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Winter Season (NYCB) Wrap Up

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Could we have some summary comments on the recently completed Winter Season at NYCB? My sense from reading the posts as they were written (I haven't gone back and read them again; this is from memory) is that there was enormous excitement at the beginning of the season, and a feeling that the company was dancing very well. Then there were comments about casting, and individual programs -- I have a sense that generally people were happy with the season, if not happy with every performance.

What do you think now that it's history?

What were the highlights? What programs interested you, worked for you? Any new works stands out? Any debuts? Any great, or not great, performances?

Who was the season's ballerina?

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I saw twelve performances during the NYCB post-Nutcracker winter season, so I guess that qualifies me to have an opinion. On the whole I was happy. For me the best night was Friday, Feb 8, when the program was Allegro Brillante, Morgen, and Serenade, the latter two ravishingly conducted by Andrea Quinn. Parenthetically, I don't understand why most NYCB programs nowadays are divided between two or three conductors. Has musical specialization gone that far? Anyhow, Ansanelli and Woetzel were wonderful in the Allegro, and during the rest of the evening everybody else, including Jessica Jones, the soprano in Morgen, was inspired.

You might say this was the season that Ansanelli finally came into her own, so I was distressed to see her fall flat on her face in Ancient Airs and Dances, during the last performance I attended, Feb 22. But she got right up again, seemingly unhurt. Another bad Ansanelli moment for me, through no fault of hers, was a performance of Faun with Damian, when a cell phone rang in the second ring -- and rang and rang and rang. The continuing absence of Monique Meunier, a dancer whose inner fire and commitment shine through everything she does, was cause for unhappiness.

The practice of eliminating intermissions reached laughable proportions toward the end of the season, when Fancy Free and Episodes were performed with no intermission between them -- just a pause -- a very, very long pause, since the set for Fancy Free had to be struck. Somebody's not thinking clearly.

The best and worst new ballets of the season were by Peter Martins, Hallelujah Junction and Concerto for Strings, respectively. I didn't see Viva Verdi, but had seen it last summer (in Saratoga, not Parma) and thought it a lot better than Concerto for Strings.

It's unfair to single out favorite dancers, but I will anyway: Maria Kowroski, Wendy Whelan, Ashley Bouder, Rachel Rutherford, James Fayette, Charles Askegard, Peter Boal, and Daniel Ulbricht, the Tom Gold of the future.

[ February 27, 2002, 05:42 PM: Message edited by: Farrell Fan ]

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Ballerina of the Season?

Alexandra Ansanelli, if only for that resplendently magical Allegro Brillante. There were quite a few other wonderful performances as well. And can we please have more Jennie Somogyi, and Miranda Weese and Monique Meunier healthy and back on stage?

I'd also like to put in a thank you to the management for programming so much Balanchine. It's the repertory's bedrock, and we'll never stop buying tickets to see it.

[ February 28, 2002, 01:27 AM: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]

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That Allegro of Ansanelli's was wonderful. I remember near the end how her smile kept getting wider and wider, as if she realized how completely she nailed it (Sigh -- it's going to take awhile for the Olympics-speak to wear off, I'm afraid). Her debut in the "Allegra Kent" role in The Concert was a bit problematic, as if she were trying on the character, like the character tries on hats. Well, she'll grow into it.

Another high point of Ansanelli's season was her glorious lead in Fall, from The Four Seasons.

But her season ended with a bang -- she took a fall in last Friday's Ancient Airs and Dances (just after a tricky part where she does chaines upstage while spotting downstage). Though she finished the performance looking only a bit rattled, all her appearances for the rest of the final weekend were cancelled. Let's hope it's nothing serious or long-term -- she does seem a bit fragile and injury-prone.

Speaking of which, just as much as the season was marked by great programming (the more Balanchine the better, and I hope somebody in charge has noticed the big crowds all [or mostly] Balanchine nights draw), it was also marked by many absences. Miranda Weese's toe-shoes proved particularly difficult to fill -- we got Abi Stafford as the designated-pinch-hitter for Weese in just about everything, even though it sometimes seemed like the more-mature Somogyi might've been more suited to those occasions. Kyra Nichols, apparently on maternity leave, danced only at the season's opening-night gala back in November, and I fear we might not see her again. Margaret Tracey retired, after dancing for most of the season at the top of her form. Carla Korbes was out with an injury. Monique Meunier is becoming another Allegra Kent in the infrequency of her appearences, for whatever reason.

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I adored Melissa Barak's "Telemann", it may not be the greatest ballet ever created, but it gave hope that some of the younger generation still unders Mr. B and appreciates him.

I'd give a gold medal to Ansanelli

A silver to Margaret Tracey

and a bronze to Abi Stafford

And in the sport of it all, I'd award a second gold medal to Wendy Whelan who always seems to stay healthy.

While we had Balanchine this season, in spring they perform more non-Balanchine/Robbins, mostly because of the Diamond Project (I hope).

I'm still waiting on Rutherford's promotion though. And hoping they rehearse more.

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Memorable moments, the opening night Serenade - I needed to see that ballet. Margaret Tracey's final performance in Scotch.

The advent of Asanelli, after the winter season I believe she is a ballerina.

The season's biggest surprise - how much I missed Miranda Weese. I've always admired her but never warmed to her. Now, I realize she is one of the backbones of the Balanchine rep.

Peter Boal in Dances at a Gathering and everything else. The continued development of James Fayette, and Alex Ritter as Drosselmeyer - I loved his performance.

The way in which Wendy Whelan brings an individual intelligence to each of her roles, even those like Mozartiana in which she is less than ideally cast, and convinces us that this is the way the part should be danced.

I'm sure there's more but it is too early in the morning to look for my programs.

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Oh, yikes. I think I should be disqualified from further judging for forgetting to mention Whelan. I guess my only excuse is that she's so unique (I know, you're either unique or you're not, nevermind), so damn good at everything she does, that it's easy to take her magnificence for granted. She was exceptional this season in many roles, not just the ones she owns, like the first duet in Violin Concerto or Swan Lake (she's grown into an Odette to die for), Opus 19, etc.,, but also ones for which she doesn't seem, at first glance, to be well-suited. I loved her Mozartiana, how she turned it into something bright and almost playful (ably aided by Hubbe) or even the sleepwalker in La Sonnambula.

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Besides what everyone else has written -- for Alexandra Ansanelli's Friday Night Allegro Brilliante was the performance of the season for me too:

1. The improvement of the Orchestra under Andrea Quinn. Although we still hear some of the sourest notes in the horns I have ever heard from a professional orchestra anywhere. But not nearly so often.

2. Peter Boal's Melancholic and Jenny Somogyi and Charles Askegaard's Sanguinic in the 4Ts.

3. Seeing La Sonnambula. The more "abstract" Balanchine (Symphony in C, Monumentum Pro/Stravinsky Violin Concerto, for example) is always well represented in the repertory. But I also love to see works like La Sonnambula and La Valse (last season - in fact these two works are linked).

4. Philip Neal and Nikolai Hubbe had particulary consistent seasons and they, and Damian Woetzel and Charles Askegaard, carried more than their share of the repertory among the men.

5. Janie Taylor in Jeu de Cartes and Morgen. She's not always comfortable in the Balanchine rep right now -- though see her in the Tartan role in Scotch Symphony -- but in these she's the entire Star package. I can't imagine any other dancer equaling her in Jeu de Cartes, the flow, command, lyricism, strength. If someone asked me to define "Turn Out," I'd say go see Janie Taylor.

6. Pascale Van Kipnis's Beautiful Winter. Not just in Divertimento # 15 at the end, but modestly, night after night, in roles such as the Valse Bluette in Swan Lake or as a side soloist in Theme and Variations, where she could easily have had the lead.

7. Ashley Bouder in everything she danced. Mostly soloist roles (as is appropriate for a what, seventeen year old?), such as the Pas de Quatre in La Sonnambula, one of the couples in Soiree, Raymonda Variations (stunning), Viva Verdi, Hallelujah Junction, Ancient Airs and Dances -- and finally in the principal role in the Firebird last week. Where she surpassed her amazing performances of last Spring. Bouder is getting just what she should dance right now and would that we could say that of everyone.

8. Jennifer Ringer's beautiful debut in Scotch Symphony.

9. Finally I also think that Maria Kowroski had a season of tremendous development (and vulnerability) seeming to me to step outside of her given persona (or impersona) up to this time and to begin to find out who she is as a dancer. That's quite a risk for someone who's already a star, but so young, and I loved how open she seemed to this process. It's what's necessary if they're really to grow, because what they've got or what they seem to have got inside them is more than half of what makes them a Ballerina.

10. It was, however, an extremely uneven season of performances. The casting was disastrous in Symphony in C and in Theme and Variations, and it's hard for any season to recover from that. The company doesn't seem to really know who its principal women are or how to develop or to employ them. In that lies the entire challenge for the years ahead. You can only go so far on the strength of the corps de ballet. A finished performance needs to be finished at the top.

[ March 01, 2002, 08:01 PM: Message edited by: Michael1 ]

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Thank you for all of these summaries, and please, please, post more!

A totally irrelevant comment in the grand scheme of things, but I had to protest one thing Michael wrote.


Although we still hear some of the sourest notes in the horns I have ever heard from a professional orchestra anywhere. But not nearly so often.

Sir, I feel I must defend my city's honor here. Washington bows to no one in sour note horns. We've had them in "Sleeping Beauty," we've had them in "Sacre" and there are passages of "Romeo and Juliet" that would send you screaming from the theater. biggrin.gif

[ March 01, 2002, 12:25 PM: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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