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NYCB, 5/17

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NYCB, 5/17: La Source, Appalachia Waltz, The Four Seasons.

This is the first review I have posted, so here I go...

It was a pleasant surprise to see a mixed bill of choreographers whose pieces complemented each other so well. The night started off with La Source by Balanchine with music by Delibes. This ballet is pretty straight forward: pas de deux, solos, corp with soloist, pas de deux, solos, corp finale. A minitiature classical ballet without the plot. The principals dancers, Margaret Tracy and Peter Boal, were, well, lovely. Margaret Tracy looked like she loved being a ballerina and was clearly enjoying this role last night. Her moves were crisp and clear and arms flowed. All of her movements flowed together and when she was dancing with Peter Boal she looked even lovelier. Peter Boal is IMO one of the best partners at the company. He allowed her to be the ballerina. His variations were good; his jumps wonderful and he looked so regal.

The main disappointment in this piece was the corp and the soloist, Abi Stafford. The corp was mostly composed of younger and newer dancers, Melissa Barak, Martine Ciccone, Elena Diner, Megan Pepin, Sarah Ricard, Carrie Lee Riggins, Kristin Sloan and Jamie Wolf, and I don't know if it was because of lack of rehearsal of the piece or nervous energy, but everything was a little off. Their lines, their overall alignment and their arms and port de bras, were all over the place. All of the little idiosyncracies that can creep into a dancer's overall upper body presentation after spending some time at SAB were present. Lots of bent writsts, flying arms and wildness. With that said, I do have to comment that those eight women show a lot of promise and talent and I often wonder if you have a corp with many talented dancers if that can be worse than having a corp with solid, good dancers. Any of those eight women could of danced the soloist role in La Source and they may of performed better than Abi Stafford did last night.

I know that Abi Stafford is the latest wunderkind and I know that she is young, but she didn't thrill me last nice. Her dancing technically is wonderful. Great feet, fantastic jump, very nice upper body movement, but she looked frigthened. Almost like a deer in headlights. I know that this a new role for her, but I was hoping to seem some sort of sparkle, something that makes her different from those eight other corp girls and I just didn't see it last night.

The next piece, Appalachia Waltz, was choreographed by Miriam Mahdaviani, and she has quite an eye for dancers and movement. The piece is set to music by Edgar Myer and Mark O'Connor and performed by a trio of a violin, cello and double bass who sit onstage in front stage right corner. The audience really liked this ballet and it was performed very well. Toward the end of the piece it seemed to become a southern fried Square Dance with a do-see-do, but otherwise the dancers seemed to be having a lot fun and enjoyed dancing this piece. The two principal couples were Albert Evans & Jennie Somogyi and Jenifer Ringer & Nilas Martins. Evans and Somogyi were fantastic. The two have so much elasticity in their joints that in one of their pas de deux it looked like they were playing cats cradle-with their bodies. They were electric and there was an underlying sensuality to their dancing. Ringer and Martins were nice, but not as electric as Evans and Somoygi. Ringer and Martins seemed to run out of steam. The piece has a small corp of eight dancers that are more like four sets of demi-soloists. Mahdaviani gives each of the eight an opportunity to shine and they all did. Aesha Ash, Rachel Rutherford, Eva Natanya and Abi Stafford danced well together, and Rutherford and Natanya shined. Stafford looked much more comfortable in this piece. She looked like she was enjoying dancing. Their male counterparts were complementary and danced just as well. All of them were soloists: Arch Higgins, James Fayette, Jerome Hoeffens and Jared Angle. My companion commented on how their were more male soloists than female soloists in the company right now--2:1 to be exact, and they are all good dancers. When did this happen?

The night ended with Jerome Robbins The Four Seasons and the company was on. There was this incredible energy in everyone's dancing throughout the entire piece and seemed to increase from section to section. However the section that ultimately got all of the audience's applause was Fall. Antonio Carmena almost stole the ballet with his impish autumnal Puck and it looked like at times he was about to leap into the audience. A last minute replacement for an injured Benjamin Millepied in the Fall section brought a great treat: Damian Woetzel dancing with Miranda Weese. This was the first time I have seen them dance together and they were great. They compliment each other so well and Weese has really majured into a wonderful dancer. And Damian Woetzel. He just gets better with age. The other sections were good as well: Janie Taylor, who I am liking more and more, with Jerome Hofmans, Alexander Ritter and the shivering corp. of snowflakes; Pascal Van Kipnis and Philip Neal in Spring with a great corp of men, Stuart Capps, Kyle Froman, Craig Hall and Stephen Hanna and Summer with Rutherford, who looked radiant and seemed to be encompasing the idea of summer, and Marcovici. Overall the corp looked fantastic in this piece. They were on. Who knew that they loved dancing Robbins ballets? There was so much energy in that piece and synchronization. I don't know how many times I can say they looked so good after seeing them look kind so lackluster in the past.

One quick note though, the theatre was half full. I was very surprised to see so many open seats. Any speculations? People going to see ABT? Economic woes? Thursday night?

I look forward to reading other people's thoughts...

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Thanks very much for being brave, and getting your feet wet, as it were, in the muddy waters of writing about dance performances :) And thanks for writing in such detail -- I'm sure many will enjoy reading it.

It is dispiriting to hear continual reports of empty seats, especially when, in general, it seems that the company is dancing on a high this season.

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Yes, thanks for the detailed review, Bellepoque!

Part, but only part, of the problem with empty seats at NYCB right now is because there are three companies performing in NYC right now, and only so much audience to go around: NYCB, ABT and Eifman. I was surprised to see Eifman tickets were available at the half-price booth in Times Square -- last year they were sold out every night. I think this must have something to do with the big-gun competition this week.

It is also nice to see reports of Weese and Woetzal working well together, as veteran observers can attest that this hasn't always been the case.

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Thanks for the great review!

>>My companion commented on how their were more male soloists than female soloists in the company right now--2:1 to be exact, and they are all good dancers. When did this happen?<<

Unfortunately, they are good dancers, but with the exception of Millipied and Marcovici (perhaps), not ready to be principal dancers or like, IMHO, Fayette, Higgins, Houston, Ritter and Gold, seem to be going no farther than soloist.

And NYCB is definately in need of new blood in the principal ranks. I believe that all of the male principals are in their thirties or very late twenties. Of the nine men: LaFosse only dances specific character roles, Boal and Soto are fabulous dancers, but increasingly limited in rep/stamina by age, Evans peforms only in a more limited range of roles. Martins is solid, but by no means a crowd-drawer. Hubbe has been injured more often than not recently which is very worrisome, as is this recent injury to Millipied. Askegard and Neal are both very good and still with years of good dancing left. Woetzel is also as good as ever, but I seem him retiring before he begins to slip to far. Overall, it is not a stable situation, and Peter Martins better start thinking about moving new men up the ranks and/or enticing new and/or established dancers from other companies to join the NYCB. The female ranks are better, but also are aging in the principal ranks.

Anyone care to comment on this subject...disagree, agree...


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I saw Four Seasons last Friday with a very simliar cast and was also struck by Carmena's Faun. It was exciting but very cleanly danced. I much preferred this performance to that of Hendrickson last season, which I felt was too unsubtle and less carefully danced.

Van Kipnis was a lovely surprise in Spring, giving a more girlish cast to the role than we see from Ringer. This was the best work I've seen from her. It was also nice to see Rutherford in Summer, I was afraid she was being overlooked in favor of Taylor but notice she is back dancing La Valse.

Millepied's performance in Fall was a little uneven. He didn't seem to have a way to sustain the musical impulse throughout his variations. They started and stopped and so he was less satisfying in the role than Woetzel who can make each variation seamless.

Last Friday also featured Monumentum/Movements in glorious performances. Askegard partnered Kowroski in Monumentum. She made me think of Diana the Huntress, chaste, powerful and fleet. Alexopoulus danced with an icy sensuality and a total involvement that I have rarely seen from her.

I saw Abi Stafford in Divertimento #15 for the second and she had relaxed considerably by the second performance. Maybe she's a dancer who needs time to work into her roles. Perhaps her next performance of La Source will have some sparkle.

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I was at NYCB on Thursday May 17 as well. Giselle at ABT was very tempting, but I couldn't resist the lure of Appalachia Waltz which I adore and which is not coming to Saratoga this summer.

I found it to be a very mixed evening choreographically and quite uneven. I had brought my sister, who is not the rabid fan that I am, but who loves the O'Connor/Ma/Meyer music. I wanted her to see what Miriam Mahdaviani had done with it.

So in that sense I was glad for the variety. It gave my sister a chance to see Balanchine (although not Balanchine at his best, IMO, more about that later), a new young choreographer and vintage Robbins.

Personally I don't get La Source. I call it "cotton candy ballet"--pink, fluffy,pretty, s-w-e-e-t. I think it is far from the Blacnchine masterworks, very far. It was danced carefully, precisely, and pretty cleanly by Margaret Tracey and Peter Boal. There are a few moments of sublime beauty. The rest I find repetitive, with music that is not memorable. I will say that I did enjoy Abi Stafford though. I have concerns that she is pushed so hard at such a young age (can you say "Ansanelli's injuries?"), but I liked her in the soloist role. What really has me scratching my head about this ballet is that I think it is much, much harder than it looks. I don't think the dancers (or the audience) get a lot of bang for the very hard buck in this piece. Not everything is a masterpiece, even if done by a master.

Appalachia: does any one else who was there think the musicians were out of tune and/ or out of sync in the beginning? I thought so. My sister didn't though, and so maybe I was just being overly sensitive, since I anticipated it so keenly.By my favorite part (the dance for the four couples) the musicians were playing beautifully. I think this work IS a masterpiece--musically and choregraphically. The above-mentioned dance for eight is breath-taking and it was done to perfection. It is worth the ticket to the ballet just to see those few moments. Bravo.

I also agree that Jennie Simogyi owns that part. I have never seen her look lovelier.

My sister actually enjoyed Four Seasons the most. How could you not love it? I had hoped to see Jenifer Ringer in Spring, as she is my personal favorite among the women. However, seeing Pascale was a revelation. She was fresh and lovely, and made me think years back to Kyra. I also loved Rachel Rutherford in Summer and hope that she will be getting more opportunities again. She is a STRONG dancer with real presence.

Damian replaced Ben Millepied. Truthfully, I had never seen a bad performance from Damian until this one. He was all over the place with his turns, he slid twice (perhaps the floor was more slippery than usual, there were a few other near-misses from others),

I thought his performance was out of control. He was outshone completely by Carmena.

Well this was my first real post and it turned out to be a marathon! Thanks for listening....

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Guest ballet buff

Peter Boal was absolutely amazing in La Source on the 17th. Each time I see him dance on stage, I just sit there in awe of his wonderful style. It was a joy to see him deliver such a great performance where all of his turns were on, and his jumps were high.

I found Abi Stafford's performance in La Source not to be the best one that she has ever had, but i still enjoyed watching her. In the winter season, she seemed to dance the role very well, and it was wonderful to watch.

liebs-I agree with you that by the second time Abi Stafford danced in Divertimento #15, she seemed much more comfortable in the part. I enjoyed seeing that entire cast.

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Just a word to say thanks to all of you -- especially to those jumping in with your first reviews, and the length is just fine :) Welcome to Ballet Buff. I hope you'll all keep posting. It's wonderful to have so many viewpoints on a single program.

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I hesitate to continue this thread about a performance of last week -- particularly since this is my first post and Alexandra gave such a kind wrap up. But I did have a couple of points to add.

About Appalachia Waltz: I echo the praise for both the ballet, and Evans and Somogyi. They were amazing. But I thought it interesting that I saw this ballet last year at its premiere, and I liked it far more this time around. I really don't think it was due to the performance. Rather, I think it has more to do with the Diamond Project. There seems to be a big problem -- at least for me -- with putting a number of unknown and uneven ballets on the same program. Sadly, I don't expect to fall in love with a Diamond Project ballet. So, whether that expectation impacts my enjoyment of these ballets or whether the uneven quality of the evening drags everything down for me, I am never enthralled by the Diamond Project. My differing view of Appalachia Waltz the other night has given me pause.

As for the Four Seasons, I was also wowed by Antonio Carmena. Have I been sleeping? Where did he come from? Although I am a longtime NYCB subscriber, I've never taken such notice of him before.

And I have to disagree with the criticism of Damian Woetzel. Yes, he slipped a few times. But his recovery and his confidence in doing so were a sheer joy to watch.It might have been an off-night for Woetzel, but like most of the audience, I'd take an off-night from him before a great night from almost anyone else. And the adoration he invokes from the NYCB audience seems to me palpable. I always wonder why his fame is somewhat limited to New York, when a dancer like Ethan Steifel -- even before the recent movie -- seems to be known worldwide. Although Steifel is a fine dancer, (like Martins) I would choose Woetzel over him any day.

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Welcome, justafan, and glad you posted. My post was meant (as is this one) as an encouragement, not a signal that all has been said :) Often people weigh in after a week, or even a bit longer; if you're going to the ballet, it's hard to have the time to write about it.

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To weigh in on Stiefel vs. Woetzel...

I've also often wondered why Damian is not more popular outside NY...since, IMHO, he is a far better and more rounded dancer than Stiefel.

I don't think that Ethan was that popular outisde ballet circles until "CenterStage". IMHO, the reason he was/is more known, is that he has spent a considerable amount of time guesting with other companies, and toured with ABT. He was the center of a huge advertising campaign for Zurich Ballet, and has gotten attention for his looks and bad boy personality.

Damian, on the other hand, has guested across the globe, but mostly in one night or fortnight appearances. He's also done more in smaller US cities, in Russia and in Japan, where he's less likely to be a huge hit. I think another main reason that Damian isn't as popular, is that NYCB has a very group oriented attitude and doesn't advertise based on it's stars. ABT uses Ethan to pull in an audience, but NYCB doesn't really use Damian in the same fashion. NYCB's posters are much more aubtle than ABT's big flashy color posters of its dancers.

Also, I think because NYCB does few full length ballets, one doesn;t tend to focus on a star..you see many principals dance each night. Thus, again, the focus on the group...you don't go to NYCb to see one dancer dance a role all night long.

Still, I wish more people knew about Damian and other NYCB dancers. Many of the people that I know who have become Ethan fancs though the movie think he is the "be all and end all" of dancing. Ethan is a fine dancer, but not on the scale of a Peter Boal or Damian Woetzel in scope or parterning skills or experience.



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