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REVIEWS: NYCB Spring 2007, Weeks 2-3

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I think Macaulay was brave and did his job, which is to represent the concerns of the audience -- and the audience has not forgotten that Ms Kistler lodged charges against her husband years ago any more than the public has forgotten that Balanchine fired Farrell, then took her back. This is common knowledge, and it's germane. The onstage slap awakened memories of the offstage slap for me when I first read about it -- even though in California, I haven't seen the ballet yet,i t's the one detail I have VIVIDLY pictured. I have to agree with Mel, this is the one gesture that seems to resonate in a ballet that usually has its own wires crossed.

THE VERY fine thing about Macaulay's essay is the compare/contrast essay he 's written about appropriate use of this gesture in other works, which heightens the sense that Martins is confused as to the KIND of ballet he is making.

............

PS his article is not British tabloidism, which is of course unbelievably vulgar.

The Brits are different from us (I lived in England for 3 years, which is long enough). Just where you would NOT expect it, they are human and not squeamish; if something is on EVERYBODY's mind, they'll talk about it. Their journalism is also in the best sense personal -- they do not pretend to be objective, they just try (the best of them, and Macaulay is one of their best) to find out as much as they can and then say what they think. I admire that.

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I think Macaulay was brave and did his job, which is to represent the concerns of the audience...

THE VERY fine thing about Macaulay's essay is the compare/contrast essay he 's written about appropriate use of this gesture in other works, which heightens the sense that Martins is confused as to the KIND of ballet he is making.

I agree.

The slap in Martins' R&J comes as such a shock because Martins really doesn't venture much at all, choreography-wise, orignality-wise, into other aspects of the story. There's nothing interesting or new, choreographically, in the way the romance, the "awe," and the sensuality of the R&J story are seen. Instead Peter's personal touches stand out alarmingly in the unexpected bits of violence.

Btw, the stage slap.... The reason Jock's back is turned away from audience.... It all happens so quickly.... he doesn't actually hit Juliet's face. He passes one hand right past Juliet's face and as quickly as possible lands that hand into a clap with his other hand's palm. That's where the clap sound happens. That's a stage slap. The audience doesn't see the mechanics of it because Jock's back (with huge cape) is to the audience, and the focus is on Juliet's face whiping to the side (from the fake slap) and her body being knocked to the floor.

Erica and her Romeo were even better this weekend than last, both were even more free with their acting, and both were beautifully connected in their pas de deux. She is breath-takingly perfect for this role.

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I traveled from DC on a bus to see yesterday's (May 12) matinee. Quick thoughts:

* Pedestrian choreography, except for the two big pdds for Romeo + Juliet. Some of Martins' dramatic-movement choices -- Juliet walking backwards up the steps to her bed, for example -- are nonsensical & unrealistic. And this Verona came across as an under-populated village inhabited by only classical dancers. There was absolutely no sense of 'village life' and Italian color. Poor, poor staging choices, all around.

* Horrendous set! Those two big corrugated-cardboard boxes masquerading as a palace!? From 4th tier, it appears as if one is looking down on two big, beige moving boxes. Totally CHEAP-looking yet I'm sure that NYCB was charged a mint by the so-called 'designer.' YUK! Costumes not so bad - at least they had a unity of look.

* Who the heck told Kistler & Soto that they could act? She comes across as a self-conscious ghost (pale, non-expressive face). The death of Tybalt barely registered in this restrained Lady Capulet! He: All I can state is, "Mr. Soto -- you're no Vladimir Ponomaryev!"

* I love Craig Hall in adagio pieces, such as Robbins' 'Afternoon of a Faun'...but he is NOT a bravura dancer, which this version of Tybalt is called upon to display. Hall's weak pirouettes-a-la-second in A2 made me long for the Tsiskaridzes and Sarafanovs who CAN do this sort of dancing.

* The much-touted 'slap' was milk-toast yesterday. Perhaps it was altered, after the NYTimes article came out? I've heard Raymondas slap louder in the A3 'clapping variation' than Jock Soto's mild attempt yesterday afternoon. Nobody around me was shocked. What's the big deal?

Still, I'm happy that I went for three reasons: Erika Perreira, Allen Peiffer and Daniel Ulbricht - fabulous dancers & actors all! Pereira is a feather-light angel with the glamorous dark-haired, porcelain-beauty look of Fonteyn or Ringer. Now I don't feel so bad about the imminent (in a few years) retirement of Jenifer Ringer; Erika Pereira will be my NYCB ballerina of choice for many years to come! Seeing her Juliet -- even in this crappola production -- was worth the 4.5 hours each way in a cramped Greyhound bus.

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I completely agree with your comments about yesterday's matinee. I was there too with friends who had not yet seen this R&J.....

Yes, that much-touted 'slap' was barely there yesterday. It needed to be altered...I'd rather it wasn't there at all, but.....Let's hope toning it down a lot came about because Peter had read all the very negative comments and realized his mistake.

I'm very happy too that we saw this beautiful performance from Erica once again. She could easily be a movie or theater star if she wanted -- she's that fine an actress! I really didn't expect it from such a young dancer esp at NYCB.... What a talent!

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Now, see, here's another instance of Martins being Heeznobalanchine. If Balanchine discovered that a particular thing resonated with an audience, he'd try to keep it as is! And in this case, where the dancer is in no particular danger, it's foolish to tone down a moment that works.

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drb, thank you for the wonderful review of Peiffer+Pereira. I'm glad it was such a good performance. :crying:

I saw Kathryn and Tiler, and loved them both, but oh DRB, I am so jealous that you saw Erica.

Drats.

JIM

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Regarding the slap – I saw it twice from the right side of the house and it really did look like Soto struck the ballerina, but I also saw it once from the extreme left side arm and from that vantage point it was clear that what he actually did was hold his other hand in front of her face and slap his own hand. In any case it was a very effective gesture!

Thank you so much, nysusan and others, for your assertions that the 'slaps' were indeed faked. I was ready to go the distance on this one to find out what really happened and to pursue corrective measures. I had already contacted the New York Times. There are a lot issues involved here, as alluded to by carbro and others, but to me the most serious issue has been put to rest.

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A slap on a stage is a stage slap, and therefore it is staged. Slapping your own hand while the other actor appears to have been slapped is a trick in theater that is as old as performing.

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Next oldest is having the slapper take a roundhouse swing at the slappee, who turns his/her head, violently, as if struck, but what the audience does not perceive is that the latter has clapped his/her own hands! Same goes for the one where a third person facing upstage claps their hands. Then we go to the offstage slapstick.

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Will two weeks of sold out performances of R+J force a delay in producing the Martins/Kirkeby Danish Manon?

We should know shortly, as when you go to NYCBT's site there's now Winter Season printed there, but not yet "clickable."

[edited to add, at 12:16, Winter Season is no longer there...!?]

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I think Macaulay was brave and did his job, which is to represent the concerns of the audience -- and the audience has not forgotten that Ms Kistler lodged charges against her husband years ago any more than the public has forgotten that Balanchine fired Farrell, then took her back. This is common knowledge, and it's germane.

I agree, Paul. For better or worse, that is part of Martins's legacy for many long-time NYCB-goers. What I found interesting was Macaulay's theory that this was meant to be an apology, but Martins's two protagonists didn't pull it off to any effect.

Re: dancers, I wish I had been able to see Perreira as Juliet.

Off-topic: re: the photos to which drb linked, seeing a current photo of David Byrne is making me feel really old.

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I think Macaulay was brave and did his job, which is to represent the concerns of the audience -- and the audience has not forgotten that Ms Kistler lodged charges against her husband years ago any more than the public has forgotten that Balanchine fired Farrell, then took her back. This is common knowledge, and it's germane.

I agree, Paul. For better or worse, that is part of Martins's legacy for many long-time NYCB-goers. What I found interesting was Macaulay's theory that this was meant to be an apology, but Martins's two protagonists didn't pull it off to any effect.

I'll add my support of this view too. Macaulay's reporting here, to paraphrase from another recent BT discussion, "connects the dots," making us think about Martins's work in the personal context of not only his body of work but in the cultural context of gender and ballet. This marks a kind of watershed at the Times for how they report on dance. Film, literary, theater, opera, and even music criticism have long done this; dance critics still by and large privilege the mode of what literary critics call "new criticism"--that is, they describe dance works as stand-alone entities. This approach sets up a hierarchy of concerns, with movement and "what you can see" as primary to discuss, and contextual information (biography, connection to other works or to cultural events, audience reaction, race/gender, material conditions of a work's production, etc.) as less important Sometimes this results in inspiring criticism--Denby, Croce, Jowitt, etc.--but sometimes I find it a limited approach. That's what was refreshing about Rockwell, for all his faults--he aimed to contextualize dance in the wider world--and, now, Macaulay (who, as people have noted, may not always be good at describing/analyzing movement).

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I'll add my support of this view too. Macaulay's reporting here, to paraphrase from another recent BT discussion, "connects the dots," making us think about Martins's work in the personal context of not only his body of work but in the cultural context of gender and ballet. This marks a kind of watershed at the Times for how they report on dance. Film, literary, theater, opera, and even music criticism have long done this; dance critics still by and large privilege the mode of what literary critics call "new criticism"--that is, they describe dance works as stand-alone entities. This approach sets up a hierarchy of concerns, with movement and "what you can see" as primary to discuss, and contextual information (biography, connection to other works or to cultural events, audience reaction, race/gender, material conditions of a work's production, etc.) as less important Sometimes this results in inspiring criticism--Denby, Croce, Jowitt, etc.--but sometimes I find it a limited approach. That's what was refreshing about Rockwell, for all his faults--he aimed to contextualize dance in the wider world--and, now, Macaulay (who, as people have noted, may not always be good at describing/analyzing movement).

I basically agree with this but would also point out the tremendous amount of publicity attached to this production. It was an homage to Lincoln K (huh?), all the lead roles were going to be done by students, the production design was going to enhance the dramatic thrust, the open to the public dress rehearsal, the promotions announced during the later part of the run. The media ran with this and generated a lot of buzz, helping to sell a LOT of tickets. But once you've created a publicity beast, it's not always so easy to tell it to be a good beast, go back into it's cage, and go to sleep.

For myself, I'm not too surprised at the somewhat expected fallout of resurrecting the Martins incident. After all, woven through Macaulay's article was then theme of violence to women.

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I think Macaulay was brave and did his job, which is to represent the concerns of the audience -- and the audience has not forgotten that Ms Kistler lodged charges against her husband years ago any more than the public has forgotten that Balanchine fired Farrell, then took her back. This is common knowledge, and it's germane.

I agree that it's germane, Paul. But -- someone correct me if I'm mistaken -- I don't believe Kistler ever filed charges. Or if she did, she dropped them almost immediately.

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My feeling is that this airing of very ancient dirty laundry is inappropriate, misguided and better fodder for Page Six. . In a book, perhaps, and in context, there may be a valid reason to do so but in the context of a ballet thought piece it seems egregious and the first inelegant step from Mr Macauley.

If memory serves, the 1992 incident involved a shove, not a slap. Neither is acceptable behavior, but a shove presumes a certain amount of control; a slap does not. A shove reads "watch it!"; a slap is a blow.

Mr Martins & Ms Kistler have been married about twenty years and have a young daughter who may be the one to suffer most from this report which could be news to her and will be news to her friends, schoolmates, companions. This is needlessly and thoughtlessly hurtful. It may also come as news to many younger members of the company Mr Martins runs.

Macauley makes a great many assumptions in the heart of the article when referring to Martins "being aware of his reputation" & his further assumption as to the reason for the slap in the R+J scene.

And what is the purpose of writing this? It seems pointless to me. And very disappointing.

I agree, zerbinetta. This certainly wasn't what I was expecting from Macaulay. The incident between Martins and Kistler is a matter of public record and not beyond discussion, but the elbow-nudging tone of the piece I found unpleasant. And, as you observe, location matters - this is the Times. The subject of the changing treatment of women in ballet is a legitimate one, but surely the oeuvre of Peter Martins is not the only place to look ("Shambards" comes to mind as just one example). (Not having seen R+J, I can't comment on the impact of The Slap, but corporal punishment would have been considered quite in order for such a rebellious daughter once upon a time, and Lady Capulet might even have joined in.) Yes, relations between the sexes have often been fraught with tension in Martins' ballets, and the point has been made elsewhere more than once, but unless the gossips know something I don't hauling up the old incident in this fashion sheds light on nothing.

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Thanks, BSS. In this review, author Michael Popkin, comments:

"... the sets, the blocking, and the youth of the cast of New York City Ballet's "Romeo and Juliet" remind you of a cartoon version of the tragedy performed by a high school drama club..."

HIGH school? How about GRADE school for the two beige corrugated boxes that comprise the set? Then again, even grade schools have teachers supervising the construction of scenery. The R+J boxes look like the sort of thing with which neighborhood kiddies play 'knights and castles.' The surprise of the performance came when Juliet stood on the 'roof' of the palace; I was amazed that such flimsy-looking boxes could hold a human.

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[...] corporal punishment would have been considered quite in order for such a rebellious daughter once upon a time, and Lady Capulet might even have joined in.

Well, it's certainly a matter of debate whether noble persons would engage in such behavior. But whatever the case, Martins's production, by all the descriptions, seems uninterested in the finer points of realism or historical accuracy.

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Yes, thank you, indeed, BSS! However, Natalia's excerpt leaves out the very important contrast that Popkin draws - because she's left out this portion: "the ballet has furnished an effective vehicle for a group of the company's most talented young dancers."

Michael Popkin's piece titled "The Kids Are All Right" goes on to draw out this observation by writing

...On Saturday afternoon, the brilliance of the two young leads -Erica Pereira as Juliet (18 years old and still an apprentice dancer) and Allen Peiffer ( just a few years older) as Romeo - tipped the scales in favor of the production.

Ms. Pereira is a slight but strong dancer with beautiful arms, long legs, and a flexible back who caused a stir among ballet aficionados at last year's School of American Ballet workshop. She has not only physical facility but also appears to be a natural actress. Her dramatic reading of the character on Saturday afternoon - progressing credibly from innocence to eroticism, determination, and then fear before a compelling death scene - was extraordinarily precocious.

Mr. Peiffer was just as striking as Romeo: He's a prince by physical type, long legged and with the stretched lines and elegant physique more commonly found in boys trained at the Kirov or Bolshoi academies in Russia than at New York City Ballet, where the men have recently tended to be punchier and more muscled. As was true of Ms. Pereira, he transcended the given material and gave a coherent, dramatic reading of his role. Of everyone who danced Romeo these past two weeks, he realized the death scene the best. Upon discovering Paris approaching the tomb with flowers, Romeo jumps on the catafalque and then pounces upon his rival and kills him. With Mr. Peiffer, this moment was finally unforced and convincing...

In my reading of this review, I feel the thrust is much more about what was "right" with this performance and much less about what so many feel was wrong with the production. :)

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BW - Regardless of what's the thrust of the article, the fact remains that this production is such a clunker that it was clearly stated in the opening of the review. In other words, let's not obsfucate the fact that this R+J is a bomb of a production by hiding behind the talent of the dancers. I would much rather see Pereira & Peiffer next in anything BUT this horrible ballet. And the review of this ballet is the thrust of this thread.

The wonder is that the beauty, grace & talent of dancers such as Pereira, Peiffer & Ulbricht were able to shine through despite the production. It's a testament to their artistry that they were able to triumph above the mediocrity. Just as Daria Pavlenko & Michael Lobukhin of the Kirov personally triumphed in the 2006 Dog of the Year ballet, The Golden Age.

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Yes, thank you, indeed, BSS! However, Natalia's excerpt leaves out the very important contrast that Popkin draws - because she's left out this portion: "the ballet has furnished an effective vehicle for a group of the company's most talented young dancers."

Michael Popkin's piece titled "The Kids Are All Right" goes on to draw out this observation by writing

...On Saturday afternoon, the brilliance of the two young leads -Erica Pereira as Juliet (18 years old and still an apprentice dancer) and Allen Peiffer ( just a few years older) as Romeo - tipped the scales in favor of the production.

Ms. Pereira is a slight but strong dancer with beautiful arms, long legs, and a flexible back who caused a stir among ballet aficionados at last year's School of American Ballet workshop. She has not only physical facility but also appears to be a natural actress. Her dramatic reading of the character on Saturday afternoon - progressing credibly from innocence to eroticism, determination, and then fear before a compelling death scene - was extraordinarily precocious.

Mr. Peiffer was just as striking as Romeo: He's a prince by physical type, long legged and with the stretched lines and elegant physique more commonly found in boys trained at the Kirov or Bolshoi academies in Russia than at New York City Ballet, where the men have recently tended to be punchier and more muscled. As was true of Ms. Pereira, he transcended the given material and gave a coherent, dramatic reading of his role. Of everyone who danced Romeo these past two weeks, he realized the death scene the best. Upon discovering Paris approaching the tomb with flowers, Romeo jumps on the catafalque and then pounces upon his rival and kills him. With Mr. Peiffer, this moment was finally unforced and convincing...

In my reading of this review, I feel the thrust is much more about what was "right" with this performance and much less about what so many feel was wrong with the production. :)

BW your point is well taken Mr Popkin wants to draw our attention to the title The Kids Are All Right and thats where we should focus our attention!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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In my reading of this review, I feel the thrust is much more about what was "right" with this performance and much less about what so many feel was wrong with the production. :)

BW your point is well taken Mr Popkin wants to draw our attention to the title The Kids Are All Right and thats where we should focus our attention!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Actually, newspaper writers never write their own headlines--editors write them.

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Well, let's not split hairs here... Whether the editor gave it the title or not - 99% of that article discusses the dancers and speaks to how well they performed.

I'd have to guess that many weren't enthralled with other aspects of the production...though I have to share that two people to my left in the orchestra loved the sets - so "go figure", as they say! :)

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It doesn't take anything away from the review or the great job those dancers did, but the review had to take that slant. Just as newspaper editors write the titles, another rule is that if you're writing about the premiere, you review the production. If you're assigned to do following casts, you review the performances. If Michael had been covering the premiere, it could have been a different review because he would have focused on the production and mentioned the performances as a lesser element.

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The subject of the changing treatment of women in ballet is a legitimate one, but surely the oeuvre of Peter Martins is not the only place to look ("Shambards" comes to mind as just one example).

Whatever it is that's happening to the ballerina in the "Central Park in the Dark" section of Balanchine's Ivesiana unsettles me far more than The Slap ...

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