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Notes on Friday May 17

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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 May 2002 - 10:38 PM

Random thoughts - I think lots of Ballet Alertniks were there, so chime in!

I'm not sure why the program was in the order it was in. Kammermusik is not an "opening ballet" - it's too hard to parse for an audience just taking their seats. Why not put Mozartiana first, and Kammermusik and Tchaikovsky pas de deux in the middle?

Kammermusik has a tradition of enigmatic pairings in it (the first ballerinas were von Aroldingen and Colleen Neary, and much ink was spent on speculations as to why Balanchine put the two of them together.) Monique Meunier and Maria Kowroski continue this tradition. Besides both being tall, the match is inscrutable. The part is grateful to Kowroski, she comes off looking very sportive, and in both her performances here and in Symphony in C this season one see that she's starting to be able to control her body and extremities, and she's looking less fatigued and dizzed-out because of it. The Neary part does not use Meunier as well. She's a grand dancer, not a piquant one.

Kammermusik may not be a great work, but I think an argument can be made for its importance, both as a product of Balanchine's final creative years (the three central pas de deux detail enigmatic little relations as fascinating as those in Episodes) and as a look at both the aesthetics of the Jazz Age when the Hindemith score was composed and the late 70's when Balanchine made the ballet. The drive and aerobic pace of the choreography for the principals and the male chorus was a harbinger of things to come in the 80s.

Janey Taylor and Benjamin Millepied made their debuts in Tchaikovsky pas de deux. It's easy to see why Martins is smitten with Taylor just in the way she moves; her sheer attack and wild fearlessness makes her look in some ways more authentically Balanchinian than can be my taste in a dancer. What wasn't there in this debut was projection from the neck up. Her body speaks; her face remains mute.

Millepied looked well coached in the role and performed graciously, but partnering is not his strongest point and Taylor's precipitousness does not make her easy to partner. Both danced very strongly in their respective variations, and one has to admire Taylor for doing the final leaps to Millepied without looking furtively to see if he was ready, even if it looked in the second of them like they might have ended up in a pile on the floor.

I saw Whelan's debut in Mozartiana earlier in the year and she has refined it admirably. It's even more delicate and musical than it was. Her first variation had bounce and wit, and things got better from there although she looked slightly thrown off at one point after an entry because Woetzel had landed a double tour to the knee in one of the most odd cover-up positions I've seen him do in a while. It was one of those decadent performances he occasionally does. Maybe he showered before to warm up. Maybe he just wrapped a hot pad around his waist.

When writing about Mozartiana's premiere Arlene Croce was unsure why Balanchine had decided to partner Farrell and Ib Andersen; he was rather slight of build for her. I think that question is actually answered by looking at the casting of the secondary male role. Christopher d'Amboise performed the role at the premiere, though it was choreographed on Victor Castelli. There was a televised performance of that original cast. Watching it, one can see the cosmogony that Balanchine laid out - it's brilliant, and alas, it's lost in current casting. Balanchine has two axes he builds the ballet on, the first are the little girls of the Preghiera who transform into the women of the Menuet. The second axis is that of the two men. The women and girls are differentiated by size, but the men are differentiated by color and temperment.

In the Gigue role, Castelli was not rustic, nor was he small - he was the same size and build as Andersen. The difference was in his diablerie, the sharpness and syncopation of his accenting. Where Castelli, all in black, had devilishness, Andersen, in white tights, was Angelic. His training from Denmark produced a far less accented and inflected musicality. They were equal weights on a scale and Farrell, in black over white, was the fulcrum and the span. One day, I would love to see the equality of the two male roles restored in casting, and also the contrast in attack.

Jennie Somogyi debuted in Violin Concerto in a cast that also included Ansanelli, Marcovici and Hubbe. While the back bridges in her pas de deux look better on someone four inches taller (not that they look great in either case, in truth) she made a good case for herself in the role. She has amazing self-possession and projection for her age, and powerhouse technique. I saw Ansanelli and Hubbe on opening night; they pair very well together (her dramatic sense matches his). I'm not sure their pas de deux ought to have all the dots connected in the way they do, but it was very arresting; they wrung every ounce of drama out of it they could.

Violin Concerto is being played very well this season, and that helps me see more. It's breathtaking to see Balanchine end this most modern looking of works with a Russian folk dance; but given the music, what else would he do?

#2 bobbi


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Posted 18 May 2002 - 03:13 AM

Last night was one of those rare treats at NYCB now -- an all-Balanchine evening. This season out of nine weeks there are only four such evenings (excluding Midsummer). These evenings tend to attract those of us "of a certain age" and it's so nice to mingle at intermissions with so many of the long-time NYCB audience.

In fact, many in the audience remember the original casts of at least four of last night's offerings: Kammermusk No. 2, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, Mozartiana, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto. So, you ask, did today's crop of dancers measure up to (or even outdo) their predecessors? Yes indeed!!

First, Kammermusik: I always remember a review by Arlene Croce saying that although she saw how estimable this ballet was, she would never really like it. I was never sure what she meant by that remark other than that the choreography is -- like the music of course -- relentless. You can't lose your concentration in this ballet even once. The men's corps is riveting and today's dancers were just fabulous, every single one of them. The principals (Maria K with Charles Askegard and Monique M. with Philip Neal) turned in excellent performances. They definitely measured up!!

Second, Tschaikovsky Pas: Two debuts here: Janie Taylor and Benjamin Millepied. Both (and Janie Taylor, in particular) turned in a dynamite performance -- evidencing a solid technique and dramatic phrasing. I'd like Janie T. to look at some old tapes of Patty McBride who made everything look like magic and could make the audience think "this was all so easy to do." I mention this because Janie T. has a tendency to have a rigid stage smile. Relax Janie T.: you have it all!!

Third, Mozartiana: The fabulous duo of Wendy W. and Damian W. turned in the honors here. Now, unlike the corps work in Kammermusik, I always feel that the four demis -- however well done as it was last night -- are just marking time until the principals show up (think of the beginning corps work in Diamonds before Suzanne came on). I have seen this pair in Mozartiana many times and they always turn in a top notch performance. But I would rate it a A- by dancers who nine times out of ten turn in A+ performances. I had the feeling that they didn't have enough rehearsal time. But thanks Wendy and Damian!!

Fourth, Stravinsky Violin Concerto: More debuts: The pairs were Ansanelli with Hubbe and Somogyi with Marcovici. Of the two pairs, I most enjoyed Ansanelli and Hubbe. In particular, in Ansanelli's case she was just terrific in her debut. With Somogyi, although I know she is a very good dancer, I quite often find while she is dancing I'm always thinking of other dancers who did that particular role. And last night, I missed Karen V.

Okay, I've gone on too long. But my message to Peter Martins -- and to paraphrase that old Parks sausages commerical: MORE ALL BALANCHINE EVENINGS PLEASE.

#3 Alexandra


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Posted 18 May 2002 - 05:32 AM

Thank you, Bobbi, for such a nice, long review!

#4 justafan


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Posted 18 May 2002 - 07:18 AM

I found this perspective interesting, because although I found the evening enjoyable, the two bookends to the evening were quite cerebral. My husband, who likes the ballet but is not a ballet nut, grumbled about the programming all night. He likes more lush selections. Nevertheless, Bobbi must not be alone -- or else she was in the same party as the gentleman who I overheard stating that it was the most enjoyable night at the ballet he's had in a while.

In general, I would agree with Bobbi about the quality of the dancing, although I can't compare it with a previous era. I don't like Kammermusik -- and I've had the dubious pleasure of seeing it twice this year. But it's a role that really suits Meunier -- she really stood out this winter when she danced the role alongside a different ballerina. Kowrowski is more than her match, but I found her hand gestures exaggerated to the point of irritation. Are they supposed to be so extreme?

Janie Taylor is going to be a magnificent ballerina someday soon, and Tschiakovsky Pas de Deux demonstrates why she is a rising star. All she needs is a bit more of a lyric quality to her dancing -- and I think she's been adding depth all year. Millepied also did a wonderful job. He could become Damian's heir in the jumps and turns category.

I think Bobbi was on the money with her description of Mozartiana. Although you couldn't find much fault with the performances of Wendy and Damian, the ballet lacked the ethereal quality it should have. I never saw Farrell dance it, but I have seen Darci Kistler in it and I remember it being appropriately from another world. That quality was definitely missing last night, and I think part of the blame needs to be assigned to the corps.

Stravinsky Violin Concerto was quite a cerebral ballet on which to end the evening. I would agree that Ansanelli was the standout of this part of the night. Last year I became somewhat attached to Somogyi, but for some reason I think she's been slightly off in the performances I've seen her in this season and last. I thought it might have had to do with the roles -- and it may -- but last night the rush of excitement I usually have when watching her was missing.

Overall, I would agree that the evening was lovely but I did think the programming a bit meat and potatoes. The question of why start the evening with Kammermusik came up on another thread. It seems to me if the evening started with Mozartiana, it would have really felt spartan by the end of the night! And now I know to make sure there is a rouser to end the evening if I bring my husband.

#5 rkoretzky


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Posted 18 May 2002 - 08:11 AM

For those of you who were there, who has replaced Melissa Walter in Mozartiana? Melissa is our "local girl made good" and we are so sorry that she apparently has left the company. I am sure that she got tired of watching newcomers vault over her and has moved on to something else, but I will miss her. She never got a big break, but she was sublimely lovely in every part she got. (Or hilariously funny in one memorable part!).

#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 May 2002 - 08:17 AM

The corps was Ellen Bar, Mary Helen Bowers, Eva Natanya and Dana Hanson. Bar would have taken Walters' spot.

#7 rkoretzky


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Posted 18 May 2002 - 08:43 AM

Thank you Leigh. I saw Mozartiana twice in the winter season and I thought the corps (including Melissa at that time) was exquisite. I especially remember noticing the incredible development of MAry Helen Bowers since the last time I had seen her.

I won't be able to get to any Mozartianas this spring and it is not coming to SPAC. FIE!

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 May 2002 - 08:49 AM

A message from Your Friendly Board Host. I combined the two threads on the friday performance into a single one, hopefully to avoid confusion rather than provoke it!

#9 Farrell Fan

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Posted 18 May 2002 - 09:04 AM

This was my second all-Balanchine evening of the current season and I agree with Bobbi about them. In fact I was one of the old-timers she saw at intermission and Morris Neighbor was another. I'm distressed that Justafan's husband grumbled about the programing. He surely would have enjoyed the first all-Balanchine evening more: Serenade, Stravinksky Violin Concerto, Symphony in C. Thanks for Leigh's thoughtful analysis. I had a great time. Andrea Quinn is wonderful and the company looks in great shape.

#10 britomart



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Posted 18 May 2002 - 09:15 AM

Having finally made it to my first performance of the season (thank you, old friend w/a membership to 4th Ring society) I agree w/the general opinion that it was a pleasure to see the all-Balanchine evening so well-danced in general. I think it's pretty much been unanimously stated that Kammermusik, despite wonderful performances, needs to be more thoughtfully placed on a program. It's simply does not ease one into the evening, nor does it get one's receptors charged up and ready to open up to more. I found myself tuning out much of the piece, despite repeated efforts to try and get my mind off what I wanted to have for dinner later that night. I'd also second Leigh's opinion that Meunier is ill-cast in this particular role. She dances it with her trademark kineticism and attack but looks as though she's not quite sure what else the part calls for, unlike her approach to Cortege, which she understands body and soul. I still haven't figured out why they cast her in such a scattershot way; it's easy for weeks to go by, w/o seeing her once.

Tchai Pas was a debut, and it showed, but I think that both these dancers are very well-suited to these roles. They were much more at ease in the solos than in the pas--they don't seem very familiar w/one another as partners. Taylor seems to need someone more experienced. She had no problems in Morgen, which has far more difficult partnering; however, there she was partnered by Soto, Martins and Fayette.

Whelan turned in a lovely, nuanced performance in Mozartiana, despite a very few, very minor technical glitches. I continue to be amazed at her ability to reshape herself and evolve as a dancer; I can hardly count the number of times I have seen her in roles where she has made me look at her anew. Damien--well, he partnered her well. As Leigh said, his double tour to the knee--well, actually to both knees turned in, which then turned into a scooch around on both knees, ass to the audience, and finally coming back around to the front, grinning and opening his arms in a finishing gesture which basically said: "Hey, well folks, that's showbiz." It wears a little thin.

Stravinsky Violin Concerto was the highlight of the evening for me. I had seen this ballet only once before, with Whelan and Borree, and while both gave excellent performances, I think I was too amazed by the contortionistic aspect of both the choreography and Wendy's phsyique to really look at the choreography. Somogyi surprised me in the pas; I actually didn't realize it was her for about five minutes. She has such a command of the stage, almost an animal ferocity. I am usually competely mesmerized by her, and her debut here was no exception. While the force of her presence and dancing doesn't work in every instance, I thought it was perfectly employed here. She did not make any attempt to sell the ballet or the part, but the power behind even the simplest arm gesture spoke volumes. In the finale, the exactness of her musicality extended even through her fingertips. I used to have a dance teacher who siad "Think of how you change the space when you move." Watching Somogyi, that phrase makes more sense to me now than ever before.

I unfortunately will not be able to attend Helene's farewell performance tonight, so those going, please do tell!

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