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House Ballets, House Ballerinas (NYCB 1/7/01 La Source, Concerti Armon


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 07 January 2001 - 11:30 PM

A new cast debuted in La Source on Sunday’s matinee at NYCB. It included Jennie Somogyi, the company’s newest principal, along with Benjamin Millepied and Ashley Bouder, one of the newest members, in the second ballerina role. Though Millepied looked a touch unprepared for the debut, or as if his heart were elsewhere, Somogyi looked quite ready to claim the role.

Somogyi’s young, but she’s confident, musical, smart and ambitious enough to believe in herself as a first dancer. Even better, she has the technique to back it all up. Her performance was elegant and relaxed, with attention given both to port-des-bras and to complete phrasing. It was derivative, but in a good, smart way. This is simply conjecture, but Somogyi seems like a very talented mimic. Somewhere early on in her training, someone probably told her offhandedly that she looked like Kyra Nichols and she took a good hard look at Nichols to see what in her dancing she liked. What she took was Nichols’ musicality, and if good dancers borrow and great dancers steal, Somogyi stole boldly and well. Even better, what she ended up with is something that recalls Nichols pleasantly, but still looks like herself. I hope not to rain misfortune down upon her head by premature predictions, but hers is also the sort of talent that can age well, because it’s not just about virtuosity, but her phrasing and her developed sense of legato, and that usually improves with age. She was promoted quickly, but not faster than her preparedness and Peter Martins gets a notch on his belt for this one. He’s promoted dancers I’ve wished he’d never accepted in the company, but he’s also responsible for Meunier, Weese, Ringer, Kowroski and Somogyi. I wouldn’t have noticed Ansanelli and he did. Van Kipnis is coming up nicely (one worries about her absences though) and Charles Askegard has become an entirely new dancer since he joined NYCB. There is hope especially in the new crop of ballerinas and they are his discoveries and he promoted them. In Ringer and Meunier’s cases, he even stayed patient through the longer road and the detours both were forced to take. Yes, of course si j’étais roi everything would be completely different, and perfect to boot, but credit where it has been earned.

Bouder was trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, which produced jumpers like Katrina Killian and Darla Hoover as well as a host of other NYCB dancers from Lisa de Ribere and Sean Lavery to the Staffords and the Hendricksons. As might be expected from one of Marcia Weary’s students, she entered flying. Bouder was congenially cast in the role, which was a stretch for her as a new member of the company, but not to the breaking point. As with Abi Stafford, Martins is using the fact that most of the CPYB students come into the company already having been onstage for several years, so they have an air of precocity to them. Not every one is an artist, but they all can troop. Only a few years time will tell what they mature into. Bouder’s performance was ingratiating and hungry. She wanted to be out there, in the air, showing us what she could do. She’s both a solid jumper and a turner and uses her upper body well, if a touch dutifully because of her youth. What she needs to learn next is to differentiate between the adagio and the allegro sections of the ballet. Every jump is full tilt and for altitude, every moment forceful. In the most piano sections of the ballet, she took off for a soaring leap twice, both times landing quite loudly. She’ll learn when bigger is better and when it isn’t; I’m sure she felt like she had an awful lot to prove. Here’s hoping her talent gets developed wisely and well.

La Source is a house ballet for a genius’ company. It’s a minor Balanchine work, but Balanchine in second gear is still Balanchine with all his professionalism, craft and his eye. With the exception of a particularly ungrateful pas de deux for Margaret Tracey and Jared Angle, Concerti Armonici is what a fin-de-siècle house ballet at NYCB looks like. Like the music by van Wassenaer, it's not by a genius, and there is a difference between a good effort by a good talent and a good effort by a great talent. But if not major or groundbreaking, it’s pleasant and agreeable. The work employs squadrons of men and women who operate like sections of the orchestra, and it’s simply and elegantly lit and costumed by Mark Stanley and William Ivey Long. Martins is overeager to explore and visualize contrapuntal textures, and the cast was under-rehearsed so that what was supposed to be counterpoint became on occasion a blur. As the other leading ballerina opposite Tracey, Wendy Whelan had a much kinder pas de deux to dance with Philip Neal. If it was less experimental, it also risked less failure and was soundly fashioned. It gave Whelan an opportunity to make something more out of something simple. Wisely, she took it, enjoyed it and treated us to a lovely performance. For Tracey and Angle, Martins has fashioned something which seems to owe awkwardly to both the male solo in Square Dance and the pas de deux in Barber Violin Concerto. One can see he’s trying to provide us with beauty in unexpected shapes, but the poor dancers are trooping hard as they are crouched over in a contraction or lifted in a hunched and predatory position and it just isn’t happening.

I am intensely jealous of Janus and the four seasonal attributes in Robbins’ The Four Seasons. I want their capes, and I want to be tall enough to pull them off as I swoop out onstage and slowly parade them about. I even want to wear them about town as an intimidation device, especially Janus’ marvelous gold cape and his crown. I think I would wear it while shopping at fancy stores or while applying for a very large bank loan. Perhaps there is hope for me and capes. I believe I am taller than Nureyev was, and he could work fabric better than anyone.

On to the dancing. Janie Taylor debuted in Winter, and was quite charming in a charming part. She missed one transition that I wished she hadn’t; to begin her variation, the ballerina needs to make it clear to us that she’s figured out that the best way to keep away the cold is to keep moving! Taylor simply took a position and waited for her music. Jenifer Ringer stepped into Spring for Pascale van Kipnis, and it’s a lovely part for her. I used to think her “register” as a dancer was mezzo-soprano, the more I see her, the more I’m convinced she’s more natural in parts with a higher, lighter tone. Like Judith Fugate, she’s also a dancer who needs frequent casting and she’s getting it. She looks great right now, and gave a very fine, fresh performance. What a pleasure it is to see Monique Meunier onstage again in Summer, and what a gift it would be to get a full season of performances out of her. Even in a small part like this, she’s ravishing and sultry. Again, in a substitution, Charles Askegard stepped in for Damian Woetzel to dance with Miranda Weese in Fall. Askegard doesn’t do the hopping turns in his variation, but throws in a sort of corkscrew turn that’s actually much handsomer. I know from working with him that he’s a very consistent turner, but the hops would not have been at all congenial for him. He looked as if he was having a great time, even occasionally doing ze beeg pray-pah-rah-cion he might have done trooping through Solor at ABT but in a different context. A very solid and enjoyable afternoon of dance.


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#2 Manhattnik

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Posted 08 January 2001 - 11:07 AM

Thanks for the great review, Leigh.

I'm just wondering, are those hops ever congenial for anybody? Martins never did them, and it was no great loss. It always looks like a trick, and not an especially pretty one.

#3 Giannina

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Posted 08 January 2001 - 11:16 AM

Leigh, thank you for the review. It was a wonderful sketch of the dancers, new and old; and for those of us rarely able to see NYCB it is an invaluable progress report. The bit about Askegard's "pray-pah-rah-cion" was classic!

Giannina

#4 Bridget

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Posted 08 January 2001 - 10:00 PM

Leigh, Loved your comment about the people Peter Martins has promoted that you wished he hadn't accepted into the company. So--if you could be artistic director for a day, who would your choices be?

#5 Guest_June_*

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Posted 11 January 2001 - 06:15 PM

That comment also struck my attention. Please elaborate......

#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 January 2001 - 07:30 PM

I'm sorry. That's the sort of thing one deliberately does not elaborate upon. I'm writing from a position straddling the audience and the profession; there's certain counsel that must be kept.

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#7 Drew

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 05:27 AM

Interesting -- I couldn't help but mentally applaud the OTHER side of the point, with which I strongly agree: if Martins' is going to take the heat for everything people dislike about NYCB, he certainly deserves some credit for the wonderful young ballerinas who have emerged in the company -- especially in an era a little thin in ballerina talent... (I realize I've reworded what Leigh Witchel said, but I think/hope I have it right.)

[This message has been edited by Drew (edited January 12, 2001).]

#8 Diana L

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 08:44 AM

I think Martins has hot/cold relationships with a lot of dancers. He loves them, works them to death and then practically disgards them when he finds someone new. There are some dancers then that he doesn't recognize yet who seem like such solid staples in the company (Elizabeth Walker/Amanda Edge).
Sometimes I watch Yvonne Borree and I wonder what he was thinking.
Doesn't the school that they come from deserve a lot of the credit as well? I went to a School of American Ballet Workshop performance and most of those kids dancing are now in New York City Ballet. And the ones that did the major roles are getting major roles in NYC Ballet too.

#9 Lillian

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 09:00 AM

"Sometimes I watch Yvonne Borree and I wonder what he was thinking."

Kay Mazzo.

#10 CygneDanois

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 10:15 AM

Diana L, 95% of those kids were trained somewhere else before they went to SAB for "finishing." It has become quite a rarity to see a dancer who actually began his/her training with SAB become a dancer with NYCB. Granted, SAB does a good job of polishing them for NYCB, and yes, there are some dancers who go to SAB with not-so-good technique and come out looking beautiful, or at least much better than they did, but if you ask the C1, C2, and D classes how long they've been at SAB, most of them will say, "About two [or three or four] years." So while SAB is a wonderful finishing school for those who wish to dance Balanchine, it is not necessarily the best place to begin one's training, and many times, much of the credit due is for the dancer's previous teacher (i.e., Marcia Dale Weary).

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#11 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 10:52 AM

Just for the record, Drew's paraphrasing does reflect the original meaning.

To further what CygneDanois mentioned, in the case of Bouder, I worked at CPYB in January of '99, and she was there. I'm pretty sure she entered SAB in the summer of 1999, did the lead in workshop the following summer and was named an apprentice. Only the very end of her training was done at SAB.

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#12 Diana L

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 12:01 PM

I didn't mean SAB as the school. I meant who the school they originally learned from.
A lot of these dancers seem to just show up at SAB having been trained before and use it as a platform to be seen for future jobs.
This is going to be a dumb question, but who is Kay Mazzo?

#13 BalletNut

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 02:53 PM

Kay Mazzo was a principal with NYCB in the 70s, and she created roles in Violin Concerto and other Balanchine works. She danced some of Farrell's roles when Farrell was gone, and was not quite as famous as other principals. Of course, this was all before I was born, so I never saw her dance. I don't know how this relates to Yvonne Borree, though. Can you elaborate on this, Lillian?

[This message has been edited by BalletNut (edited January 12, 2001).]

#14 Diana L

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 03:01 PM

Thanks for the info BalletNut.
Lillian, did you mean that Martins sees Yvonne Borree and thinks Kay Mazzo? Or that Kay Mazzo wonders about Borree too?

#15 Lillian

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Posted 12 January 2001 - 03:56 PM

Well, there's no denying the uncanny similarity in body type and facial features between Kay Mazzo and Yvonne Borree. They look like mother and daughter: small-boned and dark-haired -- like sparrows. It hit me first when Martins cast a young Borree (then in the corps I believe) in Mazzo's role alongside Baryshnikov in Duo Concertant years ago (at the Balanchine Celebration?). He then cast Borree in Mazzo's parts in Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Square Dance, Donizetti Variations, Union Jack and others.
From what I've seen of Mazzo on tape, she's a softer, more vulnerable dancer than Borree who often looks shaky and unpolished whenever I've seen her live. In rehearsal she's actually a very strong, aggressive dancer. I think she's just incredibly nervous on stage.


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