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May 15, 2003 in New York City Ballet
Did anybody go to the gala?
Here are my brief impressions...
Peter Martins' new piece was "previewed" and I was not impressed, at least on the first look. It looked under-rehearsed and didn't grab my attention in a way to make me remember anything in particular. Dancing were: Kistler, Soto, Millepied, Martins, Ansanelli, Taylor, Somogyi, Marcovici and Weese and Neal. Black/grey unitards for the men, solid colored long dresses for the women. The dancers entered and exited through blacked out openings in the backdrop.
Wheeldon's new piece however, was wonderful. Joth Lithgow's text and narration was delightful-the story is about a boy who falls asleep in the Museum of Natural History and dreams about the people he knows as animals. The characters are distinctly British, mostly obvious through the costumes, but the language was universal.
The costumes were imaginiative, and the sets mostly consisted of backdrops and some pieces of furniture.
It seemed like a ballet the dancers probably enjoy performing as much as the audience enjoys watching it!
Among the highlights:
Christine Redpath as the Swan, aka the little boy's aunt who attends the ballet and has always dreamt of dancing Odile/Odette. Absolutely lovely, touching solo (in high heels), showing off Redpath's ageless talent to the "Dying Swan".
John Lithgow, completely disguised at the Elephant aka the boy's rotund school nurse, in a hysterical pas de quatre waltz with the shortest corps guys as pink/white tuxedoed mice. The mice get one heck of workout dashing around, keeping the elephant upright and partnered. Adam Hendrickson was particularly amusing as one of the mice.
Jason Fowler, Ask laCour and others as the Hens & Cocks, aka the fussy parents of the boy's classmates. Some strutting like you've never seen on the NYCB stage before...
Arch Higgins as the Baboon, aka the frenetic piano teacher, complete with hairy body and LONG arms.
Yvonne Borree as the Kangaroo aka the timid librarian who comes out of her shell to become a mermaid complete with chorus line of fishes!
Corps guys and apprentices as the JackAsses aka the school wrestling team (who are always teasing the girls, but as they boy suspects, probably are rather interested in the girls), in grey wrestling singlets and enourmous donkey ears. They performs a funny dance, choreographed out of wrestling moves.
James Fayette and Kyra Nichols (replacing Jenifer Ringer) in another touching pas de deux, as the boy's parents aka the cuckoos, upset that their child is missing
Askegard was the school teacher aka the lion, and the ballet also included the school girls (birds), the boy's classmates (laughing hyenas), a corps of dancing pink dinosaurs, aka "the fossils" (think creaky).
And of course, SAB student & very red-headed PJ Verhoest as the boy. There was quite a bit of acting and dancing involved in the role, which required him to be on stage almost the entire time, and he was wonderful. Reminded me a bit of the actor who played Harry Potter's friend Ron in the Harry Potter movies.
Wheeldon did a great job of picking his dancers, who each seemed to really fit their role personality wise and dance wise. Much laughter from the dancers and students, and everyone else in the audience.
Definately a keeper, even if someone else may need to do the narration when Lithgow is not available.
Thank you Sneds. Was the dancing the Wheeldon in a classical style? And was the Martins ballets like the other ballets he has done to Adams (Slominsky's Ear Box or Fearful)?
What did Rutherford and van Kipnis do in the Wheeldon piece?
Apologies, I seem to have to have lost the actual program, so I'm going from memory. I think Van Kipnis and Rutherford were the tortosises, aka the two old ladies in the park, who perform the world's slowest can can.
The dance in Wheeldon's piece was not really classical, in the sense that it was created around animals (baboons don't know Vaganova from Balanchine from Cecchetti...!), but involved plenty of classical steps mixed into acting and moves from sports & dance. The "fossils" danced, though creakily in a perfectly classical style, and Askegard was impressive in a long series of turns in second. And of course, Redpath, even in high heels is full of classical style. I was admiring her carriage and gorgeous arms.
I haven't seen and/or remembered enough of Martins' other ballets to Adams music to comment on this new ballet. It just didn't touch any of my "this is something worth remembering" ballet buttons
Thank you Kate for the descriptions. With Martins, you've seen one Adams ballet, you've seen them all.
Did anyone else see the new Wheeldon? The two reports I've gotten from friends indicate that it's very much a classical ballet, incorporating character and demicaractere, as well as classical dancing, and knowing how to use which when.
I think what Alexandra just said probably better characterized Wheeldon's ballet than my words...it is classical, but not necessarily in the most traditional of senses! Sometimes I can't always translate what I see very well into words!
That's understandable, Kate -- there have been very, very few ballets in recent memory that use the full classical ballet (in the broadest sense of the term) arsenal, and very few of the older ballets in this tradition in repertory, so we don't have the opportunity to see them and talk about them very often. When there is a Ballet Russe era ballet, or even Tudor, I've noticed people writing that "it's not a ballet," and I understand why that's said, but I'd disagree
I was interested to hear more, because it is so rare, and I thought it a good sign that Wheeldon was interested in this tradition and could revive it.
Wheeldon's piece was very good. Lithgow's versification and book are utterly charming and a stab of genius in a Dr. Szeuss - Ogden Nash sort of way. Wheeldon used it beautifully as a base for this. The sort of collaboration one doesn't see much of these days. The casting was a series of exquisite gestes on the personalities, careers and appearances of the dancers -- Dana Hanson and Dena Abergel as Chickens, Andy Veyette as a schoolboy wrestler, etc.
Watching Darci being twisted into a Morphoses-like pretzel by Jock in the new Martins, I could not help thinking that Darci was finally no longer going to be cast as Suzanne. Instead she was cast as Wendy.
A question for those of you who have also seen Wheeldon's new piece...in her review today, Kisselgoff identified the backdrop during the librarian/fish section as a shark. I thought it looked more like a whale... Anyone care to comment...
I'm not seeing it till Sunday, but I'm glad you brought up Kissselgoff's review, Kate. I'm puzzled by its beginning, in which she contrasts Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Rabbit. Does anyone know what she's talking about? :confused:
I found her review puzzling as well. She lost me after talking about Redpath and then saying that "two other sections" showed "similar striking wistfulness" but only mentions the "Turtles" section.
And maybe I'm having a senior moment, but wasn't this story originally in an English museum (based on a story Wheeldon wrote in grade school)?
It was definitely a Whale, in fact a Great (Big) Blue Whale, the very image of the model of such a One which hangs right in the middle of the "Hall of Ocean Life" at the American Museum of Natural History.
I guess I shall have to read Kisselgoff's review.
I think Kisselgoff is pushing the Mid-Atlantic point. And she is right, there is something very very British about Wheeldon's sensibility and about the look and details of the production. (The child's schoolboy outfit for example -- although see what the Dalton and Brierly girls wear, it might surprise you). That doesn't trouble me much, though -- It even adds a layer of interest. A child's world is a child's world, to be accepted naively by a child. Adults can ponder over where extactly on the mid-Atlantic Ridge this particular sensibility lies.
Kisselgoff's point seems to be that Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit) is quintessentially English and that A. A. Milne and Winnie are American (although I'm really not sure of that... I would think that Mr. Potter's Penguins or Stuart Little or Charlotte's Webb would be clearer).
Still, it is one of Kisselgoff's more thoughtful and intriguing reviews. It again makes me wonder how she can be so thoughtful and so subtle about this when she is generally so
incredibly and thoughlessly accepting of Peter Martins as a First Rate Choreographer or of Nilas as the great classical stylist of the company. I suspect New York Cultural Politics explains all. But if that is so, Ms. Kisselgoff is quite intellectually corrupt.
Phew...nice to know that my new contacts lenses are fine. I thought I knew a whale when I saw one, especially that whale!-a shark wouldn't have much sense in the context of the ballet anyway.
I too, was puzzled by Kisselgoff's review. Yes, the original idea for the story came from a piece Wheeldon wrote as a child, so it makes sense for the ballet to have a British feel. (Not that it couldn't have happened in NY).
Though there was one reference to "New York Suburbian siblings", the rest of the narration was essentially "place and time neutral". Thus, I had no problem with the costumes, and thought they were rather delightful. And, I didn't mind (or for that matter, notice) that the costumes didn't completely stick to one time period-it's a dream after all, and it gave the piece a sense of timelessness, which will help it to avoid looking dated.
It's a wonderful ballet and I can't wait to see it again, whale and all!
Actually, A. A. Milne is British-he was born in London, so Winnie the Pooh is as British as Peter Rabbit. Charlotte's Web would definately have been a better example, if that's the point she was trying to get across.
In today's NY Times Kisselgoff reviews the Martins piece in more detail
Did anyone see Tess Reichlein (sp?) in her debut of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 last night? Absolutely stunning. Ms. Whelan and Mr. Tewsley were also radiant in the piece, Wendy the strongest she's been all season, executing beautiful fouettes and finishing with a balance.
Nicholaj Hubbe also did a stunning rendition of Donizetti which eclipsed Mr. Woetzel's two performances earlier this season.
Yes, Teresa Reichlen was quite wonderful -- a great role debut. And this seems a good ballet for Tewsley. Pulling along those lines of women he looked so poetic he brought back memories of Sean Lavery. It was a very good evening overall, as most all-Balanchine programs tend to be. (Agon was the middle ballet, with Kowroski, Somogyi, Soto, Boal, Hanson, McBrearty, Fowler, and Hanna.)
My take on last night is slightly different, with surprises for me.
I enjoyed Borree in Donizetti last night! This is a great part for her. She and Hubbe, as well as the senior corps members, looked like they were having a grand ole time. Yes, Borree does not have the softness in her upper body that I crave in a dancer, but this is the best I have seen her dance. She had a passion for the part that showed in her attack. Except for the pirouette part at the end of the 2nd solo with which she had trouble, she seemed to fly through the rest with no problems. Between her performances in the pas de quatre in Swan Lake and this, it seems Borree has a renewed energy this season. It was also nice to see Hubbe in full form. His flash of a smile excited me. I think the difference in this piece was that this was a true PERFORMANCE, not just dancers executing steps.
I had, surprisingly, never seen Kowroski in the Agon pas de deux. She and Soto had the palpable tension needed for the piece. I was not as thrilled as the rest of the audience (I have, afterall, seen Kowroski use that body beautiful many times already!). As always, Boal was on a different plane. Just simply beautiful-- every little movement was a piece of art. McBrearty and Hanson were a little too... clinical? for me. They executed the steps perfectly but something was missing. I surprised myself by missing K. Tracey in the part (I told you this was an evening of surprises for me!). Hanna and Fowler were well-matched. I find myself unable to take my eyes off Hanna, who is a passionate and graceful (but still manly!) dancer. Somogyi was her usual great self. I fear she suffers in comparison, body-wise, to Kowroski in this piece-- it does take some visual adjustment going back between the two. I am still always amazed at how Somogyi can combine such attack and strength with such grace. A difficult combo to maintain. But, that's who she is. As usual, her runs on and off stage were part of the performance for me!
Piano Concerto No. 2 disappointed me. Whelan did not seem as sharp and strong in it as I have seen her in the past. Nothing went wrong, that I could tell, but that extra something was missing. Tewsley did not make a strong impression on me this time around, but I was distracted by watching the corps (most of whom were new to the piece, right?). I can't say Reichlen disappointed me, as I did not expect this role to suit her at this time in her career. Last night, she appeared to be a girl in class executing steps. She certainly executed them well. But there was no broad sweep in the movements. No passion. I am still confused by the casting here, as I think there are so many others more suitable for the part (and i know we express surprise often, but this one surprises me even more so). I'd prefer to pass Reichlen's girlish performance off to just that-- she's young. But, I have seen several other young girls in the corps dance with great gusto and passion already.
I fear, as usual, I have articulated many feelings, but not really substantiated them with descriptions from the dance. But, well, that's what I know.
Off to see Wheeldon's new piece, along with Barocco, etc.
I thought Reichlin was quite wonderful last night. She had a very clear, musical attack, lovely use of upper body, and an adagio color in every step (something I thought was often lacking in Whelan ). I just couldn't take my eyes of her. Tewsley looked better than he did last season, but I think he needs a softer plie (kind of reminded of Korsuntsev)
Borree was like nails of a chalkboard to me. I usually try to avoid her, and if that's her personal best, why is she a principal in this company? Stiff and clenched everything. I am very glad that Hubbe is back, but I thought Woetzel's performance was much better in pretty much every way, except stage presence.
Agon. I haven't seen it danced this well in many years. Kowroski was fantastic. The tension between her and Soto kept building throughout the pas de deux. I've almost come to expect that kind of performance from Boal and Somogiy but last night they took my breath away.
News Sat. night - After a very long 2nd intermission, it was announced Robert Tewsely was injured and the company would only be able to perform the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, minus any part with the danseur. We'll have to see how this pans out in casting, but that's the news. (With moderator hat on) Let's have not gossip about it. Thanks.
I agree pretty fully with Amanda regarding Friday Night, particularly with respect to Tschai Piano Concerto and and Agon. It was the first performance of Piano Concerto #2, I believe, so perhaps, like other Balanchine works this season, it will look better later on.
The casting was extremely strange in my eyes. I'm not sure of the casting history (sorry no Repertory in Review) but I can't see Wendy in this role in the first place, I would like to see more of a Theme-and-Variations-type Ballerina. And, beyond that basic decision, last night Wendy looked particularly stiff to me and as if she and Tewsley were dancing this ballet in some kind of a parallel aesthetic universes. Tewsely looked beautiful when on stage alone but also heavy in the upper body. I hope any injury is not serious.
The role Reichlen danced could be thought of as demi-character choreography, light and fast. She did a very credible job with it. She has tremendous speed and clarity, particularly in the lower body. She is probably the tallest woman in the company but her articulation would have been thought of as brilliant if she was only Abi Stafford's size (and maybe the role calls for an Abi-Stafford-Size dancer?). She danced very clean. That last run forward in emboitee steps made my jaw drop. She deserves a great deal of praise. It was not only a debut in this role but a debut in the splotlight on Center Stage and she should be cut a lot of slack. I think she needs to be cut some slack too for some of it, she can particularly pay more attention to how she holds her head and presents her face, but why hold this youngest girl in her first big role to a higher standard than other dancers? It also cannot be easy to dance in the corps exclusively for two or three years and then suddenly be expected to dust it all off and appear in a p.d.d. doing things you haven't performed even in class in ages or have never performed in public at all. She clearly has the skills of, and is not out of place as, a soloist.
Switching topics, some further thoughts on Wheeldon's Carnival of the Animals (Saturday afternoon performance).
Anna Kisselgoff was correct (for once) to note the wistfulness about the piece. Some posters here were also correct that it is in places quite bare, dance-wise. Wherever he could have filled the stage with spectacle, Wheeldon deliberately made the choice to go the other direction and to under "spectacle-ize" it. There is a general air of nostalgia permeating the ballet. Mrs. Prue in her mother's old lace dreaming of another, of a fuller life. Nostalgia for what, I wonder ... of Wheeldon for his childhood? Of adults for childhood in general? I don't know . . .
. . . But I do know that I think it for this reason the most interesting thing Wheeldon has done. My complaint about his work to date has often been that I've felt no soul in it and that Wheeldon himself has seemed at times to run the risk of hybris. (Everything was going so very well so very much of the time, Where was there room in any of this for suffering, for mankind, for me, How was I expected to relate to this?).
I was reminded a couple of days ago of W.B. Yeats epigram (to one of his books), that: "We first begin to live when we concieve of life as tragedy." Watching Carnival of the Animals, for the first time, I felt that Wheeldon's work implied the knowledge of such a conception. It's the most promising thing he has done.