete with white baby grand piano and four piece band. Black and white were the costume and set thematics, set of with a touch of red. If La Fosse's piece was candyfloss, then this was a stiff martini – elegant, timeless, if perhaps a little generic. The twist was provided by sensational performances from the four main couples, Yvonne Borree and Nilas Martins, Darci Kistler and Jock Soto, Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard, and Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette.

Of the couples, I preferred the latter who have chemistry that translates to a powerful impact on stage, but I also thought that Kowroski suited the piece extremely well, with her haughty demeanor and long legs giving her a Dietrich-esque presence on stage. Together with Askegard, their pas de deuxs were both polished and full of verve.

Martins chose a number of pieces, that stretched from moody blues to almost Cuban rhythms, and as well as series of pas de deux between the main couples, there were interludes with four young female and four young male dancers, who played the parts of the nightclub waitresses. These divertissements were full of the insouciance and bounce of youth, with just an edge of sexiness.

The thing about martinis is that though they taste and look great, drinking too much of them can leave one dizzy, with a bitter taste in the mouth. This was a preview of the piece, and I feel that Martins can learn from the fashion of the 1930s – less is definitely more. The costume, dancers and feel of the piece was long and lean – if Martins can similarly pare down the length of choreography similarly, he will be left with a stronger piece.


Read Kate Snedeker's review of this performance.

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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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