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NYCB Spring Gala 5/10

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A strange juxtaposition last night - Peter Martin's new ballet Morgen received what I thought was a (deservedly) lukewarm reception, followed by the charming new Wheeldon ballet. I will defer to others more familiar with the Company and with the work of these two choreographers; what did others think of the evening?

I was surprised there were so many empty seats. I had expected to have a difficult time getting a last-minute ticket.

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Yes, fourth ring was only about half-filled.

I thought the Martins' work was actually quite pretty, for him, although it seemed a bit obsessivly symmetrical, and he's still into this "let's change partners and dance" thing.

The Wheeldon was a real treat, I though. Bits were brilliant, beautiful and funny. I am not sure how the backstage schtick will weather. Will it gain in stature as, I think, The Concert has done, or become a "oh-how-cute-not-THAT-again" thing.

I loved it last night, though.

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I saw the new Wheeldon at the Sat. matinee -- for those who don't know, it's a "backstage" ballet. When the curtain rises, it's as if we are watching from the wings while a company rehearses and then premiers some sort of romantic 'fairy' ballet. (The set, by Ian Falconer is very striking at creating the effect of watching 'from the side' -- and Wheeldon's choreography sort of plays with this odd perspective.) When the ballet opens, Ansanelli as the "young dancer" comes out and, thinking no-one is watching, peforms a solo facing the curtain-in-the-set -- as if she is imagining herself dancing the lead at a performance when that curtain will go up. I was really enchanted. (Remembering Ansanelli's solo in Polyphonia -- it seems she brings out something in Wheeldon and Wheeldon something in her that's quite wonderful.) Anyway, for a few minutes, I thought this was going to be a ballet about the magic of the theater -- perhaps comic, certainly naive, but a valentine. But actually, as it unfolds it's much more of a farce -- with some pretty and even some pretty dazzling dancing -- and lots of gags. For example, at the "premier," the male lead leaps about the fictional stage in his solo and as he enters the 'wings' he collapses in exhaustion; from the point of view of the real stage, our point of view, he collapses downstage. The plot, such as it is, is back stage kitch (though I kept thinking, All About Eve if Eve were the heroine): a self-involved and affected prima ballerina (Maria Kowroski) gets her comeuppance, an injury, during a partnering mishap with a member of the male corps, and the sweet and talented young dancer (Ansanelli) dances the premier in her place with an admiring and sympathetic premier danseur, (Damian Woetzel). It made me a little queasy to laugh at a dancer getting injured -- Kowroski lies on the floor sticking up a horribly turned in foot while Woetzel runs to get her an ice pack -- but the gags throughout were more or less amusing. I agree with Manhattnik that it's hard to know how they will age. The pastiche choreography of the ballet within the ballet and the other "backstage" choreography had some charming passages and the virtuoso choreography for the "premier danseur," in particular, was appropriately showy and fun. Ansanelli was lovely throughout and it turns out Kowroski can do low parody as well as high elegance. Still, the ballet never seemed to return to the delicacy of the opening solo. Perhaps if I had known what the genre was beforehand, I wouldn't have been disappointed. One of the later comic sections did hint at that earlier quality -- a dance for the backstage crew, mopping the floor while the stage manager (a girl in overalls) joins them, at one point actually standing on their linked mops and being swept across the stage with a beautific smile on her face. It seemed to me like a comic parallel to Ansanelli imagining herself as the ballerina. For a moment, the ballet seemed to say: everybody wants to dance, everybody dreams of being the ballerina. But the ballet as a whole settled for less. That said, I did enjoy it and I think it's a great addition to the repertory -- partly because it's like nothing else they have.

[ 05-12-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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I was also at the matinee (4th ring, Row H, BTW). I'd agree that there was something missing in Wheeldon's piece, but still I thought Kisselgoff gave it a very bum rap in her review today.

People around me seemed to really like the ballet, and IMHO, Wheeldon's attention to detail was one the its real stregths.

For instance-the (real) pianist wearily dragging her music bag (a PBS Ch. 13 bag of course!) in as she walked to the piano; Damian and the crossword puzzle (a while back, when she had an online diary on the NYCB webpage, Helene Alexepoulous mentioned Damian doing the NYTimes crossword); the hideous pink costumes, Seth Orza's "slurpy-sized" cup, which was left behing and eventually finished off by one of the crew.

Among the high points: getting to watch Damian Woetzel do some warm-up barre work-not something one normally gets to see. Forgive me if I was drooling watching those muscles in plies :mad:) Seth Orza's backwards baseball hat-wearing corps members was a hoot! His practice outfit of a t-shirt and cut-off cargopants remind me very much of what many of my male friends wear.

I was not bothered by the female dancer getting hurt-it was clearly intended to be a comical farce. And in another example of detail Damian crunched the insta-ice pack before applying it to the injured foot. It's one of those little things that could be glossed over, but makes it all the more real and comedic at the same time.

The other 3 ballets were also a pleasure to watch. I was disappointed not to see Nikolaj Hubbe in Zakouski, and hope it doesn't mean he is hurt again. Millipied did a fine job, though to my inexperienced eye, he and Margaret Tracey seemed just a tad off at times.

I'd seen Ash before, and no particular comments, other than wondering which of the couples in purple were the Stafford siblings...?

The corps in La Valse, IMHO, was a bit sloppy, but the principal roles were well danced. I especially liked Stephen Hanna and Phillip Neal. There was an obvious, though essentially harmless glitch at the end when the corps women lined up incorrectly for their bows-two rows of 4 on one side and rows of 3 and 5 on the other side. Some miscommmunication I guess :))

Anyway, I'm glad I made the day trip all the way from PA to see the new Wheeldon piece. I think it has the potential to grow as the cast gets more comfortable with the roles and fleshes them out!


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A few more comments (brain is slightly foggy after the drive/train rides from PA to NYC and back.

The cast pic from last summer in Saratoga, which must have been taken during the 10 minutes when it wasn't raining that summer, is a great buy at $5. Almost all the current memebers are pictured, along with dogs and offspring. The back has a complete key, indicating who is who, identifying not only the dancer, but their kids and dogs. I thought that was a cute touch!

Random thoughts relating to the picture...how did Russell Kaiser and Margaret Tracey's son end up with such blond hair? Where was Damian Woetzel's dog, Q? LOL-Seth Orza in the (same?) backwards baseball cap-ballet imitating life? No doubt that Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette are/were a couple :mad:) Edwaard Liang front and center...NYCB's loss, Fosse's gain.

Can't wait to come back in two weeks and see more great dancing!


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I like the new Wheeldon a lot. I saw it both Thursday night and yesterday.

For one thing, the ballet within the ballet is really quite good. While it's at once a parody of Ashton's Midsummer Night's Dream, and of Giselle -- the women's corps running in a circle around the male principal in the concluding scene, for instance -- I actually enjoyed it, as romantic ballet, more than I have enjoyed a lot of "real" performances of such pieces, and I think Wheeldon's been careful to make a dance, in that respect, that succeeds.

The Mendelsohn score (cobbled together and orchestrated from piano compositions? - I'm not sure) worked very well as Mendelsohn. It was very enjoyable grand romantic music.

The farcical subplot of the dancers backstage can also be seen as a thematic parallel of the action "on stage" -- echoes also strike one of Konservatoriet, Etudes, and Robbins' Ma Mere L'Oie.

I agree with Drew about Ansanelli's dreamy entrance, but I would go further, as I thought the Grand Pas de Deux for Ansanelli and Woetzel very beautiful. It doesn't matter, it only added to the beauty, that it was slightly tongue in cheek, and Alexandra Ansanelli is just the dancer to pull off such an irony while still dancing to blow your mind. She was simply wonderful in this piece -- but she is, to my thinking, as beautiful a ballerina right now as any one working today (and I don't say this lightly at all).

Ansanelli is also a very different dancer now than she was two years ago, having grown up noticeably. She is a physically mature now, having been "discovered" some time ago at, what, sixteen years old? The transition from baby ballerina to mature woman, as a dancer, can be difficult (Cf., Paloma Herrera). But for Ansanelli it has been a blossoming without losing any of her appeal. She still has the amazingly forward placement and flexible back, the radical turn out, but she is stronger, more appealing, and assured, more confident and powerful now, and her dancing seems "stretched" in a sense.

I also liked all of the well coached detail in this ballet. The stage hands dance with the brooms was charming, not an easy thing to pull off.

In short, no complaints from me about this one. See it if you have the chance.

[ 05-13-2001: Message edited by: Michael1 ]

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