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City Ballet Spring Gala, 5/8

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Diamond Project Gala, 5/8

I wanted to keep this short, but that's not working. So Then: I was unexpectedly pleased by last night's Spring Gala at City Ballet. Galas are usually more about the socializing and people watching then about the dancing, the dance is usually a little hors d'oeuvre set before Glorious Foods does its thing and the socially ambitious (and wealthy) get to mingle with each other with the beautiful young people. But the odd thing was that last night was definitely about the dancing and about the choreography and not about the "Scene."

Martins mounted a 2 and 1/2 hour Diamond Project extravaganza of new choreography before the meal (four new ballets and two reprises of older Diamond Project works). Peter Martins loves choreographing and loves choreography and last night we saw the plus side of that. There were two new ballets by himself (both very short). There was also an older balet by Martins (Jeu de Cartes) made for the original Diamond Project ten years ago (with Anne Bass's money) which had a new Ian Falconer backdrop and new Ian Falconer Costumes last night for the occasion. Also presented were an excerpt from a new ballet by NYCB dancer Albert Evans, a revived Diamond Project piece by Ulysses Dove (Red Angels), and new lengthy ballet by Mario Bigonzetti entitled Vespro.

I should also mention that the costuming for three of the pieces was done by the young costumiers who are fellows at a sort of workshop the company is now carrying on. The new costumiers names are Emilio Sosa, Julius Lumsden, Catherine Barinas. The lighting and backdrops for several of the pieces were also unexpectedly elaborate and good. The company thus gave it their absolute all last night in every category.

The unexpected thing, the marvelous thing about the evening, was that this resulted in the dancers performing all of these pieces with tremendous life and animation. More life and animation that I almost ever see from them. "Where your treasure is there also shall be your heart" goes the Gospel, and their treasure and their hearts were in it last night. It was wonderful to see the dancers so committed and awake and also to see so many of them perform prominently whom you don't usually get to see do more than look good in the Corps de Ballet.

Albert Evans' piece utilizes Faye Arthurs, Aesha Ash and Carla Korbes in principal roles with Stephen Hanna, Sebastien Marcovici and Seth Orza. (Korbes's first performance post-injury in nearly a year?). Marcovici and Jason Fowler had principal roles partnering Ansanelli and Kowroski in the Bigonzetti ballet. Benjamin Millepied was a principal in this as well as in Jeu de Cartes.

In detail:

The first new Martins is called "Bach Concerto" and is a sort of Concerto Barocco knock off for Darci Kistler and Jock Soto. It was dull and forgettable but not worse than what you usually see. I suppose there had to be a tip of the hat for Darci.

I liked the Bigonzetti piece. It's very dark and features a lot of twisting and taffy pulling of the dancers and a lot of structure among differentiated groups on the stage. The movement vocabulary, for the most part, is not Classical Ballet and the Classical vocabulary, when employed, looks a little extraneous to the piece and is the weakest part. But a good Dance has an inner logic and structure all of its own and holds your attention and both pleases and moves you, and this did all of that for me and I intend that as very high praise. The performances that Alexandra Ansanelli and Maria Kowroski pulled and stretched out of themselves were compelling and dramatic and unlike anything I've seen from either of them before.

The second new Martins ballet, "The Infernal Machine," was also quite short. It utilizes a complex pulsating orchestration by the full orchestra to a Christopher Rouse score and features Martins' muse, Janie Taylor (partnered by Jock Soto again) in another brilliant, quasi-erotic, animalistic performance which approaches the indecent (Jock carrying her, legs spread wide to the audience, in certain postures -- She's so beautiful but I wonder if I'm really watching this in public). The lighting which approaches creating a set of jungle vines was also good. The lighting could have been trite but the over-the-edge performance from Taylor and Soto rescued it from triteness. You focus on them so much, and they are so extreme, that the vine wreathed Dionysiac Red projections actually serve to support them.

The Evans piece, like the Bigonzetti before it, featured the dancers pulling and stretching themselves beyond their normal range of movement and used some extended portions of silence on stage while they did this. Otherwise it was accompanied by percussion and by piano (which is also percussion if I recall my classifications). It was again interesting, even compelling at times, and Korbes (back on stage again) and Arthurs (her first moment in the spot light I can remember since Scenes de Ballet), and Orza, and Hanna, etc., danced their hearts out.

The new costumes for Jeu de Cartes are for the most part a brilliant white or cream color, with hearts or spades or clubs, etc., modestly applied on the bodices, and were a great improvement over the oppressive red and black costumes of the previous production, though the brilliantly colorful costumes for two of the principal men (Hubbe as the King particularly and Millepied as the Jack) were distractingly colorful. The backdrop portrayed a rich green Baize card table with a colorful pile of chips in the top left corner. The lighting was also altered and altogether this gave a different look to the Ballet. Jeu de Cartes appeared to me last night to be one of Peter Martins very best works and, in contrast with say Morgen, it has a structure and an animating idea and not simply aimless changes of partners. Jennifer Ringer, however, danced the principal female role in which Janie Taylor was so brilliant last winter, I assume because they didn't want Taylor to dance half of the gala evening. Ringer admirably made it through a difficult principal part which is about as far from her normal affect and range as is possible. But if you've ever seen Taylor do this, you will never forget it and no one else will ever look right in the role. Damien Woetzel (as the Ace of Spades in brilliant white) gave one of the better performances I've ever seen from him and that is saying a lot.

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Thanks for this clear and comprehensive review, Michael. Although I've been to every NYCB opening night gala in the last thirty or forty years, I've never been to a Spring Gala. I'm not sure I know why, but I guess I've always felt that galas are more about socializing, as you say, than about ballet. But this year's sounds like it was different. I was impressed by Bigonzetti and Moretti, his composer, at the NYCB seminar last Monday and I'm glad to hear their ballet was a winner. I was also taken by your description of Janie Taylor as Martins's muse. I hadn't thought of it that way but I'm sure you're right. Thanks again, Michael.

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Michael gave an excellent review of last night's gala, and from what I could tell he really enjoyed the evening. I am sorry to say that I did not enjoy it as much.

As Michael pointed out, Peter Martins' new piece, Bach Concerto V, is a little bland. I do like many of Martins' pieces. As a matter of fact, I would really like to see the return of Eight Easy Pieces with the current "comers" -- Taylor, Bouder and Korbes. But I will say one thing about his piece: it was actually, well, ballet.

That brings me to the new Vespro. It's really a modern dance piece. And I agree with Michael that the cast (particularly Maria K. and Alexandra A) gave their all. But I myself do not particuarly care for the conventions of modern dance, i.e., bare legs, dancers being dragged along the floor, sharp angular arm movements, pretentious poses, looks of angst, etc.

I had high hopes for the Bigonzetti piece, as I had expected it to be a ballet. I am sure those who really love modern dance will be able to assess this piece better than I. In any event, it's not ballet.

The Red Angels piece was very well done, particularly by Peter Boal and Wendy Whelan and quite enjoyable.

Michael described the pas for Janie Taylor and Jock Soto very well. It was hard to take one's eyes off Janie T.

The new Evans ballet was interesting up until the very last section when he seemed to run out of steam. But, in any event, it was so nice to see Carla Korbes back again. (Michael, she was in the corps in the Fourth Movement of Bizet for the first two performances of that ballet.) Evans has promise; he knows how to move groups of dancers around and keep the audience interested. I want to see this work again.

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Thank for raising that point, Bobbi :) It's one of the Diamond Project issues that we've been stepping around rather gingerly -- the stated goal of the Diamond Project is to create new ballets, defined as using the classical ballet vocabulary. Yet many of the works do not.


(In addition to more gala reviews, of course -- and thank you, Michael, for yours! Was it really 7 hours long? This is back to the 18th century with a vengeance!)

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The curtain went up at 7:40 and, with one intermission, went down (and To the Dinner!) at about 10:20 P.M.. Peter Martins toast to Irene Diamond -- delivered with a shot of Vodka and a drum roll from the stage and the spotlight on Irene Diamond just before the 2d Act curtain, chiding her for having been late to the evening as well! -- was utterly charming. There is a Danish gift for managing entertainments with ceremony, wit and charm and it was very much in evidence.

As for the choreography, it seems to me that the lesson of Polyphonia has not been lost on any of them. And yes, the evening was decidedly tilted towards Dance. (I also think that seeing the evening in serial fashion in the Gala atmosphere made all of the works look better. I doubt any of them will be as interesting -- except perhaps for the Bigonzetti -- apart from each other and apart from the setting and also I'm sure that, looked at critically, they can be taken apart quite ruthlessly -- It was fun though to me while it lasted).

It may be beyond this thread (or maybe not, I just don't want to set the cat among the pigeons too much), but it seems to me more and more that the biggest aesthetic issues in Ballet today relate and revolve around the role and propriety and proper balance of crossover influences from Dance. On the one hand, they are seminal, ideas fermenting from the outside, no art is static, etc.. On the other hand, it threatens to overwhelm and obscure the entire classical tradition until you say this isn't Ballet at all, it's Dance with a little Ballet gloss. I hope though that the very fact that there is this conflict may actually be a sign of artistic vitality.

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Good reviews from all, and it saves me from having to describe the Bigonzetti piece. :D

About the Bigonzetti piece, I thought it was Nacho Duato on point shoes, with a lot of ragged arm movements, pulling and pushing, and some rolling around. Having looked forward to seeing this work, I was disappointed by (as Cargill would put it) the "take that you bitch" aspects of the choreography. Several times the men put there hands around the women's necks and pulled them up onto pointe. It looked unfortable and violent. It was a big part for Millepied, who I think excells in slimy roles. I liked the pas de deux between Kowroski and Fowler best. Ansanelli and Marcovici danced well (as did the entire cast) but I was less engaged with the choreography of their sections.

The first of the two Martins' ballets was pleasant but dull. Maybe good for SAB, it was simple and elegant. Watching it, I was thinking that it was made for the sole purpose to get Kistler (a personal favorite) on stage, and whether it did both of them a disservice. Thankfully, it was short.

The second was, as Michael put it, all about Taylor. I was first betwitched by the strange red sparkly thing around her head and wild look in her eyes. It was very erotic and I sort of made a story in my head, something I don't normally do to abstract works. But she looked to me like a firebird, or at least some exotic creature.

The Evans piece was interesting. The three female dancers he used are some of my favorites. After an opening that belied his novice status as a choreographer (mostly unisons from the three couples), I was very impressed with the three pas deux and solos that followed. Arthurs showed off stunning extensions while Korbes did some moves that I thought would seriously injure her. With Ethan Steifel's quotes in Dance Magazine that the Diamond Project ballets could kill for all the extreme things the choreographers want the dancers to do ringing in my head, I watched as Korbes, on flat foot, dipped down so her legs were at 180 degrees and then she walked her hands outward -- stretching her body unbelievably.

Red Angels is one of the most successful Diamond Project ballets and especially enjoyed Alexopolous' performance before she retires next week. All four dancers were wonderful.

The Jeux de Cartes re-costuming was interesting. I loved the tutus (tiny white velvet with either red diamonds and hearts or black spades and clovers). The principals were the face cards -- the woman's outfit is mostly black, with black tights but I thought the men's were a little busy and even made the slim Millepied look chunky. I was in the fourth ring, so I didn't get the full effect of seeing all the costumes against the green card table, but it should look good on TV later in the month.

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Thanks to all the people to posted their reviews!

There are so many ballet events I'd have never heard of it that site didn't exist...

It's interesting for me to read the comments about Bigonzetti. His company (Aterballetto) was near Paris last season, but I couldn't see it. I saw two pieces by Bigonzetti so far, one for the students of the Lyon Conservatoire about 5 years ago, and one for the Ballet de Marseille in the last season of Petit's tenure. Both reminded me quite a lot of Forsythe's style, for the first one it was so obvious is almost looked like plagiarism

or pastiche... And, as if Forsythe, I didn't like much the way it was a bit brutal and contorted sometimes.

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