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NYCB catch-up

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A few notes about some recent NYCB performances.

Wednesday night was exquisite. Whelan and Hubbe had an exuberant chemistry in Mozartiana, bringing out the playfulness inherent in the duets. I thought it was rather nice to see Hubbe playing up to Whelan, and how well she responded -- lately the man in Mozartiana tends to be a bit formal and correct, if not downright aloof.

I've always considered the Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee to be a sibling of Mozartiana; it was fascinating to have them done one after the other. It is truly Margaret Tracey's finest role, and Peter Boal danced with the grace and poetry I remember from Helgi Tomasson, in that gorgeous male solo.

It was so perfect, I left at the intermission; I've never seen Jeu de Cartes. I'm sure I will someday. It would've been just too perfect to end the program with Scotch Symphony.

Last night was a bubbly Dances at a Gathering. Yvonne Borree continues to be a the center of the ballet, and Benjamin Millepied has really gotten the hang of tossing Ringer in that big applause-getting spinning throw.

Viva Verdi was a Trifle, looking like little more than vaguely dreamy noodling around to the music. Here we have Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard dancing to a violin reduction (played ably by Catherine Cho) of one of the greatest love songs of all time, and they do -- what? Pose prettily, mostly. Abi Stafford and Ashley Bouder had a little duet in which the pointe work was hopefully not as painful as it looked, and Mandragieff (I have doubtless gotten her name wrong -- apologies!!) has to watch the cuteness.

Violin Concerto was clean and pleasant. Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto were their usual exquisite contortionists in the first aria, and the Danish guest, Lindstrom (no program in front of me for the first name) was pretty and pleasant in the second aria (is this the Designated Visiting Ballerina role these days?). Once could make comments about how svelte Nilas Martins looks next to Jock Soto, but one will attempt to refrain.

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Carrying these accounts forward, I'll just tack tonight's on to these previous ones of yours, Eric.

Friday night's performance of Tschai Suite No. 3 was very good indeed.

In particular, the first three "movements" had a dramtic coherence -- both together with each other and in contrast with Theme and Variations --which I've not before associated with the first portion of Tschai Suite # 3. (I say "first portion" because the ballet almost seems to break in half to me when the scrim is raised prior to Theme and Variations).

So well did the Elegie, Valse and Scherzo fit together tonight in my eyes that I felt that Balachine's (in a sense) arbitrary act of just tacking them on to the front of Theme and Variations was a kind of stab of genius on his part. There, he did it, he put them there, and now you can't imagine them any other way and they even seem to belong there in front of Theme. I like them all together.

Monique Meunier was superb in the Elegie along with Robert Lyon -- She simply took my breath away. And Jennifer Tinsley, of all people, very much impressed me in the Scherzo. Interesting that Scherzo -- I kept mentally contrasting it with the scherzo in Midsummer Night's Dream, a rich contrast which shows up the more complex, less linear way in which Balanchine used the stage in Tschai Suite.

As to Theme and Variations, I'm also surprised to say that I found Abi Stafford and Damien Woetzel's performances -- in fact the entire Theme and Variations -- very beautiful.

I was sitting in the first row of the orchestra, so projection simply wasn't a problem for me. Stafford held the stage very well as far as I was concerned. I also don't know if maybe Abi has just grown more confident in the role this past week. Every performance is different.

But anyway, Stafford seemed secure, confident, radiant and strong, and I liked the way she moved. She wasn't Miranda Weese in the role but she was a very good Abi Stafford. I'm not at all sorry I saw her, nor do I wish I'd seen anyone else perform it. It was far from the worst performance of Theme I've seen over the past five or six years and in fact it was one of the better. She made the role her own tonight to a large degree and the audience called her back three times at the end. I was struck by the detail she rendered in her dancing, and also how she showed an openness or vulnerability, a more interesting perfume, than I've seen from her in other performances. This was a strong debut from her in my eyes (if a third or fourth performance can still be called a debut). And it helped that Damien Woetzel also gave one of the better performances I've seen from him in a while, as good as I've liked him this fall and winter. His weight seemed to give her peformance balance and something to lean on.

I'm with those who love Theme and Variations, but then I love this entire ballet and prefer to see it performed together like this. I wonder what the others think of whether this "belongs" together, though?

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Michael -

Suite No. 3 feels like two pieces to me as well (I once wrote a piece on it entitled "A Two-Part Invention.")

When last I saw it the first part seemed dated to me, but in a kitschy way I enjoyed. "My Three Ballroom Loves in Santorini" or some other imaginary picture from the 60s filmed in Panavision and starring Jean Seberg or Audrey Hepburn or Maximillian Schell or. . .you get the idea.

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The same question occurred to me tonight, Michael. Having seen Tuesday's Theme and Variations on its own and the complete suite tonight, I can safely say I like them both. Those first three sections are so moody and romantic that when the scrim finally gives way to the dazzling ballroom scene, it's a thrilling release -- even before the dancing starts.

I feel a little ashamed of having dismissed Abi Stafford's performance the other night. I take it back. I liked her a lot tonight. And I agree with you about the performances in the Elegie and Scherzo. I would add that Kathleen Tracey and James Fayette were very fine in the Valse.

So I'm with you in preferring to see the entire Suite No.3 at NYCB. As far as ABT and other companies, that's another story. But we're lucky in New York to be able to see both versions.

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I was there last night, too. Let's see if I can add anything to the review pile.

Soiree still looks trivial -- it always will. Hate the costumes. The men look like riverboat gamblers, and those itty-bitty upturned tutus in those overly-saturated sherbet colors for the girls make me think of Marilyn Monroe as a ballerina posed over that infamous subway grating! Having said that, it was a nice showcase for the leads, particularly Taylor in her strangely intense duet with Orza. It does look as if Mandrajieff might be the partner Ulbrecht's been needing -- she's only about an inch or so taller than him when she's on pointe.

I remember not long ago when I first started watching Wendy Whelan dance, I had a hard time figuring her out. I thought she was very good, but it wasn't until I saw her in Opus 19 that I realized she is truly a great dancer. (I already knew Peter Boal was great, even then.) There was a thread here once about dancers taking over roles and doing better than the role's creator; as much as I loved Patricia McBride, I'd have to put Whelan's portrayal here among that list. A lot of the credit, of course, goes to Robbins. This could easily be a "boy-dreams-up-fantasy-girl, boy-messes-around-with-fantasy-girl, boy-wakes-up-and-loses-fantasy-girl" kind of cliche, but Robbins was too canny for that, and made something far deeper and more interesting, realized beautifully by Whelan.

I love Suite No. 3. I don't care if it's silly or kitchy, or if the first parts look tacked-on. I remember a dance-critic acquaintence of mine telling me years ago, "I think it tells a story." I think so, too, although it's a different one eacy night.

I especially adore the Elegie. It's over-the-top silly and romantic, but with the right people it's powerfully moving. I don't think I've ever seen the woman's role danced better than by Meunier last night, even by Von Aroldingen. Aroldingen had a kind of wise, grave and tragic mien here, as if she knew her little intermezzo with the man was going to fade out in a few moments, and was, perhaps, wisely holding a bit back. Meunier danced as if she knew it was a doomed affair, and couldn't have cared less, except that it made her that much more committed to it, as if she had to savor every run across the stage (I do love that big kick she does where she seems to continue with the motion and spin herself entirely around just before one of her exits), and every second, because she knew it would end soon. Lyon, who's turning into a bit of an Allegra Kent, was quite fine and committed, and partnered Meunier quite strongly and respectfully.

I thought Katherine Tracey and James Fayette were great in the Valse, and doesn't Tracey have a magnificent waterfall of hair? Often this movement is just filler between the Elegie and Sherzo. I liked the way the two made such great drama over how they'd find and lose and find each other again. This couple isn't doomed, but they know they might be, if they're not careful.

And Tinsley was great in the Scherzo, with Tom Gold flying high, as is his wont. I liked the way Tinsley could be so aggressive and quick, yet look like she was always holding a bit back, like she was dancing like a demon in a quest, not quite successful, to take her mind off of some internal ones.

In Theme, well, Stafford's much better in her allegro solos -- there's some phrasing and breath there that was lacking in her debut, and she generally looks happier. And she her gargouillades were satisfyingly large, not the little sketches I see here too often. So points to her for that. But in the "reverie" with the corps women, she had a blank, by-the-numbers look to her, as if she were doing an adagio combination in class, and not a particularly interesting one. Similarly, she's just not a grand ballerina for the big adagio with Woetzel. Someone needs to mail her a few cases of Ballerina Polish right away.

Woetzel seems to have perfected his latest permutation on the second solo: double tour, double pirouette, double tour, slowwww single pirouette, double tour, double pirouete, etc., etc.

I just picture his to-do list in the mornings: "Get up, walk the dog, get groceries, do the laundry, dance Theme, put groceries away, walk the dog..."

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While doing crossword puzzles.

Meunier's performance will stick with me a long time. She was also very finished in her shoulders and arms and there may be no dancer whose going to, or rising up from the floor, or whose unfolding, developing movement has more of a breathtaking air of inevitability about it for me.

Tracey and Fayette deserve every word of the praise above, it was a wonderful performance from them. I only omitted it from my first gush because sometimes things get so long.

Also, in the corps, I couldn't help noticing Ashlee Knapp behind Tracey and Fayette in the Valse. Boy, is she growing, both literally and as a dancer, since being made apprentice. Physically now taller and rangier, and moving with such large, sweeping, musical steps, and losing -- but thankfully not entirely because it's part of her perfume -- that slightly "goofey" teenage affect she's always had.

In fact, you notice how all the apprentices jump to a new plateau when they begin going to company class and dancing in the corps every night. That Savannah Lowery has suddenly developed a fuller epaulement, for example, which was evident behind Meunier in the Elegie, or Megan Fairchild in the Scherzo. It's fascinating to watch.

An interesting little thing not in the program was Pascale Van Kipnis as one of the demi-soloists in Theme, in place of Pauline Golbin. It must have been very last minute as you could see her watching the others for the steps.

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Apropos Manhattnik's comment about the "overly-saturated sherbet colors" of the costumes, I heard last night that some people refer to Soiree as "Sorbet." I must confess, though, that I enjoy Richard Tanner's ballet, including Carole Divet's costumes, and, especially, Nino Rota's music.

[ January 26, 2002: Message edited by: Farrell Fan ]

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with regard to 'tchaikovsky suite no.3' and its range, clive barnes' review of the premiere performance offered a perception suggesting that the span/scheme of the ballet suggested balanchine's looking back on the following choreographic lineages:

duncan's in the elegy

fokine's in the waltz

gorsky's in the scherzo

and petipa's in the theme

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I believe someone posted that Pauline Golbin got hurt during "Theme and Variations" one night this week and wasn't able to finish the ballet. Van Kipnis must have been her susbstitute for the other Themes.

I hope that Golbin is not badly hurt, and hope to see her back on stage soon.


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Well, Golbin was on the program for Symphony in C this afternoon, but didn't dance. I'm ashamed to say I couldn't recognize on sight who replaced her. There were a lot of subsitutions today; I don't understand why they didn't add who substituted for Golbin to the program insert.

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You didn't by any chance see the awful program I saw Saturday afternoon - Jeu de Cartes, Romeo and Lavery (oops) and I'm Old Fashioned?

I don't even have the heart to write about it, the most trivial, bad, insincere and embarassing show I've seen in some time. But it's an antidote, I think -- Lest I believe that by handpicking programs like Tschai Suite # 3, Raymonda, Bizet Symphony, etc., I'm really seeing all the company does.

To me, a program like Saturday's is a lot more depressing and worrysome than the casting controversies recently aired. There is little excuse for such shallow, insincere, drivel. If this was all classical dance had to offer, they ought to consider putting the horse out of its misery, though thankfully that's not the case. Robbins' estate should supress I'm Old Fashioned, however. It's embarassing when the only bravos really heartfelt in the audience are for a dead ballroom dancer on a thirty foot high movie screen. (Though Jennifer Ringer made a game attempt to do something with the choreography, which I think is the one really unrelieved bad and totally shallow and sentimental thing I ever saw Robbins do -- usually he at least had stagecraft when all else failed him). The audience around me liked it all the same, but does that excuse it? They would've equally liked something better.

The one ray of light was Janie Taylor in Jeu de Cartes, who was quite indescribable. The highest praise I can pay her, however -- and very high praise it is -- is to say that her amazingly graceful performance just, but only just, made Jeu De Cartes worth sitting through. It was the proverbial "close run thing," all the same.

[ January 27, 2002: Message edited by: Michael1 ]

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