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NYCB Spring 2006 -- Performances

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It's been a long time since I saw such a scene at the New York State Theater; a smiling choreographer taking hands with grateful dancers for curtain call after curtain call. That was the scene tonight after the premier of Alexei Ratmansky's "Russian Seasons," which, unlike most premieres in recent years, looks like a natural addition to the NYCB repertory. Distantly derived from Russian folk dances, with six couples in different colors, it's reminiscent of Robbins' Dances at a Gathering, but with a lot more punch and depth. Composer Leonid Desyatnikov takes his tunes and texts from Russian tradition -- with soulful, sliding violin solos and an earthy mezzo-soprano. The songs are sad, in the Russian style -- a young girl engaged to an old man she hates, another whose soldier boy doesn't come home from the war, and a closing hymn about how in the next world, we need nothing but six feet of earth and four boards. But the last line says Alleluia, Alleluia, thine is the glory, our Lord!

Why were the dancers grateful? Because here they had a choreographer who created for them, on them, seeing their gifts and exploiting and expanding them. Ratmansky understands the potential in the feminine lyricism of Jenifer Ringer, the aggressive brilliance of Sofiane Sylve, the tragic ethereality of Wendy Whelan. He differentiated them and gave them each something to dance that they could make their own.

The whole cast looked thrilled -- the usually dour Alina Dronova kicking up the dust as she revealed her Russian roots, Sean Suozzi tucking up his legs for maximum daylight, Abi Stafford and Georgina Pazcoguin flashing one radical angle after another. But in the end, the ballet belongs to Whelan and Albert Evans, a pair for all seasons. Their closing pas de deux is a tragic denouement and a benediction all in one, just like the words to the song. Go, see.

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Thursday, June 8

The Bolshoi's AD

Alexei Ratmansky's Russian Seasons seems yet another hit in a remarkably fruitful run of Diamond Project creations this season. The ballet is for twelve dancers, well, stars, to an often beautiful and always danceable twelve-section score by Leonid Desyatnikov. Everyone seems to get individual treatment from the choreographer, or at least each looks very distinct. Yet emotions, always front and center in this work, run the range from sad to joy for each. Much what you would expect from the creator of the Bolshoi's summer Met hit, The Bright Spring.

There is color-coding in this work, that reminds a bit of Robbins. A Robbins-like use of folk themes too. If I can trust my memory: Orange (Whelan/Evans), Red (Sylve/Ramasar), Green (Ringer/Stafford), Magenta? (Stafford/Hendrickson), Amethyst (Pascoguin/Carmena), Blue (Dronova/Suozzi). Wendy Whelan gets to be sad the most and often Ratmansky explores her lyric side. It is also a major role for La Sylve who receives the most virtuosic (but not only) choreography: think Masha Alexandrova! Abi Stafford looked absolutely radiant.

About half the sections include singing by mezzo Susana Poretsky, wonderful in that Russian sort of way. A grade of F to the person making decisions about the program notes. A little summary about what each song was about would have been an immense help to figuring out the story (with such well-drawn characters there must have been one). The last was clearly liturgical in nature, for which Wendy and Albert switched to white, as if for a wedding. Yet if it was a wedding it was an emotionally complex one, with more than a hint of sadness or contemplation to it.

Other sections featured some beautiful violin work by Arturo Delmoni. Of course Maurice Kaplow conducted. Everything should be first class for Mr. Ratmansky.

The audience responded with sustained cheers and applause, which peaked in volume when Mr. Ratmansky was brought on stage. Once the curtain finally closed the powers-that-be only permitted four curtain calls. Again, the loudest was the one for which Ratmansky joined the dancers. A fifth would have been a sure thing, and why was there no solo call for the choreographer?

I didn't fully understand what was going on. But the choreography was so individual and inventive, and worked so well with the fine score, and brought such life to the dancers, that I'd love to see Russian Seasons many more times.

M&M, R&J

The program began with three short works. This time Charles Askegard partnered Tess Reichlen in M and Rebecca Krohn in &M. Teresa has now found the Love Story in Monumentum and those Balanchinian arms/hands/fingers grab it and never let it go. This is wonderful. Rebecca Krohn gave another fully-realised performance of Movements, but a feature in Playbill says she was coached in both M's by Susan Hendl. I look forward to seeing each in both.

Yvonne Borree danced Juliet in the balcony scene with beauty and joy and was rock solid. Why not, with Romeo danced by super-partner Tyler Angle? He is having a sensational break-through season. They received a fitting ovation.

Big Bird

Maria Kowroski gave her third performance of the season. I loved her first. Did not see her second, which was apparently not so well-received except by Mr. Rockwell. In #3 I was again moved by the profound changes this bird underwent after receiving the Gift of (giving) Trust from Prince Charles Askegard. There seemed a moment of near-mystical experience for Firebird. Later, after her rescue of the prince she became a stage-filling new being. Rachel Rutherford was a magnificent bride, really dancing the part, and radiating beauty. What a lucky guy, this Ivan!

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Michael, that is brilliant! Yes, I thought of both of them while I was watching, and boy did I wish I was looking at either of them, rather than what I saw. I'm afraid that I didn't see any real characterization, just a lot of energy, and I couldn't tell one season from another. I think the songs, which were beautiful, are complete on their own, and the dancing was just a distration.

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Thanks to flipsy for providing story context from the content of the songs.

Time Out has posted an interview with the choreographer in which he discusses the back-story for Russian Seasons, and the way he saw various dancers in order to individualize their choreography.

..I'm trying to give the dancers the stories behind the songs, but I don't want it to be literal. ...

I take them [the stories] from the words, which are very beautiful, but in a very naive way.... "Postovay" talks about the soul wandering. I have Jenifer doing the soul and three men as angels. In "Dukhovskaya," one of the girls is upset because her boyfriend didn't come home from the war, so it's mostly sad. It's a Russian thing. You don't find happy women in Russia. They are always complaining or crying. [smiles] Doesn't mean that their life is so difficult. It's just the way they think.... The closing song, “Posledniaya,” is so beautiful and sad....It says that we want to grab everything we see but we actually need only a little piece of earth and four walls at the end. [He crosses his arms like a corpse.]

Comparing American with Russian dancers:

I'm not sure if this is right, but for Russians, the center of movement is more in the upper body; it's lower with the American dancers, so I'm working on relaxing the upper body and trying to get them to move in all directions with their shoulders, neck and head, contracting and arching the back and giving much more freedom for the arms.


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The Russian Seasons = Les Noces at a Gathering.
A perfect summation of the feel of the piece, but I think that is due more to the folkloric basis of the music (Les Noces), and the comparable sizes and changing groupings of the casts (Dances). I don't see this work as derivative of Robbins -- different vocabularies -- but there is no getting around the fact that it and Les Noces share great-great-parents.

It also became evident fairly early in the work that this was not seasons in the usual winter-spring-summer-fall sense, but in a more generalized sense of the cycles of life. This is reinforced by the silly pillbox-helmets the women wear in the first dance, then discard until the last dance. (The only possible justification for the headgear is the signalling of a completed circle.) Other than that -- and the ladies' unflatteringly bare legs -- the costumes are very attractive. The dresses are a heavier fabric than chiffon, but from my perch, I couldn't quite make out exactly what. This, of course, emphasized the weight of the choreography. I liked the effect.

I also saw Wendy (whose role depicts grieving -- between this and In Memory of . . . she's been steeped in loss this week), in her white dress and "halo" of flowers as an angel, rather than a bride. The ambiguity is tantalizing.

cargill, I have a feeling that the "characterization" which you missed may gel as the dancers settle into their roles. But I'm not sure Ratmansky was necessarily constructing "characters" who were consistent throughout the ballet, just the way the characters in Dances . . . .(except Green woman) have fluid personlities and moods -- to the extent that in my career, I've seen several pieces reassigned.

But back to Russian Seasons, I want more! And, judging from the sublime satisfaction on the dancers' faces at curtain call, do they! They tore into this ballet like starving dogs into red meat.

A note about the Lavery R&J balcony pdd: Tyler Angle makes this unmissable. From his first entrance -- shooting on backwards from the wing -- he is a classic, romantic hero. Using the scant choreography, he manages to convey many shades of passion -- always in flux, and always expressing primarily through his body. And he managed to bring out the best in his Juliet -- Yvonne Borree. I wonder whether he's in the right company, but this guy is a unique presence at City Ballet. The Powers seem to value him. I just hope he isn't being overworked.

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I was thinking the same thing - Tyler was a romantic partner In the Night Wednesday,

Romeo on Thursday, the Red Violin lead and a Fancy Free sailor on Friday. I kept

looking at the roster thinking they got the Angles mixed up....and his debut in

Liebeslieder last month was unforgetable. :)

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Baiser de La Fee was beautifully performed on Sunday afternoon -- Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz were the principals and in fact I believe off the top of my head that they have had every performance of this both this Winter and this Spring. They have this ballet pretty nearly perfect at the moment, in comparison to anything I can remember in recent years (the comparison being certain Peter Boal and Margaret Tracy performances, in one's mind's eye). The corps de ballet too is extraordinarily crisp and well rehearsed in this right now. De Luz is partnering Fairchild much much better in general than he was earlier in their joint career and also gives a strong dramatic reading. He is modest, thoughtful, at moments exuberant, then restrained and fate-struck. Fairchild is at first exterior, doll-like, then increasingly and paradoxically human and constrained to emotion. Her expression, both their's really, at the moment when she is "called" to another world by the entrance of an orchestral theme, was so convincingly done -- The use of her eyes at that instant, the change of expression were very striking. Then a long pace into backbends, in there somewhere also she embraces him at the waist in the deepest of backbends. One also remembers his earlier tour of the stage into little stumbling drops to the knee, his hand brushing the floor forward in a flourish. Lovely performance. I don't expect to see trhis better performed than they are doing this right now, at least for a long, long time. Andrea Quinn also conducts Stravinsky well, she is at her best in that.

Earlier Sunday the Ratmansky cancelled for one performance to give the dancers some needed rest, one hopes. Barocco and Tchai pas were substituted and in the latter Ana Sophia Scheller gave a very strong performance. A new cast also went into Fearful with a strong debut by Carrie Riggins in one of the principal roles, and also by Jennie Somogyi and Maria Kowroski -- This is a most interesting and arresting cast. A good day.

Unexpectedly and quietly, with many younger dancers going into roles, and distraction and competition across the plaza, the company is dancing at a strong peak right now.

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