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City Ballet, 2d Night of Winter Season

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#1 Michael


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Posted 03 January 2002 - 10:57 PM

I've just walked back from the performance and will write briefly still under the influence of an amazing, joyful Bizet Symphony in C, and hope others will say more. Come on, I know you were there.

A vote of confidence in the leadership of Peter Martins tonight, I've not seen the company look better on the 2d night of a winter season. The new model corps looks particularly good. When did Mary Helen Bowers suddenly mature into the complete corps dancer she now is, taking her place alongside Elizabeth Walker and Melissa Walter in that regard? And didn't newcomers like Ashlee Knapp and Alina Dronova look good in the Bizet. There's not enough space to mention everyone you should.

Noteworthy in the Bizet was a beautiful melting second movement from Darci Kistler, partnered by Jock Soto, reminding me why she's still a "Ballerina." And the 2d movement is something that still plays to her strengths. Also, in the jumping 3d movement, Ben Millepied and Alexandra Ansanelli (who replaced Taylor) were extraordinary. Millepied has very noticably improved his partnering and showed a beautiful knack for making the difficult look clear and effortless. Stanley Williams (of Blessed Memory) would have been proud.

As for Ansanelli, this is the first time I've seen her this fall and winter, and I must say that her speed and attack surprised me. It's now a year since she's been back from her year and one half injury and (cross my fingers, cross my fingers, cross my fingers) she's now all the way back. In retrospect there were times last year when she was a little tentative. Nothing prepared me for the aggressive, breakneck way she attacked her role tonight, with guest conductor George Cleve setting his own breakneck pace through the third and fourth movements. I also heard she absolutely nailed Tschai Pas de Deux last night.

Mozartiana opened the evening with very good performances from Wendy Whelan and Damian Woetzel. Also on the bill were Monumentum Pro and Movements for Piano and Orchestra.

#2 mussel


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Posted 04 January 2002 - 01:01 AM

I have to agree with Mike on Symphony in C. This is the first time I've ever seen NYCB performing Sym. in C ever since I became addicted to ballet 2 and half years ago. I'd seen Bolshoi and ABT peforming it, but this is the most joyful one. The quality of dance is superb across the board from corps to principals. Even the corps displayed the kind of uniformity I don't usually associate with NYCB. It's just so wonderful to see Darci dances and I am always afraid that this would be the last time.

I can't wait to see Swan Lake later in the season which will be a real test for the corps newly found uniformity.

#3 Manhattnik


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Posted 04 January 2002 - 12:33 PM

I'll just second or third that it was a lovely performance of everything. I don't know anything about George Cleve, but he certainly kept things moving along nicely. It was also nice to see Symphony in C in an appropriately sized stage. It just looked too cramped at City Center, even with the modest amount of doubling-up ABT used.

For the Bizet, if ever there was a natural first-movement ballerina, it's Jenifer Ringer. She certainly didn't disappoint, and her unforced modesty and sweetness evoked more glamour than the memorable, if wrong-headed, rendition by the last dancer I saw in this role, Irina Dvorovenko, who managed to turn this role into an excuse to invoke every ballerina mannerism under the sun, and even invent a few new ones. Ringer's performance was like a tonic, and a welcome antidote. I find Ringer fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which is her aura of an old-fashioned movie star, but most of all, perhaps, in the way she draws my eyes always away from her legs and feet to observe her gorgeous upper-body carriage, port de bras and that smile-to-die-for. It's unusual in this company where footwork often reigns supreme.

I may be alone in wishing, though, for a bit more from Ringer. Her persona in ballerina roles is often ravishing, but has a fixéd quality. Some great dancers take you on emotional or spiritual journeys through ever-varied peaks and valleys, like Wendy Whelan or Darci Kistler. Ringer's fresh and delightful as morning dew on a rose, but she doesn't show me noon or twilight.

It's hard to come up with enough superlatives for Darci Kistler's performance of the second movement. Aside from shaky moments in a balance or two, she danced magnificently, with the kind of trancendent radiance I've come to expect from her at her best (when she's not going a wee bit over the top). It's interesting that both Kistler and Farrell could seem intensely spiritual, even religious, in their dancing, yet so different in affect, with Farrell always private, alwasy looking within (her genius was how she could take us with her), and Kistler turned outwards, like a beacon. Speaking of Farrellisms, I was gratified that Kistler didn't milk the head-to-the-knee penchee for applause, as does Whelan (say it ain't so, Wendy!). I think the unsung hero of this movement had to be Jock Soto and his masterful, self-effacing partnering. In those repeated, long, long lifts across the stage it truly appeared as if Kistler were flying, and all by herself. I'm sure Soto would be pleased to hear just how good he is at rendering himself totally invisible at such moments.

In the third movement, Ansanelli showed that she indeed seems to have fully recovered, if not even surpassed where she was before her injury. If she dances with not quite the reckless abandon I remember from, say, her Allegro Brillante or Tchai Pas from a couple of years ago, she is nontheless more vivid, and more of a complete performer. She's intensely musical, and seems to have found an inner joy that informs everything she dances these days. And I was again impressed with Millepied's vastly improved refinement and sense of style.

(A note to John Taras or whoever staged Symphony in C for ABT: chassé en tournant works much, much, much better than double saute de basque in the third movement. Much.)

In the fourth movement, Pascale van Kipnis was her usually sunny and serene self, partnered with an ebullient if slightly unkempt-around-the-edges Albert Evans.

But all credit to the corps -- they looked sensational, particularly in the grand finale. It was also nice to see Ellen Bar doing demi-soloist work again (in the third movement), and I thoroughly enjoyed the contrast between Rachel Rutherford and Dana Hanson in the first movement.

I remember when I was a child reading a story about a fictitious, invisible and intangible substance called "ever-so-much-more-so" which, when sprinkled on anything, made its target like itself, but more so. I'm wondering if Balanchine created the choreographic equivalent of this magical stuff in Mozartiana. You'd think that there would be a ghost of Suzanne Farrell fluttering around this role (as there is, say, in Chaconne). Yet, there's something about this role that seems to bring out, not the properties in a dancer that are most Farrell-ish (well, except maybe for Maria Kowroski), but the ones that are her own greatest strengths. Certainly Farrell looked her most Farrellish here -- intense, religous, prayerful -- but when Kistler or Kyra Nichols dance Mozartiana, we see a distillation of their own unique characters: Kistler radiant and beatific and other-worldly, the ever-musical Nichols completely at one with Tchaikovsky's notes and Balanchine's steps. Miranda Weese's Mozartiana was far more direct and anchored in the real world, yet no less powerful.

Whelan's performace was quintessentially Wendy: technically superb as usual, she was sometimes almost insouciant about her strengths, and sometimes showing an almost child-like pleasure at them. Whelan's joy was very immediate, personal and earthy, but as right, in its own way, as her predecessor's more sublime experiences. I do think Woetzal's partnering looked a bit tentative and under-rehearsed in places, but I did love the sensual way she draped her head over his shoulder at the end of their final duet.

As with Symphony in C, the corps excelled in Monumentum/Movements. It's nice to see the company looking so sharp, clean and together. I'll long remember the effect of Askegard blithely tossing Kowroski into one gorgeous arabesque after another in the first, and Alexopolous's astonishing physicality in the second, also with Askegard, who's turning into one of the company's finest men.

#4 rkoretzky


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Posted 04 January 2002 - 12:48 PM

Hey! I was there too! When the casting went up on the website last week, my daughter and I agreed that it was a near perfect program. Then my husband announced that he had to be in NY on business yesterday. VOILA! We agreed to meet at Lincoln Center for dinner, and a most wonderful evening. Got home to Saratoga way too late, am exhausted today, but so worth it.

Wendy Whelan's opening in Mozartiana was a revelation--it was as spiritual an experience as I have ever had. The little girls were wonderful, as were the four "big" girls. Agreed about MH Bowers. And a treat for me to see Melissa Walter, our own upstate NY girl, and one of my favorites, Eva Natanya. Damian is not my favorite, although I admire him greatly--his bravura technique can be over the top for my taste and a little (no, a lot) show-offish. But in Mozartiana he was magnificent. Clean, pure technique--all the bravura with none of the show off. Set off the gorgeous music perfectly. And Tom Gold--he just keeps going....

Ah. Bizet. I went to see Jenifer Ringer, my favorite. Not a single disappointment there. Her joy in dancing just pours out of her. Nilas--oh well. The poor guy is just not happy up there and it shows. Darci and Jock in 2nd movement. Sublime. By the "famous" part (you all know what I mean, right?), the music was swelling and I was crying. Worth the trip from Saratoga just to see that.

I thought Alexandra was a bit tiff in her upper body and arms in the 3rd movement, but it was so wonderful to see her jump again. And Pascale--such a radiant smile on her face. Beautiful.

If I were to be absolutely picky: in the finale the principal women were off in their turns and they weren't lined up at all. Did it matter? Not too much. It bothered me a little, because I have seen it done so perfectly so many times, but it was such a joyous and sparkling performance that I will forgive.

One thing I noticed: I barely watch the men, even Ben and Albert. the black costumes melting into the backdrop? I have no memory of JOck because I couldn't take my eyes off Darci. I did see a bit of excessive "body language" from Ben. Torso twisting is the best way I can describe it.

I would also wonder why the music is rarely played by symphony orchestras. It is a beautiful little symphony, really.

Anyway this performance completely exorcised a ghost for me--ABT making a total mess of Bizet in October. Glad I went. And I'll be back on January 18-19. Hope to meet some of you there.

#5 Manhattnik


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Posted 04 January 2002 - 01:30 PM

It was nice to see Melissa Walter doing something besides mother/hostess/ceremonial-goddess roles -- it's good to see she can dance, too. Also agree about Bowers. She looked like almost a new dancer.

And yes, the leads didn't line up perfectly for those turns at the finale, but at least they didn't look terrified like the leads at Another Ballet Company did most of the time.

#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 04 January 2002 - 04:23 PM

I'm not sure I have much analytical to add - I'm pretty close in opinion to those already expressed.

I think Eric covered what I would have wanted to say about Whelan in Mozartiana. Like Weese, she's not a "no-brainer" to put in the part and probably got it more through necessity (Kistler can't do two ballets in an evening at this point, Nichols and Weese are out, that leaves only Korowski who knows the part and there need to be two active dancers doing a role for safety.) Neither Weese nor she are the models for the role, but both make a strong case for themselves, and both do it in the Pregheira, which is a good sign. Fascinating though, that I could see who she was "talking" to as she arched her back after the prayers. It was a commendable performance and she ought to be proud of herself. Woetzel was also on his best behavior and turned in quite a performance.

When Croce was writing about the Trocks in the seventies, she paraphrased Stephane Mallarmé on ballerinas, saying that a ballerina is not a woman who dances because she is not a woman and she does not dance. In a sense, Kistler has gone beyond flesh and blood to an archetype. We don't see her anymore, we see a timeline of performances when she steps out on stage, and I think that's part of what separates the principal dancers from the ballerinas, that very timeline that makes them more than a woman dancing on a stage.

I think that Tchaikovsky pas de deux is an even more flattering role for Ansanelli at this point than Third Movement. Casting her as a jumping allegro dancer is misusing her, though she's fleet and a secure turner. The first sailing circle of jumps was very exposing for her. But in the adagio of Tchaikovsky pas de deux Wednesday night she was incredibly promising. She had wonderful musicality and breath.

I was really happy with van Kipnis in the Fourth Movement, but I'm a fan of hers. She nailed that treacherous turn; there is a similar one with a leg that shoots out, then goes through retire into a kneel in Martins' Swan Lake pas de quatre, so she's had a chance at it.

In smaller roles, I was very pleased with Rachel Rutherford as one of the first movement demi-soloists, and I couldn't take my eyes off of Ashley Bouder in the pas de quatre in Cortège Hongrois on Wednesday. The signs are good. And how wonderful to see Meunier again. I wish it was a better part (Balanchine's tinkerings with Raymonda are not that felicitous to me.)

As for Monumentum/Movements, I've always seen the women in Movements described as "bee-like" but at both of these performances it was Monumentum that reminded me of insects. The unison port de bras at the opening in single counts looks like the flicking of a forelimb or a feeler on a cricket or grasshopper. Like certain port-de-bras in Concerto Barocco which flash before your eyes and vanish like semaphore, these movements seem like signals from another place far away, perhaps even another species.

[ January 04, 2002: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]

#7 Michael


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Posted 04 January 2002 - 06:45 PM

It's quite true that jumping is not Ansanelli's greatest strength and casting her in 3d movement was in fact casting against type, as so often happens at NYCB. Thus, considering what the role should purely be, the performance was probably quite inappropriate. Contrast, by example, Jenny Somogyi (and Robert Tewsley) who danced 3d movement the year before last in a performance I haven't forgotten, with Somogyi and Tewsley jumping so beautifully and musically in unison those particular attitude-like turning jumps. That's the best I've seen it.

But as usual -- and this leads to so many disputes on this Board about whether something is properly or improperly cast -- when you love a particular dancer (and I adore Ansanelli) you love to see them in everything. And, particularly, as I was sitting right up front in the orchestra where the dancers make such an overwhelming physical impression, I was just blown away by her speed and precision and her presence -- she seemed almost to fly across the stage, hardly touching down at all. It's probably not the way it ought to be danced, but what a treat I found it.

[ January 04, 2002: Message edited by: Michael1 ]

#8 Nanatchka


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Posted 04 January 2002 - 09:28 PM

Me too, but way up front, where I could see Jock Soto just fine. He looked as if he were about to die, but at least it was for a great cause. Millepied was adorable--so Mozartian, and that moment when he just jumps--straight up, like a child at a party--was marvelous. I see no one has much to say here about Monumentum/Movements, which was a large part of the bill. Kowrowski looks awfully pleased with herself, but well, why not? Unfortunately, she makes everyone else on the face of the earth look stumpy,but it's not her fault. What a dish. Speaking of dishes, Alexopolous (still a devastating mix of glamour and elegance) in the second ballet, reminded me that she was in Washintgon (doing Slaughter) when Farrell coached Calegari in the role. Which brings us back to Mozartiana. (I saw the last Farrell and the first Calegari, which was truly a conjuring act.). Whelan gave the most classical performance of this alternately romantic and baroque ballet I have ever seen. She really did just do the steps, and her faith in them and their inherent beauty was for me completely compelling. I have complete faith, always, in her capacity to do anything, and thusI find her performances liberating. I never worry about her, I just clear my mind and watch. I thought, by the way, that the head to knee bit (so memorably photographed with Farrell, and then again with Nichols) was fascinating. With Farrell, the impetus is forward--a fantastic appetite for space. With Whelan, the movement was up, and then more up! and then a drift down.I found it beautiful, and the echo of the bowed head from the beginning was poetic. Back to the end: the reason the ballerinas weren't together at the end of the Bizet was because I think it was completely beyond them, or just beside the point. Their capacities are so different. No corps, they. It's fine with me.

[ January 05, 2002: Message edited by: Nanatchka ]

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