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Favorite ballets by Peter Martins

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In his role as NYCB's Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins is subject to much criticism, some of it by me. I think his choreography, while not eliciting raves at Ballet Alert, is another matter. From his first ballet, Calcium Light Night, to this past season's Hallelujah Junction, he has amassed a huge body of work. He gets an A for industry, if nothing else. He has produced many forgettable things, but there are a few of his ballets I really enjoy. Barber Violin Concerto, originally panned by critics as corny and stereotypical, is still one of my favorites, even though it would have seemed to have lost its raison d'etre after the departure of the original cast: Kate Johnson, David Parsons, Adam Luders, and Merrill Ashley. Maybe it's the music I love. That may also be the reason I love his more recent Morgen. Among the aerobic works, where it's definitely NOT the music, I find Fearful Symmetries very exciting. It's also true that when an earlier work is revived, like this past season's Les Gentilhommes at SAB, it looks surprisingly good.

Any thoughts? Favorites of your own? Hate them all?

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I really like Fearful.

I like Gentilhommes.

I like Chairman Dances.

I don't like a whole lot else, frankly.

A for Industry, B for Boring, C for Cliche'.......

But no one, least of all me, ever said that Peter Martins makes good choices......

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Fearful Symmetries was good when it premiered and seems to have improved with age, acquiring cogency for me.

Ash, interestingly, was a ballet that did the opposite - made much more sense with its original cast of demi-soloist couples (particularly Ethan Stiefel) and has deteriorated in re-casting.

It's been a long time since it's been in repertory, but I recall thinking The Waltz Project to be an interesting piece.

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I like Barber Violin Concerto. Surprisingly to me, I liked it the most the last time I saw it, when the cast was Kistler, Askegard, Evans, and someone I can't recall -- since I too had thought it wouldn't survive well without Ashley and Stacey Calvert, who had danced the Kate Johnson role.

Beyond that and Sleeping Beauty I haven't seen much Martins that I've liked. It veers between boring and offensive, and his terrible taste in music (Adams? Torke?) doesn't help.

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Although it would be too cruel to say it was all downhill after Calcium Light Night, there is a kind of happy freedom to Martins' exploration of the pairing of Watts and Duell which is rare in the rest of his sizeable body of work. While Balanchine exposes much about his psyche in his ballets, Martins seems to do the opposite -- hiding himself behind a dry formalism or even drier humor. Only rarely does any sort of passion or feeling surface in Martins' work, or even much of a sense of the man himself, other than that, like Macavity, he's not really there.

I do like Fearful, because Martins seems to be fully engaged, for once, in creating and exploring the kind of energetic movement we see in many of his ballets, but without the often dreary thematic overtones, and without the numbing sense of obligation or cuteness. It's about the only ballet in which I have a sense of Martins as himself, rather than as he perhaps thinks he should be, or needs to be.

I used to say I'd like to see Martins hit himself in the thumb with a hammer and then choreograph while it was still smarting. It might break him free of the heavy varnish of calculation which fogs and ensnares whatever he might really be trying to say. Not that it'd ever happen (for awhile, until someone explained to me the programmatic nature of the music, I thought he'd hit himself in the head before he did Harmonielehre [or however it's spelled!].

I do love Martins' Sleeping Beauty. I love it even more when the Fairy variations aren't so dreadfully un-coached or rehearsed.

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I liked some of Martins's early work, like Sonate di Scarlatti and The Magic Flute. Both were made to Balanchine's specifications, I think—at least Flute was. That ballet included a charming moment in which the male lead (danced by Martins at some performances) danced with six little boys. It was irresistible, and audiences loved it. It wasn't strong enough to merit a revival, however.

It seems that the Martins ballets I like best are the ones he's made with company needs in mind, rather than his own wishes. Flute was made for an SAB Workshop; The Sleeping Beauty was the fulfillment of a long-held dream of Lincoln Kirstein's. Perhaps if he thought of ballet-making as a way of bringing out the best in the company ("cabinet-making," Balanchine used to call it), his ballets would have greater appeal.

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I always liked Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, but probably only because of Heather Watts' fierce performance. I heard that Wendy Whelan danced it later. Anyone catch that performance?

The worst Martin's ballet I ever saw was Poulenc Sonata, or wait ... was it Ecstatic Orange? Choices, choices...:rolleyes:

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The last time Barber Violin Concerto was revived I think it was Samantha Allen who danced the barefoot role, paired with Charles Askegaard.

I'm probably alone in having liked PM's production of Swan Lake, most of all for the performances of Monique Meunier in the first season and of Silja Schandorff in the second.

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All of my choices have been mentioned, but I'd like to echo:

Barber: the music is gorgeous, Figueroa plays it beautifully, and it is by far my favorite Martins piece. Elizabeth Walker was wonderful in the Johnson role, btw. I see echoes of many of my favorite ballets in Barber, notably Serenade, so if it is a liitle derivative, well so what? I love it.

Magic Flute: I remember Darci and Jock (still both at SAB, I believe) in this ballet at SPAC. Only saw it that one summer, was charmed by it. For an early effort, I think it is one of Martins' best.

Morgen: this is beauty, heart-breaking, elegant, daring. Ordinarily I dislike Strauss but the songs are so lovely and this is the type of choreography that I love to watch more than anything else.

6 days until opening night at Saratoga!!!

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Loking through the all-time rep. list at the nycb site, I was surprised to note that there are a few of Martins' ballets that I could say I liked. Most of them have not been shown in a long time.

I would say I'm not an enthusiast of most of Martins' work for, I guess, the reasons Manhattnik cited. I also believe many of his ballets would greatly benefit from some editing (a topic discussed elsewhere on the board). Concerti Armonici is an example. While not the most thrilling work, it would be passable if it was cut by half. Instead, it just goes on and on and on. Martins seems think that if he wants to choreograph to a baraque orchestral suite, he needs to do the entire suite (not discarding the movements not suited to dancing) and do two or more of them, not just one.

The unrelenting nature of some of Martins' work wears on me. I feel much the same as Leigh does about Fearful Symmetries, which has found life at other companies as well. Ash without the originals, which also included Meunier, just seems driving and driving at nothing.

I agree with those who like Barbar Violin Concerto and Magic Flute. The mozart ballet might not be right for a mature company, but why not bring it back for SAB?

And Martins' Stravinsky ballets, Eight Easy Pieces, Eight Miniatures, and Eight More, would be right to help bring along some of the younger dancers, instead of putting them in Theme and Variations.

I'm a big fan of Sleeping Beauty, which has the most lovely vision scene.

To me, Martins choreographing Adams is worst than his work to Torke. I thought Ecstatic Orange and Black and White were interesting essays on Heather Watts, as well as Stravinsky's Concerto for Two Solo Pianos.

A few more I like or at least found interesting are Jazz, Les Petits Riens, L'Histoire du Soldat, Symphony No. 1, Poulenc Sonata (a good role for Kyra Nichols at the time), Valse Triste (a good ballet for an older ballerina), and Beethovan Romance (a nice alternative to the traditional pas de deux).

I remember enjoing Rossini Quartets, Rejouissance, Echo and Sophisticated Lady for their Suzanne Farrell factor.

But I doubt we'll see any of his older ballets. It seems to me that Martins mainly enjoys the process of choreography rather than maintaining it or changing it. Once it's out, it's out. And once the original dancers are gone, most like so will the ballet.

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Two of my favorite Martins ballets are Eight Easy Pieces and Scarletti Variations. I would particularly like to see Eight East Pieces come back for Janie Taylor, Ashley Bouder and Carla Korbes; they would be marvelous in it. As I remember the Scarletti piece, it was very much in the "classical" mode, not only a pretty work but one that showed off the dancers too. Martins seems to have abanoned this style of choreographing, which seems a shame.

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THE WALTZ PROJECT is the only one I like. Too bad the Warhol projections were dropped after the premiere. The 'sneaker' and Philip Glass waltzes, along with John Cage finale, were the best/original things Martins ever choreographed. Too bad it's not presented more often.

Subsequent casts of BARBER VIOLIN CONCERTO never captured the pairing of Merrill Ashley and David Parsons. Not to take anything away from Ms. Ashley, who was the best, but David Parsons on-stage was plenty to get excited about! ;) It was a remarkable encounter.

Whatever faults (and there are a few) he has as a choreographer and administrator, Martins has great taste in music.

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Sorry Patricia, gotta respectfully disagree. With a few very notable exceptions (Barber, Morgen, what else?) I think Peter has terrible taste in music. But then again, I am no fan of 20th century minimalist music, which seems to predominate in his choices. Don't like Adams. Don't like much of Glass. Don't like Rouse.

My daughter played "Infernal Machine" in one of her orchestras recently. We were both curious to see what on earth could be choreographed to it because it sounds undanceable to us. Did anyone see it? What did it look like?

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