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NYCB, 2/16/00

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Just a few notes about last night's City Ballet program.

It started with Irish Fantasy. I always find myself enjoying this ballet more than I think I will, or remember that I have. It has a weak and overly cute beginning, but Jacques d'Amoise (the choreographer) flirted with overly cute throught his entire career. It does have a charming part for the ballerina, and Miranda Weese was delightful. As usual, I was entranced by her footwork. I can't help but note that there many dancers, even in City Ballet's corps, with prettier feet than hers. She doesn't have a particularly deep arch or taper. This just makes her all the more interesting, since, when she's using her feet (which is just about all the time -- she is a ballet dancer, after all), I find it hard to take my eyes off of them. Her footwork is big, clear, strong and agressive, as has oft been noted, but I also find myself fascinated by the way her feet seem to flex and breathe when she's just bourreeing -- this was one of the unexpected high points of her recent Mozartiana for me. When I could take my eyes off her feet, I noticed her animation and playfulness. She even struck up a bit of a rapport with Damian Woetzel, who seems to actually be there in spirit as well as body these days. While I doubt Woetzel and Weese will ever have the brilliant partnership that perhaps they might, at least they seem to be collaborating better now. I also admire the way Weese can carry off wearing the largest set of false eyelashes I've seen in my life. More power to her. As I remember from last season, Woetzal's brilliant, all-out rendition of the killer solo with scads of multiple pirouettes and double tours to the knee didn't seem to garner the applause it deserved. Perhaps d'Amboise was capable of selling even harder than Woetzal?

It's hard to adequately describe or praise Leibeslieder Walzer. It's perhaps Balanchine's most brilliant achievement, especially the first section, where using little more than a gently balleticized ballroom vocabulary, he creates worlds within worlds. It helps that Karinska's costumes and David Mitchell's sets are drop-dead gorgeous (as are the Brahms love songs), but it's Balanchine's choreography that astonishes me, not just the tremendous invention and variety he creates with a very reduced movement palette -- the man never lacked for kinetic imagination -- but the absolutely telling nature of every step and gesture, down to the most minute turning of a cheek or raising of a gloved hand. These are eight intriguing individuals, paired up in four very different and very distinctive relationships, and part of the charm of Leibeslieder is seeing how these relationships grow and change. I can't pretend that there isn't a great deal to this ballet that eludes me, and will continue to elude me. Despite its surface simplicity, it's very dense, and very rich.

I'll just say I thought the cast was magnificent. Pascale van Kipnis brought her usual roseate glow to her fledgling romance with a suitably dashing Nicolaj Hubbe, Charles Askegard reverently supported the ethereal Darci Kistler, Miranda Weese and Damian Woetzal, again, looked fine together, but I couldn't quite peg the nature of their relationship. Woetzal was proper and a bit remote, but it may be appropriate for this part, or it may have been another example of his occasional disembodied affect. I can't decide yet. In her mature and committed pairing with Nilas Martins, Wendy Whelan had one of her nights -- the kind where it seems that the world is turning in sync with her back.

I can't see this ballet often enough, and I'm glad it will be given a few more times before the end of the season (with Jenifer Ringer making her debut next week!).

The program closed with a sentimental favorite, Stars and Stripes. I'm sorry this ballet's going out of the repertory, as the company does a bangup job with it lately, particularly the men's campaign, which is usually the high point of the ballet for me. Not that they weren't brilliant (especially Tom Gold with his neat trick of landing from a double tour in passé and continuing seamlessly into turns à la séconde), but Margaret Tracey and Charles Askegard absolutely nailed the big, showy pas de deux. I used to think that, despite her formidable technique, Margaret wasn't as interesting a dancer as her underrated sister, Kathleen. But since Margaret's return last year from, I think, having a baby, she's impressed me with a piquancy and wit I hadn't noticed before, along with her sparkling footwork, which was much in evidence last night. She handled perfectly that tricky diagonal with splits to the side alternating with soutenu turns. She started with a low, small split, and each subsequent one got higher and wider until the last, huge, exuberant leap. Askegard was a nicely loopy El Capitan, mugging with delight at the audience every time he lifted or turned Tracey, as if to say, "Isn't she terrific?" Some men look a little embarassed at this corny role, but Askegard clearly loved it, from the extra snap to his salutes while doing those flexed-foot entrechats, to the kiss he blew at Tracey a kiss as they posed at either side of the stage in the fourth campaign, waiting for their turn to join in the high-kicking finale.

Now I have about a dozen older performances to get caught up on.

[This message has been edited by Manhattnik (edited February 18, 2000).]

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Thanks for the comments again, Eric! (And thanks for those on the gala. Your writing was transparent enough that I could tell from reading it that even with Lacarra's performance, it's the type of event I'm personally happier missing.)

Knowing Chuck personally, he's a lanky sweet Minnesotan, and about as unpretentious as they come. The great thing about Stars and Stripes for him is he can do the role exactly like that, and it works. I'm betting D'Amboise had a similar "aw shucks" quality to him, but I've only seen him on film. I had asked Chuck if he had seen D'Amboise on film, he said he had been coached by Sarah Leland and some of the details are what she had said Jacques had done. I think it's one of Chuck's best roles.

As for Miranda's false eyelashes, perhaps the largest pair you had ever seen on a biological female. . .I have a few drag queens I'd like you to meet.

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To continue with Liebeslieder, I thought when I first saw the Weese/Woetzel part (with Saland and Andersen) that they were mismatched--he was hopelessly in love with her, and she was only fond of him. Even now I can remember Andersen's pleading looks, and her apologetically touching his bowed head. With Saland, I got the feeling that she felt she was trapped, and desperately (but genteely) eager to escape--I remember she kept looking away, and outward with those dark beautiful eyes.

I don't think Weese captured that quality, though she danced beautifully, of course. It was almost like she was playing peek-a-boo with her glances, and at one time the audience started to giggle. (I only saw her a couple of years ago, and don't know what she is like now.) But when she first did it, for me she wasn't really able to express much more than the steps when she was dancing. But when I first saw it, I thought that couple had the most complex relationship.

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Well, it doesn't help that Woetzal looked attentive and somewhat interested, but little more. I wouldn't say he was a cipher, but there wasn't anything passionate going on. I imagine it would be difficult for Weese to look trapped or uncomfortable with a guy who appeared to be just a bit more than merely solicitous.

It takes two to tango, or not, especially in this case.

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