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NYCB in Edinburgh, program 1 (Aug 17 and 19)


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#1 Estelle

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Posted 24 August 2000 - 12:14 PM

I had the luck to attend four performances of the New York City Ballet in Edinburgh, on Aug 17, 18 and 19, at the Edinburgh Playhouse.

The Playhouse is a big theater, and I wouldn't count it among the nicest ones I've ever seen. The main principle of its decoration seems to be "the more red, the better", so it almost looks as if it had been built by the count Dracula, the sight lines from the stalls aren't good (I was told that it used to be a cinema, which might explain the unsufficient rake) and at the intermission everything is so crowded that it would almost make one become claustrophobic.

The first program included "Agon", "Dances at a gathering" and "Symphony in C". I saw it twice, on Aug 17 and Aug 19. The casts were almost the same, but there was one big difference for me: I was at the front balcony on the 17th, and in the stalls on the 19th, and realized then how bad the sight lines in the stalls were, and how better the ballets looked when seen from above, especially for "Symphony in C".

I had already seen "Agon" twice at the Paris Opera, in 1995 and 1996, and also the excerpts on the "Balanchine Celebration" video. I was wondering if it would look very different on stage, but the difference wasn't striking (perhaps it is just that my eyes aren't trained enough to see the differences). Peter Boal was as wonderful as on the video, except that it was a thousand times more exciting to see him on stage. He probably is the dancer who impressed me the most during those performances, and now I would feel ready to see him in almost any choreography. I loved his stage presence, his very pure and clean style, and also some kind of pleasant modesty in his stage demeanor (he surely isn't a dancer who would change the choreography just to show off a higher jump or more turns). On the ballet.co.uk forum, Ann Williams called him "a stage aristocrat", and I wholly agree with her. All those qualities reminded me of Manuel Legris (probably my favorite male POB dancer now with Jean-Guillaume Bart), I'd be interested in hearing the opinion of the people who have seen both of them perform. (By the way, there's a nice photo of him on Leigh Witchel's web site at [url="http://"http://members.aol.com/dnceasever/upcoming.htm"]http://members.aol.com/dnceasever/upcoming.htm[/url]
and I envy the people who will be able to see him in September in the solo Leigh choreographed for him. No, I haven't been paid to write that! ;-) )
In the second cast, Boal was replaced with Alexander Ritter, who danced it well, but didn't impress me as much.

Maria Kowroski was nice in the second trio, especially in the wonderful "Bransle Gay" solo, but I found her a bit too "sweet" (I had had the same problem with Maurin at the POB). But the big difference was the pas de deux. It used to be danced in Paris by the principals (now retired) Jean-Yves Lormeau and Francoise Legree; Lormeau was a tall, slender dancer, and Legree, while well-proportioned, was very feminine, with nice curves. In their pas de deux, the energy seemed to come from him, and she was somewhat
passive and manipulated. In Edinburgh, the roles were danced by Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, who were just the opposite. Whelan danced quite a lot in the four performances I saw, and I'm afraid I always had some trouble getting used with her unusual, very skinny and muscular body shape. I admired her strength and command of the stage, but would have preferred a bit more of sweetness in her dancing (especially in "Symphony in C"). Also, I found her pairing with Jock Soto not very good, because their body types are so different that it makes both of them look not very good (she looks even skinnier and Soto's torso looks even larger). However, their interpretation of the pas de deux was interesting, with a strong, fast, powerful female and a rather passive male.

The second work of the evening was "Dances at a gathering". Many of the reviews in the British press had been very negative about the choreography, so I was a bit worried before seeing it, but it seems that my tastes differ from those of most British critics, since I liked that work a lot (even though I found it a bit too long at the end). Of course, its style, structure and atmosphere are very different from those of "Agon", but there is more than one kind of good ballet... I enjoyed very much the lovely, delicate Chopin pieces played by Cameron Grant. The dancers that I preferred were Kyra Nicholas as the woman in pink in the first cast (alternating with Yvonne Borree), so moving and musical, and Damian Woetzel and Peter Boal as the man in brown (respectively in the first and second cast). Woetzel was especially bright in the fast solo variation towards the end, displaying great virtuosity and some wit and humor, while Boal was at his best in the opening slower, dreamy solo, there was something in his dancing that brought me close to tears. I also liked the lyricism of Helene Alexopoulos as the woman in mauve, the joy and virtuosity of Jenifer Ringer as the girl in pink (*correction*: yellow), and the poetry of Maria Kowroski as the girl in green.

The program ended with "Symphony in C". I had seen "Palais de Cristal" at the Paris Opera in 1994, but, except the costumes, my memory wasn't precise enough to enable me to see the differences in the choreography. The British reviews had been very negative about the corps de ballet in that work, but again, I somewhat disagreed with them, and I don't know if it's a matter of taste, of technical knowledge (mine is very limited), or if it is because they saw the program of Aug 14 and I saw those of Aug 17 and Aug 20 and the dancers had improved in three days (or that they had more experience than me with the company, and were comparing with better days) There sometimes were a few problems of angles of the dancers'legs or arms, and I found the corps de ballet not as disciplined as that of the POB, but on the whole it was very satisfying.

In the main roles, I didn't like much Nilas Martins in the first movement, he seemed to be doing his best, but his best seemed not very good for a principal dancer of a big company, and it was a bit embarrassing to see the two male soloists of this movement (Jared Angle and Jason Fowler) seeming more at ease than him. His partner, Margaret Tracey, danced cleanly, but left me a bit cold.

In the second movement, I had the same reservations as before about Wendy Whelan, but found that her silhouette was better paired with that of Charles Askegard (what a nice line, by the way- I'm afraid that standing next to him wasn't very flattering for Nilas Martins at the end of the ballet). On Aug 17, I found the moment when she touched her knee with her head a bit too forced (she stopped for a second before finally doing it), it looked better on Aug 19.

In the third movement, I enjoyed very much Jennie Somogyi and Nikolaj Hubbe, with with great stage presence and dazzling virtuosity. In the last movement, Abi Stafford looked very young but did a fine job, well partnered by Alexander Ritter on the 17th and Albert Evans on the 19th. The finale was exhilarating- when all the dancers of the previous movements came back on stage, I felt like a three years old kid discovering that hey, there still is another parcel under the Christmas tree... This is a ballet I could see many times in a row without feeling bored, and I regret even more that the POB direction doesn't program "Palais de Cristal" more often.

Well, for those who haven't fallen asleep yet, I plan to write something about the other two programs as soon as possible (and also to improve the clumsy editing).


[This message has been edited by Estelle (edited August 28, 2000).]

#2 Michael

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Posted 24 August 2000 - 09:22 PM

It's striking, Estelle, that -- despite the mixed and sometimes critical reactions of the U.K. press -- almost all of the actual audience members who posted on Ballet.Co totally agree with your assessment. A very different and much clearer picture of the audience's reaction to these performances emerges after one reads your review and the other UK postings, than after reading the official notices.

The audience itself (and an informed audience at that) seems to have loved it. It's also striking how well the specifics of what you observed resonate with the observations of people who regularly watch the company - i.e., the elgance and classicism of Peter Boal, Wendy Whelan's brilliant gifts and the occasional difficulty of employing her in certain roles, and (above all) how beautiful, rich and welcome the companies repertory is compared to existing only on a more or less steady diet of 19th century "classics."

Ah, I shall certainly be broiled for the last one -- Biased? Sure, I am. Isn't everybody, in one direction or another?





[This message has been edited by Michael1 (edited August 24, 2000).]

#3 dirac

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Posted 25 August 2000 - 12:51 AM

Michael1, you may wind up broiled, but not by me. All this vivid reporting makes me wish I was in Edinburgh.

#4 Estelle

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Posted 25 August 2000 - 07:47 AM

Here's the URL of Ann's review of the three programs:
[url="http://"http://www.danze.co.uk/dcforum/happening/885.html#"]http://www.danze.co.uk/dcforum/happening/885.html#[/url]

#5 cargill

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Posted 25 August 2000 - 08:30 AM

Estelle, Thank you for your review. But did you mean that Jenifer Ringer was the girl in pink in Dances at a Gathering, or the girl in apricot? I think she has only done apricot here in New York, but if she did pink, you were very lucky--I'm sure she would be wonderful in that.

#6 Kevin Ng

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Posted 26 August 2000 - 07:04 AM

Estelle, thanks for your detailed review of the first programme, and I look forward to reading your impressions of the other programmes. I wish I were in Edinburgh too last weekend, which unfortunately clashed with the Kirov's Don Q at Covent Garden.

A general point about last week's season. I think it's very strange programming that Kyra Nichols (NYCB's top ballerina in my opinion) was only seen in "Serenade", and not another Balanchine masterpiece. Why not "Mozartiana", e.g., which is one of her greatest roles, and which suits her at this stage of her career?

However I would have liked to see in Edinburgh "Western Symphony" which is one of the small number of Balanchine ballets that I still haven't seen.



[This message has been edited by Kevin Ng (edited August 26, 2000).]

#7 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 26 August 2000 - 09:38 AM

Kevin,

I think Nichols wasn't seen in Mozartiana because they didn't bring it! More seriously, NYCB has never been a company that has programmed by the dancer rather than the dance. I think more than a few eyebrows would be raised if anyone referred to Nichols as their "top ballerina" simply because the company doesn't work that way.
If you bestowed that title upon her unilaterally, I think you'd have a few Kistler fans challenging you to pistols at dawn, as she's still on the roster. In any case, I think one would be hard pressed to determine the "top ballerina" right now at NYCB.

There are definitely companies where there is an obvious prima assoluta and Nichols is certainly quite wonderful, NYCB's repertory really doesn't allow for one. Come to think of it, is there as much of a repertory for a ballerina to age into as in other companies? Name the parts in the canon that favor maturity and delivery over youth and virtuosity - Liebeslieder, Mozartiana, Davidsbundlertanze, Rosenkavalier Waltz in Vienna Woods. . .that's why Nichols did the Waltz in Serenade when she's done the Tema Russo most of her career. Does a mature ballerina have a better or worse repertory at NYCB than at another major company?



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[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/lwitchel"]Personal Page and Dance Writing[/url]
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#8 Estelle

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Posted 28 August 2000 - 05:51 AM

Mary Cargill, I'm apologize: it was by mistake that I wrote that Ringer danced the role of the girl in pink. In fact, she danced the girl in yellow (I guess it's what you mean by "apricot") in both casts. (The girl in pink was danced by Kyra Nichols in the first cast and Yvonne Borree in the second cast). Sorry for the mistake.

Actually, after reading some of the reviews about "Mozartiana" on this board, I really regret that they didn't bring it on tour (I wouldn't have minded seeing it instead of, for example, "Fearful symmetries"... Posted Image )

Leigh, your question about the repertory for mature ballerinas is interesting (but perhaps it would deserve its own thread?) How old is Kyra Nichols now? You mentioned only the Balanchine repertory, but I guess that Robbins' "In the night" could be listed too. It's a pity that none of the works you listed are in the POB's repertory, because they have (or have recently had) plenty of mature ballerinas (Platel, Guerin, Arbo, Gaida)...

#9 Estelle

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Posted 28 August 2000 - 08:03 AM

Lynette Halewood has just posted her review about two of the NYCB performances in Edinburgh (that of the 17th (reviewed above) and that of the 19th matinee) on ballet.co.uk:
[url="http://"http://www.danze.co.uk/dcforum/happening/891.html#"]http://www.danze.co.uk/dcforum/happening/891.html#[/url]

Michael: I think that the audiences generally were very positive, at all the performances I attended. The only piece which had some negative reactions (but most of the audience still was positive) was "Fearful symmetries"). However, I found the applausing a little bit tepid compared with what I am used to at the Paris Opera (for example, the clapping never got synchronized, and the curtain went up and down not so much), but I really don't know if it's a matter of moderate enthusiasm or just a cultural difference. And while the comments differed about the dancers and a few of the works (most notably "Dances at a gathering"), it seems to me that everybody was unanimous about the enthusiasm for all those Balanchine masterpieces.


[This message has been edited by Estelle (edited August 28, 2000).]

#10 Kevin Ng

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Posted 29 August 2000 - 08:23 AM

How old is Kyra Nichols now?[/B]


I read that Kyra Nichols is in her early 40s. I now remember that I also saw Nichols before in New York in the main ballerina role of "Concerto Barocco", which Estelle reviewed in the second programme. I wonder why she wasn't cast in that role in Edinburgh this time.



[This message has been edited by Kevin Ng (edited August 29, 2000).]

#11 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 29 August 2000 - 09:47 AM

She hasn't done Barocco in several years, I think. Roles tend to rotate at NYCB, there are some parts people "own", but other things you get to do for a while, and then someone else does them, esspecially if you were injured or absent for a while.

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