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NYCB Spring 2008: Week 2

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May 6, 2008

Janie Taylor's Dybbuk

I went voluntarily and on purpose to see a ballet I very much dislike. The promise of seeing Janie Taylor onstage for more minutes than she's been on for full seasons was just too much a temptation.

And so there they are, in Joaquim De Luz's dream. There could be no doubt they were in love, and should be. Janie-of-the-dancing-hair of course herself a dream. But then we see him spiral into madness, the madness of love not bounded by life or not life. Mr. De Luz gave a totally committed performance, of unbending dramatic power. Even his virtuoso solo drew not a single clap, so strongly did he hold to higher dramatic purpose. I have never seen this from him. For me this was true male dancing. As Ms. Taylor was taken, she was so complex, in a way yielding self to love, and finding fulfillment, even sexual, thereby; yet when emptied by the exorcism, remaining truly empty of self, with much the void eyes of Charles Askegard when as Schumann he walks away from Clara and into the sea, in Balanchine's Davidsbundlertanze.

And yet, then, somehow her lyricism, her hair seemed on its own to dance her body.

Yes, Mr. Cornejo spun forever, and held a balance long enough to even dazzle Cynthia Gregory had she been there. The cast of Fancy Free also gave us Damian as Damian and found Tyler Angle melding his lyricism to Robbins' virtuosity as his growth continues. Merovingian Queen Clotilde Otranto was the splendid conductor, who merited the audience's love.

May Janie Taylor be forever free from injury, and grace our eyes and souls later this season with her Faun and Goldberg Variations.

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For my first (yes!) performance of the season, I chose tonight's "Symphonic Balanchine" program, which was a bad program despite two indisputably great works. But I knew that going in. Whose brilliant idea was it to put Symphony in C and Western Symphony on the same program?

For the most part, Symphony C went well. I especially liked Megan Fairchild's 3rd Mvt. At the point when the danseur lifts (or preferablytosses) the ballerina in a sissonne, Megan seemed to burst into the sky. She did this by not only stretching out her arms and legs to the max but also lengthening visibly along the spine. In recent years, I've missed the toss, and I didn't see it tonight, but a friend did mention having noticed Ben Millepied's release from a much closer seat. Ben seemed to be a little goofy tonight -- a case of spring fever? -- but thankfully not at that moment.

I found Wendy Whelan's 2nd Movement disappointing tonight. The arms never seemed to reach their intended position. This may have been an attempt to avoid closing off a phrase, but in the end it just looked lazy. Philip Neal was her partner.

However, I was mostly taking in the ballet as a whole -- something that I often fail to do as I look for familiar moments, or focusing on a particular dancer. The orchestra (under Karoui) sounded wonderful tonight*, and my ability to "see the music" was especially heightened. It is such a thrill when, watching so familiar a ballet, to discover something new. About two-thirds through the second movement the corps assembles on a diagonal line facing upstage, the demis downstage of them. It's very simple, but it struck me tonight as one of those Balanchinian inspirations that raises him to a level all his own.

After showing considerable promise last season in Symphony in Three Movements, Abi Stafford was another disappointment. She seems to have lost her authoritative presence, which was just coming forward. And none of the female principals (Sterling Hyltin and Savannah Lowery were the others) seemed to understand the ballet. Why, in the last movement, when the three come together downstage left for that dance of pointe shoes stabbing the floor, were all three flirting with the audience? Isn't the feeling supposed to be ominous? Where's the suggestion of friendliness in the music? The men (Ramasar, Hendrickson and Daching-Waring) were fine, the corps was fine, but the principal women in this ballet need some serious coaching.

Western Symphony was all Damian's. He wrung that wet sponge dry -- took everything out of it that there was to take. Rowdy, exuberant. Given the audience's excited response to him, I thought this might be his last one, but that will be next week

*I would apologize to my neighbors, if I had any (was about 4-5 seats from nearest, at end of row), for my inability to sit still during the Bizet. At least I stayed seated. :)

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Water to Wine

Watermill was tonight's curtain raiser. I felt a need to go, because given Blockhead programming, the only way to see Ashley Bouder these first couple weeks is in this program. A performance without Bouder is like a meal without wine. Also, I was a little curious about Watermill, I'd seen it way back then, really disliked it, but did not boo (probably never will). Welsely's review from last week was especially welcome, and the Times review gave me a make-believe story (a bad trip) that could at least be a framework in which to watch it.

Nikolaj Hubbe, Robbins, looked very like a Franciscan as he began the dance. Back in those 60's/70's days, it seemed that many folks liked to approach their trips from a religious perspective, perhaps with the idea that a lofty perspective might lead to some revelatory experience, or anyhow help avoid a bad trip. In sophisticated circles, that would fashionably mean not the simple faith you'd been born to, but something deeper, Eastern. (I am not taking sides, there can be profound depths in all of them. And shallows.) Mr. Robbins begins his voyage with Zen. His program notes make the association of Zen and the Shakuhachi, and that instrument dominates the opening scene. Mr. Hubbe begins, intensely contemplative, very slowly, until the arrival of groups bearing brightly colored lanterns from either side. As they converge upon the seeker, the lanterns come prettily together, and Robbins (perhaps the choreographer in him) has his concentration broken by the active movement. Perhaps just a bit, but this breach of spiritual focus means his book-Zen is hardly to be a protector vs. LSD at full strength. If that'd been his hope, he's in for a bad trip.

A high, but not really loud, tone begins in the music. Yet it is as if the seeker cannot enter it peacefully, but embelishes it one way or another. First it somewhat morphs into birdsong, very Messaien-like. At the time of Watermill the great composer and his wife were still making annual visits to Hunter College to play his music. I wonder if Robbins attended, just a dozen blocks from his home..? Other distracting shifts as well. People begin to populate his hallucination. Matthew Renko, a young man who gets the most dancing (although I found that nearly all movement that I saw was dancing). And Kaitlyn Gilliland's romantic pas with Zachary Catazaro. It is here that the seeming contemplative yields his discipline completely, replacing Mr. Catazaro with himself in embrace with Ms. Gilliland. The hallucinator enters his hallucination.

One hardly needs the Tibetan Book of the Dead to know a monster is about to appear. Adam Hendrickson, a fearsome lion-like beast. First trouncing others. Mr. Hubbe, lying off to the side, discipline not even a memory, cannot keep still, and is noticed. There is a break in the continuity of the hallucination, giving the seeker an illusory chance to regather himself. Six women, each carrying a swaying stalk from those hour-glass shaped bundles (explained by Macaulay as being on the beach during the presumed trip). I felt they were sort of yarrow-stalky, perhaps a symbol of the seeker looking for some other spiritual discipline, maybe involving divination... In any case, he is given a pair. But eventually finds no succor from this contemplation.

He kneels, as if a penitent. A spiritual gesture, unfashionable, perhaps from his DNA. As he rises, somewhat stage right, he moves toward the central characters of his hallucination, loosely gathered rear stage left. He is followed by a black death figure. Mr. Hubbe seems older. He has concerns not at all for Death. He calls to mind the serenity of the old man in Kurosawa's Dreams. I looked it up when I came home. It was the last episode. The old man was fixing a watermill. The completely forgotten name of that last dream: Village of the Watermills. I feel Robbins' journey was a success, that he has perhaps landed on his spiritual shores.

Now where was the boring part? I missed it. Slow can be full, beauty can grow from terror. There were no boos from the sparse crowd. Applause, even a few cheers. And hardly a grumble heard around me.

Oh, and then the Robbins Four Seasons. Sterling Hyltin brought a welcome touch of Darci, flanked by Sean Suozzi and Christian Tworzyanski, to winter. And then Sara A. Mearns and Jared Angle reminded us of the beauty of classical ballet, and the rebirth that comes with spring. Especially well-received by the audience. Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar showed more of summer's playful side than its languor. While returning Joaquin De Luz may not have found his turns as centered as usual, nor tried the Baryshnikov hops during the turns in second, he had his fun and gave it to us. Nor could we ask Antonio Carmena to copy Mr. Ulbricht's newly amplified virtuosity. And yes, Ashley Bouder does flirt with the crowd, but this is her play-role, NYCB doesn't do Bolshoi fun pieces, and isn't the point of fall to show us Bolshoi? She is pure joy here, and this most generous of ballerinas doesn't hold back a drop of her Champagne from us!

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I also went on Thursday and had a quite different take on Watermill. Unfortunately we have seen this ballet a few previous times (including

its premiere). I still don't like it. Its not boring. But it is tedious. If it was maybe 20 minutes long it would be an interesting diversion. But

at nearly an hour it is well ... tedious. Most of the people who sit near me and most people that I spoke to felt the same way. One woman, however, did think it was the most beautiful ballet she had ever seen. But that seemed to me to be a rare take on it. I also know feel the

same way and many of the regulars didn't show up on Thursday.

As for Four Seasons... it is a favorite of mine. Especially the Summer section - seems to me to be the most sensual ballet. Have

to run now, more later.

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I went on Thurs. and have to agree that Watermill is tedious. I dare say that I believe that Robbins' greatest works were for musical theater, a medium in which there are imposed time constraints and ideally every choreographic moment has to be specific in order to identify character & move the plot. I know I commit sacrilege but I even think Dancers at a Gathering is too long (or blame my short attention span). But perhaps that is a discussion better left to a different board.

I do agree that Bouder is the most generous of ballerinas. I wish we were seeing more of her. I hope to see her Rubies next weekend.

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I wasn't able to catch Watermill this past week -- wanted to. I don't think it's tedious.

Dances at a Gathering, though, that's tedious. Once in a blue moon, a dancer or a couple break through and make it truly exciting (I'm thinking of a performance when Jenifer Ringer in Apricot and Ethan Stiefel in brick [?] blew the roof off the theater with the the "grab my finger" duet). But mostly, it's tedious.

Watermill = engrossing and Dances = boring. I know it doesn't make sense, but there you are. Go figure.

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Last night's WORLD TOUR program was a long one, but one surprisingly worth seeing. It gave us an excellent mixture of different choreographers, even if the actual pieces would not be classified as excellent.

The opener was the forever sensual and different Bugaku, lead by Albert Evans and, gasp *trumpets blaring* Wendy Whelan. Though I am sure she has done it at some point in the past, it must have been so long ago because Kowroski and Kistler are the only ones who come to mind for recent performances. It is shocking that she has not already done it of late. Her distinct movement quality and firm connection with her partners makes her perfect for this role. During the pas de deux, she was not as much about the sexual aspect of the dance but more of the new found passion behind it. Her in this ballet is a much see!

After intermission, the second part of the performance started with Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris, a cute ballet for those who are seeing it for the first time, but otherwise there's not much to it. The young and talented Tiler Peck has picked up the reins from the absent Jenifer Ringer to portray the heroine(?) in pink, doing a splendid job. I am a little confused, though. If I heard right, Wheeldon's position as Choreographer in Residence is over and he's gone, yet their farewell to him is, not only just doing one, but one of his less-desirable ballets. I do not understand.

Following was Peter Martin's Valse Triste, what to me seems like a rather somber but beautiful pas de deux between principles Jared Angle and Darci Kistler. It has been a while since I have seen Kistler in a ballet that she still shines in, but seeing her do this was so wonderful it reminded me of the very yound Darci from so long ago.

Next was another Martin's piece, The Chairman Dances. What a blast from the past! I remember seeing it a very long time ago, but watching it reminded me why I did forget about it so easily. With a huge corps of girls led by the stunning Teresa Reichlen, it soon becomes a psychedelic dance of reds and purples, and then it ends and you realize that nothing had really happened over the period of time. The ladies did look lovely though.

The last ballet of the night was Ratmansky's Russian Seasons, a ballet that I have been very curious about. I was a little skeptical about the costumes (think skittles), but they slowly grew on me, thanks in part to the dancers I guess. Whelan and Evans led this ballet as well, along with the amazon-esque Rebecca Krohn and Rachel Rutherford. The principles, along with the corps, did an amazing job evoking the sense of Russian culture, as did the music. The combination of Russian singing with the dancing was perfect. Another must see before it disappears!

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The opener was the forever sensual and different Bugaku, lead by Albert Evans and, gasp *trumpets blaring* Wendy Whelan. Though I am sure she has done it at some point in the past, it must have been so long ago because Kowroski and Kistler are the only ones who come to mind for recent performances.
According to NYCB's casting sheet, her debut was yesterday afternoon.

Thanks so much for your review, Welsely.

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