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NYCB June 9th Afternoon

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What an embarassment of riches for a ballet fan in NY these days. On Saturday Afternoon, across the plaza from ABT's Don Q (reviewed so well in another thread by Drew) we saw extremely strong performances of Balanchine's one act "Swan Lake", and of "Duo Concertant," as well as of "Square Dance" and of Chris Wheeldon's new ballet from last winter, "Polyphonia."

Swan Lake saw impassioned, deeply committed, emotional performances by Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegaard which lifted this ballet to a different level for me. I'd seen it before with different casts and had been tempted to consider it one of Balanchine's shallower works, a kind of "greatest hits" or "hightlights of" treatment of the subject. Yesterday totally changed that opinion. Kowroski danced at once with deep involvement, even with passion (with a rich, full porte de bras and those glorious arabesques and extensions you expect from her) but also had herself technically under full control as well, even in the broadest allegro passages. I thought Charles Askegaard again superb, as I had found him partnering Ashley Bouder last week in Firebird. The more I watch him, the more I find him a dancer from a different planet from the other City Ballet men -- with his tall, noble line and soft pliees in his landings, he's also a fine actor and poignantly conveyed the anguish of Siegfried's parting from Odette. I was happy to see him convert the double air turns (which Philip Neal had totally botched the week before) into singles and incorporate them seemlessly into his variation. It's not about steps and athleticism. It's about beauty.

The corps also looked the most together I've seen them this year. In general, there seems to be a rhythm to how the corps coalesces in a year. In early winter they're worn out from six weeks of Nutcrackers, lack cohesion due to the fact that apprentices have been dancing a third of those performances, and are also rusty from lack of rehearsal. By late winter, they're burnt out period. In early spring, they're rusty from the layoff. Right about now, they're in top form.

A word about Mr. B's One Act Swan Lake as I now think of it. First, the work clearly depends upon and plays off of our familiarity with the original. It would be meaningless without that, it's a gloss upon it, only possible in that connection, and a choreographic gloss at that -- meaning that what Balanchine is interested in is not so mucht the plot as the received choreographical treatment of it. The plot, already known to the viewer, is merely hinted at, but Petitpa's choreography has been condensed and transformed and in that way, paradoxically, we are presented with a compact and surprisingly moving and emotional drama, as danced yesterday. (Thanks to Askegaard and Maria K -- I cannot forget the riveting way Kowroski related to him and used her eyes and facial expressions in this performance).

From my memory (which is usually pretty fallible, but I think what follows is accurate in broad outline): all the divertissments are eliminated, as are both the parties in the palace (both Siegried's birthday and the ball). There is no Odile, no black swan pdd. We have, it seems, only Odette's discovery, winning and loss, which we understand merely by reference, as well as two waltzes for the large female corps, costumed completely in black. The use of the corps is very dynamic and innovative. For example, in the concluding scene, as Siegfired spins Odette quickly around and around (to the swirling of the music) in a gorgeous supported and inclined arabesque (with about an 160 degree extension) the corps swirls in front of them and around them, so that you see them in the midst of and behind the other dancers, a beautiful tableaux I don't remember seeing before (though it may well be in other versions).

This season we've also seen the Divertissement from Baiser de La Fee, a similar type of Balanchine gloss. I'd like to see more of them both, which disclose richer levels with each viewing, if the performance is as good as yesterday's was.

This is way too long, a brief synopsis of the other pieces:

Square Dance (which was first on the program -- Swan lake was last): Yvonne Borree and and Peter Boal had the leads, the same cast as opened the winter season in January. It was much better performed yesterday -- very well performed in fact, both by the principals and the corps. Among the corps, Amanda Hankes stood out. (N.B. --Hankes was beautiful dancing the solo variation [the "Harp"] in several performances of Robbins' Fanfare last winter, until recently Carla Korbes took over that part -- but Amanda Hankes is a gifted young dancer whom I'd love to see more of).

Duo Concertant again had the Nikolai Hubbe, Darci Kistler cast, which everyone who has posted this winter has already noted is superb beyond praise in this. I do not think it is possible to see this ballet better performed than they have been performing it.

Polyphonia -- I've not weighed in on this before, but I've seen it twice now in the past ten days and I like it very much. There are passages, certain pdds, that reach a level that justifies even Anna Kisselgoff-like praise. Other passages seem to me to be merely good, but a little dull or perhaps obscure. But I don't need a masterpiece -- I'll settle for just very good. Wheeldon is essaying himself in modernism here, trying it on, and his virtues show. Among his virtues is, as others have said, his inventiveness with steps and enchainements and, in that connection, the material here for Whelan and Soto and for Alexandra Ansanelli and Craig Hall is just wonderful. Ansanelli is breathtaking in this, from start to finish.

Her dance is to a slow, mournful, throbbing, piano piece which reminds me a little of DeBussy's Cathedrale Engloutie. Before the opening chords, she's alone on stage in half light. She relevees slowly on to point (in the silence) slowly passees and then settles down into sous sus, then pauses, still in silence, before bourreeing forward, again slowly, just as first chords sound ... The rest follows almost hypnotically, concluding at one point in gorgeous series of chainee turns. It's just beautiful, a use of her particular presence and legato qualities which is hard to convey in words.

[ 06-10-2001: Message edited by: Michael1 ]

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If my memory serves me (since it was last Winter and I can't find the programs), I saw Margaret Tracey and Ben Millepied in one cast and Margaret Tracey and Peter Boal in another. It was Tracey's best performance of the year for me. And the corps was fantastic too, slowly boureeing off the stage at the conclusion in a wide semi-circle. Just a breathtaking scene. And also that lovely chase between the two principals, with the corps en diagonal in between, where they keep flitting from one side to the other and she keeps escaping his grasp.

It's a gloss in a different sense than his Swan Lake, in that he's commenting on (or playing off of), not so much the entire choreographical tradition of a classic, or Petipa's classical treatment of that piece, but his own prior work -- in this case his previous full length Baiser De La Fee (at the old torn down Metropolitan Opera House?), which had apparently not been performed for ages when he made the Divertissement. So that instead of the entire lost ballet, we have merely a gesture or two, a severe contraction, presenting its mood and certain elements of it in a symbolic way in place of the whole or standing for it.

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Speaking of Baiser and Swan Lake, it was interesting to see that in both ballets Balanchine uses the device most familiar in Scotch Symphony, where the ballerina bourrees towards the wings, leading her partner who holds her hand that's trailing behind. She then twists back, towards him and into his outstretched arm while she bourrees, until she's spun completely around, and wrapped his arm around her. Then, somewhat entangled, she reaches towards the wings, as if to say "let's go, already, you big lug."

Odette, the Fairy, the Scots Girl/Sylph -- all are women who aren't quite human, and with designs (evil or not) on their partners. Coincidence? I think not....

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