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NYCB 2/23/02 matinee

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Sunday, February 24 matinee, NYCB

I know we've all moved into the Carpathians, but hearken back with me, if you would, to last Sunday's City Ballet matinee, whose big draw for me was the last Symphony in C of the season (and, I believe, the ballet is going away for one of those frightening rests to which the company management occasionally treats their "Crown-Jewel" ballets). The program wasn't unaffected by the recent rashes of injuries afflicting the company, necessitating the replacement of Interplay and Valse Fantasie with Christopher Wheeldon's redundantly named "Carousel - A Ballet," (It's a ballet? No, really? Where's the Squad Squad when we need it?) and Fairchild and Ulbricht reprising Tarantella. Considering the unfortunate presentation given Interplay last spring, I really wasn't sorry to miss it. And, while Valse Fantasie is clearly a more substantial ballet than Tarantella, it was hard not to rejoice at another chance to see Ulbricht's joyful bouyancy yet again. There were also cast changes in Symphony in C, but more of that later.

There's lots about Carousel which doesn't work, and, as in his titling of the ballet, Wheeldon shows a great gift for firmly, even proudly, stating the obvious. If one weren't already aware that a carousel moves in a circle, one surely would know this by heart after even a single viewing. And just when you'd think he couldn't have hammered this point into the ground (and our skulls) any more firmly, he has the dancers trot out those little poles, recreating even more emphatically the look of a carousel, with girls posing like pretty little ponies on the shoulders of the guys, all the while holding up those darn barber poles while they're carried liesurely in a circle. I'm beginning to think Wheeldon doesn't know the difference between a coup du theatre and a gimmick. Well, I do, and here's a hint: Chris, for God's sake, lose the poles.

Perhaps Wheeldon felt the challenge of matching the ravishingly beautiful Rodgers tunes (who wouldn't feel like doing something joyously grand to the Carousel Waltz, or over-the-top romantic to "If I Loved You?"), as the ballet is littered with Clever Ideas which accomplish little, rather like an collage of scraps from Balanchine's or Robbins' mental cutting-room floor. Yes, the big, swoopy developrment of a theme by the corps along a stage-spanning diagonal is indeed beautiful and dramatic and powerful, and a favorite of Balanchine's. But Balanchine was ever-so-judicious in its use -- how much would we remember and look forward with gleeful anticipation (well, I do!) to that big diagonal development by the girls in white in Symphony in Three Movements if Balanchine used the device more than once, or, perish the thought, at one of Stravinsky's pounding climaxes rather than at a quiet, even introspective moment? Balanchine was very well aware of the extremes of his palette, and was very careful about when he dragged out the heavy artillery; Wheeldon is too scattershot and indiscriminate.

That's not to say there aren't many beautiful moments in this ballet -- almost as many as those which fall flat, in fact. I'd say this is mostly thanks to Alexandra Ansanelli, but it was Wheeldon who first showed us some of Ansanelli's finest qualities in Polyphonia. Perhaps one could say here Ansanelli returns the favor, as she seems to be bringing more to the ballet than the ballet brings to her. Having said this, there are parts of the long duet between Ansanelli and Millepied which are heartbreakingly beautiful, despite the occasional echoes of ballets of yesteryear ("Look, it's the Pas d'Action from Giselle, no, wait, it's Firebird! Or something by M*cm*ll*n!") and the more-intrusive bits where Wheeldon is just Too Clever for Words, like when Millepied flips himself into a one-handed cartwheel, one-handed because he has to keep his other hand free to delicately take Ansanelli's as he comes down to earth. Well, perhaps it looked great in the studio, but in ballet as in life, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

However, when Wheeldon and Ansanelli are both at their best, the results are unforgettable. The gasp-producing moments when Ansanelli, in her some of her very finest swoons, snaps off a breathtakingly fast double pirouette and then hurls herself forward, prone, into the space which Millepied hasn't yet come close to occupying. Of course, it's a awesome, terrifying moment because if Millipied is even a split-second late, they'll be carrying Ansanelli offstage in a stretcher, but even more because it's a perfect evocation of fragile joys of young love. Ansanelli's committment is complete -- she and Wheeldon show us, ever so graphically, that this young love-struck girl has just discovered the joy of having a love in her life to whom she can give herself completely, and trust completely. She can't imagine a world in which he won't be there to catch her; part of this moment's poignancy is that we in the audience, at least the older and wiser among us, can. Of course having the young girl in love throwing herself at her lover is pretty standard in these sorts of duets, and Wheeldon isn't immune to producing some pedestrian moments, but parts of this duet are so deliciously on the edge it's almost enough to forgive Wheeldon for spinning his wheels, recycling his material, going around in circles, breathing his own exhaust, well, you get the idea.

Tarantella was great fun. Fairchild loosened up a bit from her debut the night before, although she's still got a ways to go. Ulbricht was perhaps not quite as supernaturally airborne as the night before, but still stunning, and still a delight. When he joined the company, I was skeptical about what sort of niche such a short, albeit brilliant, dancer could find for himself at NYCB; clearly he's well on his way to finding one. I just hope Ashley Bouder, with whom Ulbricht is well-matched on many levels, makes a speedy and healthy return to the stage.

Hallelujah Junction is one of Martins' more pleasant ballets, a bit in the manner of such romps as Fearful and Ash. I don't really get the point of the dancers in white vs dancers in black, but it's enjoyable enough watching Martins put his muse, Janie Taylor, through her paces, along with Millepied and Sebastien Marcovici. I don't quite get the Black Unitards vs White Unitards thing, or whether Marcovici (in white) is fighting with Millepied (in black) over Taylor (also in white). It does seem that Martins is rather fond of ballets in which two men appear to compete for the favors of a woman, or two women for a man's, or there's a lot of changing of partners and dancing. Which means i know not what. I do know that it's cruel to Marcovici to make him follow on the heels of Millepied in many brise volees of the not-short-enough "Dueling Bluebirds" section. Millepied is an airborne, bravura-ish dancer; Marcovici, even at his most energetic, is rather stolid and earthbound.

And now we come to Bizet. The last Symphony in C of the season, and for awhile, as I believe it's not being done this Spring. Because Jock Soto was off in Russia doing Rubies with Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowroski, Darci Kistler was scheduled to dance Second Movement with Philip Neal. As one of the most infelicitous bits of miscommunicated partnering I've ever seen occurred between Kistler and Neal a few years back in some infamous Mozartianas during the Tchaikovsky mini-festival of the 50th Anniversary Season (and they've danced together very seldom since then), I imagine Neal breathing a sigh of relief when he was tapped to instead dance the First Movement with Abi Stafford, with Kistler's partnering honors going to Charles Askegard.

The first movement went well enough. I'm getting to the point where I can appreciate Stafford's strengths without being excessively put out by her weaknesses. Perhaps her recent erratic casting has brought her down a notch or two, but she seems less smug and insular and more reponsive to her sourroundings onstage, and even to the music. While Neal was not quite as impressive as he'd been in recent Mozartianas, he moved with his usual grace and managed the double tour to the knee with relative aplomb. I was also struck by Rachel Rutherford in one of her introspective, joyous moods as one of the demis.

I'd heard that Kistler had turned in a really lovely performance the previous time she'd done Symphony in C, so I was hoping for the best, but, alas, it was not to be. If anything, this performance was worse than her embarrassment at the end of the Saratoga season last July. At least when Kistler's partnered by Soto she can benefit from the shamanistic energy with which he seems to imbue the women he partners (at least while he's actually touching them!). Although Askegard is a strong and careful partner, it quickly became all too clear that Kistler's frightening technical deficiencies were at times more than he could handle. A smile is usually never far from Askegard's lips -- he usually looks as if he's genuinely proud of his ability to show off a ballerina, and loves his job. Here, he had the kind of steely, clenched-jaw rictus one imagines on the faces of the Light Brigade while charging the guns at Balaklava, as if he were saying, "The Boss's wife ain't gonna die on my watch. Nosirree Bob!" (Despite the reports of Soto's slamming into the wings at the Mariinsky, I can't help but think he had an easier day than Askegard.)

How sad it was to see glimmers of the beatific Kistler of old quickly extinguished, either by her desperation to recover from the ever-recurring wobbles, bobbles and botches, or, worse, by her indelicate attempts to sell what was once beyond price. The big developpe a la seconde with the brisk fouette to arabesque, was, well, terrifying, finishing with Kistler clutching at Askegard's arm like a drowning man for the last life-belt from the Titanic. She looked as if she was going to get her head to the knee for Big Penchee, or die trying, so I'm glad she made it, although it wasn't pretty. Of her solo work, which was more marking and fudging than actually dancing, well, I couldn't decide for whom it had to be more painful: Kistler, who had to know how horribly she was falling short of what she'd once been, or the audience, who had to watch her fail and fail. But does she care? Even the droopy ribbons on her toe shoes seem to have just given up. Oddly enough, she threw off her multiple pirouettes in the Fourth Movevment very nicely, but then couldn't manage to mark the tricky turn to the knee in the finale, more of a degage with the leg in some odd indeterminate position between her ankle and the wings, with a little pivot on quarter-pointe. Oh, it was so sad. I'd rather see Kistler end her career with a bouquet-filled gala than with the dreadful injury she seems to be courting.

In the Third Movement, Janie Taylor seemed to have caught Kistler's penchant for marking the steps, with some of the lowest jetes I've seen in quite some time (except when I'm looking in the mirror). Perhaps she was injured, or miffed at having to dance two leads in one afternoon. At least Carmena seemed to be there to dance. And in the Fourth Movement, Pascale van Kipnis was about the only ballerina who actually looked happy to be onstage, along with the always elegant but subdued Jason Fowler.

Well, at least the corps looked good.

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Ooops. Yes, it was Somogyi. Well, there had to be a reason why I liked her so much!

Seriously, that's what I get for writing a review from memory more than a week after the performance. I guess I remembered it was originally supposed to be Stafford and Martins, and just mentally plugged in my remembrance of when I saw Stafford do First Movement not long before.

At least their first names both begin with "S."

I could just delete this thread, fix the review and repost it, but I dish out my lumps, I might as well be able to take them, too.

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I was at that performance, and it was Somogyi in one her usually fantastic 1st mov't performances.

While I did not think Kistler turned in the same kind of performance she has even in recent years, it still moved me. I still it think it one of the only things I want to see her do until her retirement. Maybe I just was too rapt to notice the details. I guess I should be grateful for that!

As far as the Wheeldon piece goes... strangely it has grown on me. 3 times I have seen it. Maybe now that I know what to expect, I can enjoy what's good in it, and not focus on what I don't like (the contrived arm mov'ts). I agree with Manhattnik about Wheeldon still throwing too many *neat* things into his pieces. One of the revelatory ballet quotes for me was Balanchine's about choreographing Apollo-- how he realized he dare not do everything (what's the exact quote?). Wheeldon still has yet to learn that. As it is, each piece is radically different, allowing him to explore different moods and music. Within his pieces, he needs to stay more focused. Not throw in every idea he has. The pas de deux has about every possible romantic swoon in it (thankfully Ansanelli's performance distracts me from that while I watch). I am still missing a coherent whole, recurring themes of mov't (other than the aforementioned contrived arm movements-- what's with the movements that seem like the girls are rocking a baby-- i know i am missing something). Thankfully, Wheeldon knows how to use the stage and, especially, his dancers extremely well. I agree with Manhattnik. I grow to appreciate Ansanelli more and more when I watch her in a Wheeldon piece.


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With Wheeldon what I think I miss is a "soul," is some honest indication of sincere artistic emotion, an intensity, that he cares about something, that it's not just a pretty, well crafted dance by someone who knows how to make pretty, well crafted dances. I'm wondering who Chris Wheeldon is, why I should be watching this, I want him to show me something. I've begun to think maybe he's too precocious and too successful for his own good. Why not cash in now and be a "brand name" at 28, it's the way we are these days.

Regarding Kistler, a Saturday afternoon Chaconne a week before was so sad. It is the hardest thing in the world to know when to leave the fair.

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I can't answer that question, but I met two NYCB long-time fans last night (down here for the Kennedy Center gala) who were very up on the Winter season generally, thought that it was as good as the Spring season had been bad, and said one of the nicest things about it was that Kistler was dancing well -- limited, but recognizing the limitations. I didn't see her dance when I was up last week, and wish I had. I've been hearing conflicting reports for years. "She can't dance any more"/"she's the company's great ballerina and dancing better than she has in years."

I don't think it would be a good idea to do an official poll, but I would be interested to know if there are any Ballet Alertniks who have enjoyed Kistler's dancing this season.

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To be very politically correct, I've enjoyed seeing her know her limitations, but hope she retires soon, for fear she will leave a "bad" impression on people new to seeing her.

Martins still choreographing new material on her probaby prolongs it.

I'm guessing she's waiting to do the 100 celebration?? That would be a fitting tribute to both her and Mr. B.

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Sadly to say, there's a difference between knowing one's limits and demonstrating them.

If Kistler isn't aware of her limits after that Chaconne (based on the reports I've seen), and this Bizet (and let's not forget how badly she struggled in the first Serenade of the season), well, she never will be.

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To AmandaNYC --

The Balanchine quote about Apollo goes:

"I look back upon it as the turning point of my life. The score was a revelation. It seemed to tell me that I too could eliminate. I began to see how I could clarify by limiting, by reducing to the one possibility that is inevitable."

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I]With Whelan and Kowroski in Russia, was there anyone other than Kistler at home who knew Second Movement? If so, who? If not, wouldn't it have been a good opportunity to teach it to a worthy newcomer?[/i]

Carla Korbes is the obvious choice for the role, definately an adagio dance with beautiful extension and the artistic ability to carry out such a role .... of course she was injuried on this particular sunday .... Hmmm, has Nichols ever danced the role ? That would be an interesting contrast. Maybe Ansanelli, or Somogyi, they always make the most of the opportunities they get. I wonder if Meunier was still with the company if Martins would have let her try it .... :rolleyes

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I recall reading somewhere that Meunier did Second Movement at an SAB Workshop, but never with the company. I wonder if she's done it on the road wtih ABT; I'd crawl over broken glass to see it.

Korbes does come to mind, but I believe she was injured (the reason Interplay was cancelled). I'd love to see Somogyi try it, but she's so far into Martins' "utility ballerina" doghouse I fear she'll never get the chance. I'm sure Ansanelli would be to die for in the Second Movement, but given that the last time I saw her in Symphony in C (she was doing Third Movement) she twice almost ended up in the orchestra pit after bobbling those tricky turns to the knee in the finale, it's perhaps understandable that Martins has kept her away from this ballet for a bit.

Actually the obvious choice would be Ringer for Second Movement. I can see it now: sweet, dewy, lush, lovely. There, I just saved myself $12.

The problem with Ringer is that once having seen her dance a role in one's mind's eye, it's not really necessary to actually see her dance it in person.

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