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Somogyi's Swan - 5/13/03 (also Swan Lake on 5/3/03)

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Avant-propos: I'm way behind on writing and was going to do one massive essay to catch up, but reason prevailed and I'll try to post several related essays over the next few days. Because they're long, I'll put them in separate threads so they don't dam up discussion.

Pierluigi Samaritani's massive and lush scenery for ABT's La Bayadère that verges on photo-realism shows why Per Kirkeby's scenery for New York City Ballet's Swan Lake has met with resistance here. The production was not originally done for New York City Ballet but for the Royal Danish Ballet, and Lincoln Center is not the Kongens Nytorv. The splashes and slashes of color spattered among dark shadows would make sense in Copenhagen's theater and in Denmark’s northern imagination. Here, we just see an absence of grandeur, the same as we do in the prince's costume in Act I that is a version of all the other male costumes, except he is in royal blue. Perhaps because we have no royalty here, we sentimentalize it; we want it set apart and dripping with brocade and jewels. In Denmark, the Queen goes to the ballet, and when she goes, she wears a cocktail dress or blouse that makes her look no different from one of her subjects dressed up for the theater. The designs don't survive the transposition from one theater or culture to another. We don’t want Jantelov designs; want our grand ballet to be grand.

I saw two different casts; Miranda Weese and Peter Boal have added depth to their performances from 1999, and Weese's Odette is now on the level of her Odile and the pathos of it more internal and organic. She doesn't look like she's "acting" anymore. As in '99, they both get better in the ballet act by act, and though the fourth act is unorthodox, it's moving. Martins' reconciliation pas de deux, using music where Tchaikovsky builds the emotions of the score into a juggernaut, is a fine moment, and the eternal separation of the lovers may not make sense in Petipa's universe, but it does in Balanchine's. And is Martins' ending really that great a variant from Balanchine's ending of his one act version?

Jenifer Ringer's debut in the part was unfortunately scotched due to injury, but I saw Jennie Somogyi's second performance in the role. In a world where Swans are supposed to be tall and willowy, Somogyi's height and broad-shouldered build meant she had to work twice as hard to justify herself in the role. And she did, in a very well thought-out performance. Somogyi took a radical (for City Ballet) approach to the white acts, with very mobile arms. Some people hated it, as one friend remarked during intermission, "All that flapping!" I had a hunch that her Odile would explain her Odette.

For Somogyi to make sense out of the role for herself, she had to find a way to convey Odette’s tragedy. It wasn't going to be based on a singing line of the leg; she's not built like Kowroski where an unadorned extension can say something extreme on its own. Her models are in the past; read Edwin Denby's description of Ulanova in Juliet and her "pouter pigeon" stance. Somogyi softened her arms and relied on the long arc across her chest to convey Odette’s suffering. In a company of lower-body dancers, a dancer relying on her upper-body is a radical, even reactionary thing. And like Ulanova, her method of attaining vulnerability was through heroism. Will we see a revival of the heroic strain of dancer where power and strength are used expressively? Somogyi and Ashley Bouder are two candidates, then.

Her Odile was sharper and more familiar, but when von Rotbart came up and plotted with her during the pas de deux, she brought back her Odette mannerisms for a brief diagonal. It was striking how different the characterizations were as she snapped her back straight after turning from Siegfried. Her Odette, like Weese's, was lethal; Weese did double attitude turns en dehors, Somogyi did singles and the slowest, almost gyroscopic double fouettés.

Nilas Martins was coming back from an injury that prevented him from performing his first Siegfried with her (Charles Askegard substituted), but even in this one performance he looked uncommitted to the part. At the climax of Act IV, where Siegfried's act of re-swearing is what finally vanquishes von Rotbart, the moment is Peter Boal's, and his Siegfried becomes a hero there. At the same moment on Tuesday night, all one could see was Somogyi, her chest and arms cutting through the air like the prow of a ship cuts the waves, protecting Siegfried so he would be able to take his oath. She was the heroine of the ballet.

In other roles in the production, Abi Stafford looked lovely in both the pas de trois and the pas de quatre. Her soft accuracy suits the roles; she's able to finish the turns in the first variation of the pas de quatre à la seconde, roll down off of pointe and make it look easy. Both Alexandra Ansanelli and Yvonne Borree had unexpected successes in the Russian pas de deux; it was choreographed on totally different dancers, but they both made an impact in it. Megan Fairchild was well cast in the second variation in the pas de trois; soubrette roles look natural on her.

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When I first saw the NYCB Act I and Siegfried's costume, the only thing I could think was, "Well, there's a lot of orange in the set. The costume is blue as that is the direct complement of orange." I'm agreeing with Leigh. If the set had more grandeur to it, mundane issues like the color wheel would not occupy a moment of our sensibilities! In its sparseness, the set allows the mind to wander into ordinary inanity.

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I enjoyed Somogyi, but her mannerisms tend to bother me in certain ballets, Swan Lake unfortunately being one of them. She definitely gave it her best effort though, and I can appreciate that.

You liked Stafford? I can respect her for her technique, but there just never seems to be anything going on in terms of presence. I just want her to open up, as I know we've already seen plenty of great evidence of her technique.

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Somogyi's manerisims bother me too. I am glad someone else finally said that because I was begining to think I was the only one. I feel that her "expression" is a manerisim. To me it is always the same regardless of the role. I also find her foot work very sloppy and turned in. She has great facility and ease in turning and dancing in general but to me that is not what I am moved by.

I also think Stafford was just executing the steps. There are few that don't just execute the steps. I wish they were cultivating those who are well rounded more. But that is just my opinion.

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I actually enjoy Somogyi a great deal, mannerisms and all. It's just that I feel that she, among other company members, should be put in more roles that showcase her abilities rather than her flaws. She was a good Swan, yes, but there were plenty of problems with it as well. It should be interesting to see how she improves in a few years, should City Ballet revive the ballet then.

Did anybody see Somogyi do Symphony in Three on Wednesday? That's a role she definitely excels in.

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I agree with you a bit foryourinfo. While I like Somogyi's dancing, I have noticed in things like last winter's Symphony in C that she never once did real entrechats, she just jumped and sort of crossed her heels once. In addition, she is often lauded for her turning ability, especially in things like Hypolita in Midsummer Night's Dream, but many times in fouettes, she travels quite a bit. Not all the time. Last winter, she did an electric set of fouettes in Who Care's?, but many times she travels. That doesn't bother me, but the lack of detail and clarity in her foot work is strange.

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What some people consider Somogyi's mannerisms-- I'm guessing the way she holds and uses her head (often tilting it in expression) -- is what I consider her natural expressiveness. I consider it no more a mannerism than the stiff neck to shoulder stance that too many NYCB dancers have. Esp. since Somogyi runs off stage, even after bowing, with her head that certain way, it seems her natural way of letting out her passions!

I tend not to focus on little mistakes the dancers make, but look at the whole-- feet, body, arms, head, + *aura*/*presence*. For me, it's not about the execution, but the performance. Did they capture the spirit of the dance? Of course, there does need to be good technique (the *letter* of the dance, so to speak). But dance is truly an art to me. I attend so performances can evoke emotions in me. The most perfect technique will not stir the same emotions in the me that a very good execution with spectular spirit evokes.

I can't tell people not to bothered by Somogyi's idiosyncracies, as taste for a dancer is just that... a matter of taste. But, her Swan Lake stirred me so much more than Whelan's and Kowroski's. As Leigh mentioned, she does use her upper body, which is in major contrast to most dancers at NYCB. And it is in the upper body where you can see real emotions displayed (as opposed to the feet), and not just in Swan Lake. She doesn't exude personality the way Ringer does, but in her use of her head and back, I felt her pain as she was betrayed and torn from her love. You don't need to look at her facial expressions to know what she is feeling.

But, besides the emotions she evokes in me, many of Somogyi's performances are revelations for me. Revelations not about her, but about the ballet she's in. Barocco's 2nd ballerina part seemed such a throw-away part for a long time (in the '90s) until I saw her. Her Symphony in C pulled me in and invited me to closely see each movement. She articulated the movements in a way that I saw them as if for the first time. That's something.

I could go on, but it's time to run to the SAB workshop.


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