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Winter Season, Week One


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 08 January 2003 - 08:14 PM

Please, don't be shy. I have a suspicion that some of you have been going to performances. I want reviews! :) (pretty please and thank you)

#2 Manhattnik

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Posted 08 January 2003 - 09:00 PM

I never did get caught up on my Nutcracker reviews. Oh well. Sylve is quite something, to put it mildly....

Last night started out with Martins' Symphonic Dances, to something dreadful by Rachmaninoff. Martins responded with something equally dreadful of his own. Imagine the last movement of Brahms - Schoenberg on qualuudes. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the sight of Nikolaj Hubbe once again dancing his heart out in Yet Another Ridiculous Martins Ballet, as he does in Jeu de Cartes or Zakouski. What a waste, I thought. I thought much the same thing while watching Yvonne Borree, but for rather different reasons.

At least this was our first official look at Ask le Cour. I say official, because he'd made some uncredited appearances in Spanish over the previous few weeks, perhaps to get himself acclimated to the State Theater stage out of the glare of publicity. Or something. Tall, lanky, elegant, yet not without a certain endearing rawness. He seemed a bit unsure of himself in places, checking the other men out of the corner of his eye. I do think he'll mature nicely, though -- he certainly has stage presence! I don't think he'll ever be a virtuoso like Woetzal or Peter Martins, but I think he'll do quite well in the repertory.

Next was In G Major. Let's face it. Kyra Nichols is well past her prime. When she appears among the sportive youngsters who gambol about in Jerome Robbins' beachside fantasy to Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major (hence the name), she looks a bit like someone's grandmother or batty maiden aunt come to prove she's still with it, by joining in the frolic. She has no jump or extension left, it seems, and during her perky introductory solo, she seemed so out of place, and out of sorts, I felt like covering my eyes.

And yet. And yet once she started that long adagio with Philip Neal, none of that mattered at all. All the qualities that I've adored in Nichols: her exquisite musicality, delicate phrasing and deeply felt understanding of every facet of her choreography, were there in all their welcome, and greatly missed, abundance. Suddenly every other dancer on the stage seemed, well, crude.

Western Symphony was another Andrea Quinn rush job. Sigh. Jennie Somogyi was just miscast in first movement; she's a big, strong, tough girl, and this role needs someone a bit more glamorous and sexy. And it needs someone who's there a bit more than Nilas Martins, for her partner.

Alexandra Ansanelli made a sensational debut in the second movement with Albert Evans (making the most of one of his few remaining roles. it seems). She's usually rather off in a dream world onstage -- it took only a little exaggeration of this natural loopiness to make a perfect parody ballerina for this bit's overly doomed, romantic encounter. Although she had some trouble with the grand fouettes in that very difficult solo, all else was marked by her usual commitment and fearlessness. I loved how she hurled herself at Evans in those two ferocious, head-first dives into arms.

Maria Kowroski and Damian Woetzal were as I've come to expect in the Fourth (excuse me, Third) movement, with the long-limbed Kowroski looking limber and glamorous indeed in that amazing hat, and appropriately silly and kooky (she is either an ice-princess or the girl next door's nutty little sister). I'm always impressed at how well she handles the fouettes these days -- she doesn't at all have the physique of a natural turner, yet she cranked out some perfectly respectable doubles, even. Woetzal was happy, exuberant, and high-flying, riding an invisible bucking bronco to the rafters.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 09 January 2003 - 03:28 AM

For the record, "Symphonic Dances" is set to Rachmaninoff's - get ready for it - Symphonic Dances. I hailed(?) the titling of this ballet as a return to the days of the really dull titles from NYCB. The dances themselves are about what you'd expect from a virtuoso post-Romantic pianist, swoony and swoopy and molto rubato, composed as if the orchestra were a gigantic piano. It's murder to conduct.

#4 sneds

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Posted 09 January 2003 - 01:56 PM

In re: Ask laCour

When you say uncredited, do you mean he was dancing, but someone else was listed in the program. Or simply, that because he was in the corps, there was no way to know he was dancing unless you were at the performance, saw the program and put names together with faces?
The reason I ask, is that there is a fairly tall, lanky blond apprentice, Christian Tworzyanski, who has danced in Hot Chocolate. Could that have been him and not Ask?
If it was Ask, might I ask which performances you saw him in...just curious to put a face with the name, as I really look foward to seeing him dance.

As for Martins casting him in his ballets-Ask isn't related at all to Peter Martins, so aside from both being Danish and being trained at RDB, there's nothing to suggest that they would be similiarly suited dancers.

Kate

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 January 2003 - 03:27 PM

La Cour is the son of Martins' first wife, Lise la Cour. So there's no blood relation to Martins but he is Nilas Martins' half-brother. I have no idea if there is any further connection than that.

#6 carbro

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Posted 10 January 2003 - 09:07 PM

I was at City for Kip Houston's final bow. Quite sad :) , but it was time. I have consistently enjoyed his earnestness and presence (denoting both persona and sense of BEING THERE). He's been a caring partner and -- I know this is often used disparagingly, but not here -- reliable.

Wednesday, he was clearly in savor-the-moment mode, which was very sweet. If he's less agile than he might have been, he was as poetic a Second Sailor as one could wish, sweeping the vast stage space with those lateral port de bras, holding the releve a breath longer after pirouettes. It was interesting to see a City cast in Fancy Free again, in view of the incredible level ABT has taken it to. It wasn't quite up there technically or theatrically, but this felt "friendlier," due perhaps to the occasion. Apparently Damian has heard (if not seen) how Latin Jose had made his the Third Sailor (appropriately), and decided to "de-Latinize" him. Well, it can't be done completely, because that's the character of the music and the steps, but it was an interesting, baseballish take. Pascale in the pas de deux hit a good balance of ballet/jazz.

"Symphony in Three Movements" (with Kip in a secondary role) opened the program, and it was fabulous. Really. Top to bottom. Three Movements seems to be Peter Martins's favorite Balanchine ballet (you can find pieces of it in almost all of his works). Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto did the quirky central pas as wonderfully as I have ever seen it done.

The less said about the middle piece (Bigonzetti's "Vespro") the better.

I really hated to see another link to the Balanchine era leave. Part of the institutional memory is lost. Be well, Kip. All best to you, and thanks for all those years of really fine dancing.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 11 January 2003 - 05:23 PM

Thank you for these reviews! If Carbro can't face it, could someone else say a few words about Bigonzetti's "Vespro"? He's making the circuit as one of the Next Generation choreographers, and I'm curious what this piece looked like.

#8 Manhattnik

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Posted 12 January 2003 - 06:21 AM

Imagine an evil cancerous mutation of Duo Concertant.

#9 rkoretzky

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Posted 14 January 2003 - 09:37 AM

OK, I'll take Alexandra's bait and talk a little about Vespro.

It isn't too often that I will say that I hate something, but I hated Vespro. I hated it the first time I saw it when I came to NY for spring season 2002 and that was the Diamond Project piece that was on. (I refuse to call it a ballet). I also hated it the second time I saw it when it was chosen for the Saratoga season, to my surprise, because of the extra musicians required. I hated it so much that when I was planning for this winter season I stubbornly refused to buy tickets for any performance that included it.

It is grotesque, with no redeeming qualities that I could find. The choreographic positions are ugly, there is no other word for them. Picture a ballerina, enface, with her legs hyperextended in a split, in the air, crotch in full audience view. Really turned out--and really hideous looking. Albert Evans' piece, Haiku, has some similar positions, but in his ballet they are beautiful.

Picture a male dancer jumping on a piano. Picture the ugliest costumes ever--bathing trunks with giant red circles in strategic places.

I see no value in this work because I think it is abusive: abusive to the dancers who have to expose themselves in such postions, abusive to the piano that is jumped on and off, abusive to the audience that has to sit and watch such ugliness. Not everything is or has to be pretty pink Raymonda. But this. I am shocked that it is still in the repertory and wonder what I am missing in it.

#10 E Johnson

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Posted 14 January 2003 - 10:58 AM

Itís always nice to get back to the NY State Theater.

Saturdayís matinee program was Serenade, Tombeau [I'm not even going to try to spell the whole thing], Pavane, and Western Symphony.

Serenade was not the best I've ever seen it performed, but was still wonderful. This is the one ballet where the question isn't whether I'll cry but when. Kistler and Kowroski gave lovely, fully-realized performances. Janie Taylor was game, but suffered by comparison to the other two: she looked young and too self-contained.

Tombeau was lovely and almost hypnotic. It flowed.

Kyra Nichols danced Pavane. I was looking forward to this one quite a bit and was not disappointed. My companion, who is much more of a music person, told me she was interested to see what the choreography would be like since the music is "very structured, but very sentimental." The ballet has very simple steps, lots of repetition, the dancer is saddled with a potentially problematic prop (a lengthy of chiffon) and it was, for reasons I cannot put my finger on, incredibly moving. Nichols was perfect.

Western Symphony was very uneven. The first movement was Somogyi and Martins. Somogyi was trying hard, I thought, but Martins was, well, not good. The steps were there, but close to zero emotion, or characterization, or awareness of anyone else on stage. What contrast to the second movement, in which Albert Evans, from his first five seconds on stage, gave us a fully-realized character. Ansanelli was also excellent and the two worked very well together. Once again I was filled with an urge to toss a brick through Peter Martins' window with a note around it demanding that Evans be cast more often.

Hubbe and guest Sylve did the third movement. Sylve is amazingly strong and confident. She did seem a bit too studied and careful, especially for this role, but I imagine that will change with time.

#11 carbro

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Posted 14 January 2003 - 11:12 AM

Congratulations, rkoretzky, on capturing Vespro so accurately! I did not want to relive it in my head in order to write about it, so thank you for the fortitude it took to do that.

#12 flo

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Posted 14 January 2003 - 12:29 PM

Question for E Johnson:
Who danced Tombeau de Couperin? When I looked at the casting it still said TBA.

#13 rkoretzky

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Posted 14 January 2003 - 01:07 PM

Carbro, I understand perfectly.

E Johnson: I was at Saturday's mat, and had many of the same impressions as you.

I think you were kind though, in your evaluation of Serenade. Bluntly, I thought it was possibly the worst performance of that masterpiece that I have ever seen. The corps was fine, but the three female principals were not. I saw Darci Kistler do the Waltz Girl in Saratoga a few months ago and her performance was heart-breaking and beautiful; now I think she needs to think about whether to keep this role or not. She was jerky and frenetic and she couldn't stop touching and pulling on her skirt. The beautifully arched back was gone. She was overly emotional and I felt no emotion. Janie Taylor is just too wild and unrestrained to do justice to the Russian girl. She just appeared to be flying all around the stage; there was no sense of the "weightiness" of this role. And Maria Kowrowski just left me cold. I don't even think she was there mentally. She wasn't with the music at all, she was completely vacant.

The music. Oh well. The opportunity to see Kyra Nichols (any chance is something to treasure) was marred by a horrible horn solo at the beginning of the Ravel. Really horrible. Like a banshee screaming in hell. Now. My daughter, who is a musician, tells me that the horn is very difficult to play, that that particular passage is especially difficult, and that horn players frequently have problems. I'm not buying it. These are professional musicians. They are supposed to know what they are doing. I know plenty of student musicians who aspire to these positions. (for example my favorite young violist whose dream job would be to play in that orchestra....but I digress). There were some dicey trumpet passages too, along with some lovely oboe playing, over the course of the afternoon. The strings sounded just fine in Serenade, by the way.

So Kyra danced beautifully in spite of the music. As Manhattnik said in another post, the fact that the technique has slipped, that the extension isn't what it was, don't matter, because when you see her dance, you are in the presence of something unique and magnificent.

Western. Oh man. Poor Nilas seems so miserable. Talk about phoning it in. At the end of the first movement--the bit with his hat and her feet--not even there. Not even close to there. Can't see it from here.....come on! We paid to see this! Jennie Simogyi was just wasted here.

Alexandra and Albert made it up to the audience though, with a
hilarious second movement, complete with reckless dives, grins, and spot-on technique. Thanks for erasing that memory.

Sofiane Sylve is great. She has incredible extension and a fabulous turn and you can SEE her on the stage, even from the fourth ring. I'd like to see more of her but I fear that I won't. Isn't it only five weeks that she is here?

#14 Manhattnik

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Posted 14 January 2003 - 04:57 PM

I was going to post something about that Saturday matinee when I got A Round Tuit (ever seen one of those?), but it looks like you beat me to it, rk.

I think that had to be just about the most depressing performance of Serenade I've ever seen, even worse than the Kirov's much-anticipated and wholly misguided effort at the Met a few years ago. Just as they've looked far too often lately, the corps was flat: meek, submissive, lifeless. It wasn't all that long ago that the girls in Serenade would thrill with their ferocious appetite for space and movement, like a shark scarfing up chum. Maybe it was a little vulgar sometimes, but it was also awe-inspiring. Even a few years ago I was writing about the breathless rush of City Ballet's Serenade. Now, it's a nice ballet. Pretty. The corps all lines up nicely, nobody goes for broke (except Janie Taylor, God bless her!), nobody tries to stand out.

It used to be that when the corps suddenly materialized in that big circle of pique turns around the stage, it would be one of many, many thrilling moments, something huge and symbolic emerging out of the mists for a moment. Now it's just a bunch of girls doing boring pique turns. Yes, they're all together, but it looked like a classroom exercise from ballet detention. And this wasn't a fluke -- the entire ballet had a dutiful, submissive quality. I pray for this greatest of ballets; I shudder to think that City Ballet might end up destroying, this, of all their masterpieces.

As for Kistler, well, she seems to be continuing on the same path as in Saratoga. She flailed her arms, she emoted, she (let us be kind) fudged the steps. She was indeed moving and luminous in Serenade only a few years ago; now she's a travesty of herself. I look at her stiff, hunched upper back, her low-impact jumps and sketched footwork and the often-pained look on her face and wonder if her performance was as torturous for her as it was for her audience. I rather fear to see her in Farrell's role in Davidsbundlertanze.

Kowroski was cold and flat, athough she's often a stunning Dark Angel. I rather liked Taylor's wildness. At least someone onstage was showing some signs of life! I thought her passionate and slightly scary intensity worked just fine here, as did her heart-stopping stag leaps.

Tombeau de Couperin wasn't much better. It managed to look both sloppy and dutiful at the same time. In the final, "hoedown" section, the guys clapped their hands, then shook hands with their opposite numbers just like they were doing tombe pas de bourree while watching the clock. It should be manic, fun and a little silly. As with Serenade, it was painful to see a masterpiece on its way to the dustbin of history.

Thank God for Kyra Nichols in Pavane. I must confess I didn't notice the instrumental difficulties, as I was too enraptured with Nichol's grace and purity. I remember years ago seeing Patricia McBride dance Pavane, and thinking it was clever but a little cute, affected and, well, silly. Not so with Nichols; it became one of the most moving performances I've seen. I admired Balanchine's tremendous invention; who could imagine that so much could be made of a woman dancing with a length of sheer fabric; I'll never forget when Nichols cradled it like a baby. It's hard not to compare how Nichols and Kistler are handling the twilights of their careers.

Western had its moments. In the first movement, Jennie Somogyi looked more relaxed than she had during her debut, while Nilas was just as pallid. Could there be a less dashing cowpoke imaginable? Alexandra Ansanelli and Albert Evans turned the second-movement's campy adagio into a masterpiece of comic timing. Evans wasn't above milking his precious few moments onstage for all the laughs he could get, and Ansanelli used her loopy yet other-wordly stage demeanor to great effect with moments of deadpan seriousness setting off long stretches of delightful silliness. You could almost hear Ansanelli shouting "Here I am!" during one of her entrances, frantically waving her arm to catch Evans' attention, much as if she were hailing a cab. Between the her two big head-first dives into Evans' arms over the outstretched arms of the corps girls, Ansanelli looked out at the audience for a few moments, totally losing track of everyone else on the stage, as if she were just enraptured with the joy of playing to the audience, or perhaps contemplating some distant galaxy only she could see. This spaceyness made her little catch-up run upstage to Evans' waiting arms (after she figured out where he'd gotten to) all the funnier.

For all of us who'd watched (and watched and watched) the little Internet video clip of Sofiane Sylve doing a heart-stopping fouette/pirouette combination (finishing with ten, yes, ten, pirouettes), her debut in the last movement of Western, which features a few prominent fouettes, was eagerly anticipated. She didn't disappoint, whirling through some very nice triples, but, overall, she still appears to have some of the reticence she showed in her nontheless impressive showings as Sugar Plum (absolutely stunning, space-devouring pique turns in the code of the pas de deux, for instance). She's an impressive specimen: tall, very, very muscular, with strong thighs and calves, and broad shoulders, both tapering to a rather narrow waist (she's not a dainty, curveless, straight-sided sort at all), accentuated by a rather emphatic chin.

She showed off a truly stunning extension during the travelling sequence of grande battements on pointe, with the fouette into the pique arabesque penchee (well, usually it's not much of a panchee). In general, she seemed a bit reserved, especially when compared with Maria Kowroski's over-the-top showgirl of a few nights before. I do think Sylve could fit very nicely into NYCB's repertory. She'd better, as the ranks of able ballerinas are thin indeed. Taylor and Ansanelli aren't strong or versatile enough to carry the repertory on their shoulders, as Whelan once did. Weese is a question mark, Kowroski too specialized. Only Somogyi looks to have the strength and versatility to shore up the repertory, yet Martins has been reluctant to use her as much as he might. It's not surprising that Martins needs to import a ballerina, nor is it surprising that he got one who looks as strong as a tank, with gorgeous training to boot.

#15 rkoretzky

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Posted 14 January 2003 - 06:47 PM

Manhattnik, for the first time in over 25 years of watching NYCB, I too, am fearful for the future of this company. I have seen them weather many storms, I've seen the retirements of Farrell, McBride, Mazzo, Ashley, Tomasson, Martins, and countless others who were vital to the company, witnessed the deaths of Balanchine, Robbins, Irving, Kirstein, seen Farrell get tossed out of the company that she should be running, I've spent summers at SPAC when I wondered who the principal dancers of the future could possibly be and how the company could ever be "the same" (answer of course: it can't, but it could be very good), and I've also seen NYCB in glory, even after Balanchine. But now I am very afraid. I am scared that the masterpieces will be truly lost.

The young kids who are coming into the company are wonderful. They have technique to burn, they are strong and they have the training and the desire to succeed. But something is missing. What is it?

There are veterans who are wonderful too. Jeny Ringer and Jennie Symogi can pull my heartstrings in a way that I thought couldn't happen post Patty McBride and Suzanne Farrell. Peter Boal is the purest and most sensitive dancer. We still have Kyra, at least for a while.

I can't get that Serenade out of my mind. I chose my programs for winter season really carefully--I want to see one last Bizet before it leaves the rep for a while, I felt compelled to see Barocco and Chaconne. Now I am scared to see them.

It really came home to me when I saw the Ailey company. There is so much life in those dancers. I never thought I would say this. NYCB looks stale and deadly in comparison. OUCH.


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