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Winter Season Finale

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Some quick and selective notes on Sunday's final performance:


City Ballet programmed Chris Wheeldon’s “Liturgy” once more as part of Sunday Afternoon’s closing performance of the New York Winter Season. This offered a series of rich contrasts.

Like the recently premiered “After the Rain,” “Liturgy” is another of Wheeldon's shorter Ballets set to an Arvo Part’s composition dominated by the melody of the violin. Again, both Ballets contain extended pas de deuxs for Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto. “Liturgy” is in fact nothing else – while “After the Rain” contains an initial section for a group of six other dancers. And those Pas de Deuxs are essentially fascinating choreographic essays on the qualities of Whelan and Soto individually and as partners.

(This is also true of some of Wheeldon’s preceding work set to Ligeti scores. At the heart of “Polyphonia”, which will be seen in Washington this week, lies a pair of duets for Jock and Wendy.)

Interesting how, in “Liturgy”, in contrast to how he has choreographed to Ligeti, Wheeldon responded to Arvo Part’s greater lyricism (than Ligeti’s) by freezing the dancers’ lower bodies, often in a soft fifth position, which he changes at almost ceremonious intervals for unorthodox and yet essentially solid lifts, bringing the dancers’ to rest again in solid positions, while at the same time employing their arms in subtle and free lyrical gestures. And only then occasionally unleashing them in a burst of diagonal movement over the whole of the stage.

All of Wheeldon’s work for Soto and Whelan seems utterly dancer specific. One can hardly imagine another pair of dancers performing these to the same effect.

Wendy appeared very strong and very physically beautiful in this. The costume emphasizes the regularity of her proportions – her shoulders and hips being of nearly the same width. Her arms and legs also being of essentially similar proportions. Her legs long and well formed.

Whelan’s great gifts are so many. There are her strength, presence , musicality, the sureness with which she goes to just this point and no other and then moves through her dance phrases. But what struck me yesterday above all is the clarity with which Wendy will show you line. For example, there are the repeated poses Wheeldon creates here where the Ballerina leans back into her partner and developees fully to the front while leaning back into the male dancer for support, whereupon, when she reaches the top, the Ballerina (only then) rotates her leg and foot outward into a further and visually more distinct and extreme turn out, before coming back down (I think through Passee). Whelan did this as one gestural and seamless movement, maintaining a legato flow. Yet, at the same time, she showed the distinction between reaching the top of the developpee and that movement of further turn out so clearly that they could have been two separate phrases. Brilliant.

I mourn in advance for the loss of Soto as her partner this Spring. Watching them now, it is like what Baudelaire said of seeing the sunlight on the Autumn sea – that it seems, dazzled as one is by the light, that one hears at the same time the beating of a hammer making a coffin in the distance.

She and Jock Soto offer such interesting contrasts. Jock is dark to Wendy’s light. Compact to Wendy’s physical extension. Strikingly but androgynously Male to her striking but androgynous Femininity. Soto stays close to Whelan, and in a sense underneath her, when partnering her, as opposed to Edward Liang who partnered Wendy in “Glass Pieces” on the preceding (Saturday) afternoon and who had some awkward moments managing her from a distance. Above all, in handling Wendy, Soto also stays somehow “flexed.” It is that slight flex, a readiness to move and a compact center, which distinguishes his dancing.

This Winter has been in many ways the Chris Wheeldon season at City Ballet. A moment when the body of his work has taken its place as a true counterpoint to

Balanchine and Robbins in the repertory. Seeing it in this mass – Shambards, After the Rain, Liturgy, Polyphonia, Carnival of the Animals – has forced a reassessment on me. A performance like that of “Liturgy” yesterday was brilliant and formidable. That is how the body of his work here now appears to me.


The last performance of the afternoon was “Stars and Stripes” which also got a strong and focused performance. The corps de ballet was wonderful in this, but then they have been wonderful all winter. Danny Ulbricht was particularly superb. Ashley Bouder and Ben Millepied were Liberty Bell and El Capitain, with Bouder visibly growing into the role and Ben Millepied partnering her quite beautifully. This may not have been Millepied’s best solo performance as far as cracker-jack variations are concerned. But the point is that with his attentive support for Bouder, “Stars” as a whole worked

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I also attended the February 27th matinee. After reading Michael's beautifully written review, I'm not sure I should add my own thoughts. Anyway, I'll add just a few. The program also included Jerome Robbins' "Fanfare" and Peter Martins "Chichester Psalms." "Fanfare" is a light, entertaining ballet which was very well danced. I think "Fanfare" would be a good way to teach children about the parts of the orchesta.

"Chichester Psalms" was a very pretty ballet. The music was beautiful, the Julliard

Chorus sang wonderfully, and the ballet didn't go on too long. (It's my opinion that most of Peter Martins' ballets go on way too long.) The choreography was somewhat repetitious (another problem IMO with Martins' ballets), and I don't think I'd like to see every year. It was a nice novelty, but if I never saw the ballet again, that would be fine with me.

"Liturgy" was a gorgeous, endlessly fascinating ballet. It's the kind of ballet I want to see over and over, so I can get more of it with every viewing. Michael has described it so perfectly that I'm not going to say any more.

The highlight of the afternoon for me was "Stars and Stripes". "Stars" is one of my favorite ballets, and it was performed so well that I went out of the State Theatre on an enormous high. As Michael has already said, Danny Ulbricht was superb as the leader of the men's campaign. He is such an exciting dancer, and he dances with such energy, such charisma. I found myself always watching him when he was on the stage, even when he was standing still. Ashely Bouder and Benjamin Millepied were both wonderful in the pas de deux. Millepied (IMO anyway) was not quite up to the level of Damian Woetzl in his solos, but as Michael has said - it all worked. And it was a great way to end a very good season.

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Well Coleen, we've never met, but we go back a few seasons you and I, attending and commenting on some of the same performances of NYCB and ABT. And all I can say is that I think you should comment, and should describe, and not defer to anyone else, and not be shy, because that's what makes this Board interesting. MP

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