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Winter Season, Week Five

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02/04/03: Barocco, Valse-Fantaise, Porte/Soupir, Bizet

Will wonders never cease?

I retract my assertion, posted on more than one thread in this forum and in other places, that NYCB's Barocco had deteriorated to an irredeemably low level and I was therefore boycotting it. The corps danced it miserably the last several times I saw it, but, as I found out last night, it was not irredeemable.

Drawn to City Ballet last night by the prospect of Darci in Bizet and Alexandra in V-F, I gritted my teeth in anticipation of Barocco and prepared for the worst. Instead, I got one of the best. I knew the leads would be fine, but I must commend the corps for its beautiful work. Their high energy level coupled with their restrained demeanor brought me welcome joy. Seated in the 4th Ring, with opera glasses nestled in my lap throughout (except during the pause between 1st and 2nd Movements in order to scan the faces), my vision was clouded by my happy tears. Thank you, ladies (Bar, Beskow, Edge, Golbin, McBrearty, Natanya, Riggins and Wolf)! And thank you, too, whoever cleaned them up. Good job, all around.

The leads (Whelan, Askegard and Somogyi) were excellent. Jennie does the second role as well as I've ever seen it done, and the interplay between her and Wendy -- with whom she was so well matched -- was lovely. Askegard's partnering was seamless and effortless.

The Valse-Fantaisie was most notable for Jared Angle's commendable debut and Elizabeth Walker, in the ensemble, who looked like a puff of milkweed blown by the music's wind. Alexandra should really work on strengthening her feet. Those toes need to point quite a bit faster than they do, especially in a role with so many small steps. Had she danced with more of her accustomed abandon, I may have overlooked this shortcoming.

The other middle piece was Porte/Soupir, which is fine when you see it once every 20 years. I kept wondering, "How do they learn it?" I understand muscle memory, but still -- the initial process of learning it and getting it into the body must take forever! And so thankless, because, as difficult as it must be, I doubt the performers feel as if they've danced when it's done. Kowroski and Gold caught humor I don't remember from earlier viewings.

Symphony in C was uneven. The corps was unrecognizable as the same group that had done the same steps on Saturday. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and of their own humanity for that earlier, depressed performance. Abi Stafford's 1st movement on Tuesday was lackluster and she may need more experience to find her comfort level in the role. She tends to overrush the music. Nilas, on the other hand, showed up for the performance(!) and partnered her very solicitously. Darci was glorious in the adage, supported by Jock. She finds things in the music that no one else does and last night conveyed the same irresistible vulnerability of her earliest renderings of the role. Robert Tewsley's 3rd Movement debut was very good. He looked entirely at home in it, and the partnering problems Janie had with Ben on Saturday were less apparent (although still somewhat apparent). The 4th Movement couple, Pascale and Arch, were terrific. In the finale, with all the principal men in a row, it was Arch's elan that stood out.

Having dreaded the prospect of Barocco and never sure what to expect from Darci, I left the theater happily singing the evening's music :( (which may well have sounded to passers-by like Porte/Soupir:eek: )!

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A brief recap of Tuesday night's highlights before I head out tonight:

Barocco was lovely, although I thought the corps looked an eensy bit ragged in places. Given how Balanchine ballets tend to look the first night they're given, I was just glad the girls had some verve and attack. Whelan and Somogyi were both divine -- this is perhaps one of Somogyi's best roles. (Remember a couple of years ago when she did it with Nichols?)

In Valse Fantasie, Ansanelli was well-served by her wonted wild abandon, although perhaps less so by her uneven technique. Angle looked quite fine as a replacement for Millepied; I hope this is a sign of good things to come.

Squeaky Door was, well, what it was. I don't think I need to see this for another ten years or so. Oddly, I found myself missing Alexopolous here -- Kowroski is just too loose-limbed to be truly squeaky, but she did nail the Door's predatory sexuality. Tom Gold flopped and splattered with great abandon as the Sigh. I did think the two perhaps made the roles more comic than necessary, although it's hard to think of restraint when one thinks of this ballet.

I had a rather different take on Bizet. The corps looked much better and more sprightly than they did at the dress rehearsal (I mean the first performance this season). I rather liked Abi Stafford in the first movement. She's gradually learning to use her technique as a means, instead of an end, and I do think she's beginning to actually hear, and respond to, the music. She's got a ways to go, as she does tend to retreat (sometimes rather smugly) into her technique, using it to hide from us, rather than to expose herself. As for Nilas Martins, well, it looked to me like he's just Given Up. He bailed on the double tour the the knee rather badly -- he didn't even go down to one knee but just sort of sketched a demi-plie, then bounced offstage. I've never seen Nilas go for broke in anything, but there was a time he could be counted on at least to give a scrupulous, if not necessarily scintillating, accounting of the choreography. Now he just looks like he wants to punch out his timecard and go home. I couldn't help but wonder what the two demi men, both of whom actually DID the double tour to the knee, might've been thinking as they watched the principal dancer bail. And this wasn't a fluke; Nilas was negligent and sketchy throughout.

As for Kistler, well, she was better than the last time I'd seen her do second movment, but it was still disconcerting. She was nicely radiant in the grand adagio parts -- the big developpe a la seconde, the penchee, the backfalls -- in no small part thanks to Jock Soto's magnificent partnering. But once she was on her own, her current technical weakness became all too depressingly apparent. Steps were sketched, fudge, blurred, glossed over. For instance, one of my favorite parts is when the ballerina does a little bit of bent-knee tippytoing forward on point, then spins into a big echappe en pointe with her back to us, spins to face us and tippy-toes backwards, upstage, then spins again into that echappe with her back to us.

A few days ago, Wendy Whelan made all this sharp and clear, springing into the echappes and holding them for just the right fraction of a second so we could appreciate those beautiful moments, when she springs up and out and checks her self in perfect equilibrium for a gorgeous fraction of a second.

Kistler just couldn't do it, although not long ago she could. The echappes were just a transition to be rushed through, and rather muddily. It's not a question of "blink and you missed it," they were never really there at all; only a bit more corporeal than Nilas' non-existent double-tour to the knee.

While in the old days of the movies, smearing vaseline over the camera lens was considered an appropriate way of masking the effects of the passage of time on actresses of a certain age, smearing vaseline on the choreography just doesn't work the same way for aging ballerinas. The second movement of Symphony in C should NOT look like Violette Verdi's "I-remember-when" solo from Dances at a Gathering!

In the fourth movement, Soto partners Kistler through a series of supported pirouettes, dropping to his knee after each (it's very dramatic on that charging fourth-movement music!), while Kistler swings herself through some big battements en pointe (or the like). I couldn't help but notice Soto never quite sank all the way to his knee, and his eyes and fingertips never stopped following Kistler's every movement (she was having a rough go of it), as if he were preparing to spring up and catch her instantaneously should she run into real trouble. Such focus and preparedness is one reason Soto's the best partner in the world (or at least New York); it was a bit awe-inspiring to watch, yet depressing to think that Kistler needed such careful attention.

At this point in her career, she's not doing herself a favor by clinging to roles she can no longer dance, nor is she being kind to her fans, who might rather keep their memories of when she was transcendant in this part, only a few years ago, if only Kistler would let them.

Taylor was much more comfortable in the third movement with Tewsley (who has a nice, big jump, and tosses Taylor around with happy abandon) than with Carmena, as has been noted. Pascal van Kipnes and Arch Higgins were both more than fine in the fourth movement, and the finale was its usual exciting self.

Now I have to get ready for Mozartiana....

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Originally posted by Calliope

It's nice to see "senior" corps back doing Barocco.

I hope they go back to the routine of reserving some parts for the seniors.

Thanks for the report carbro

I know that there are many ballets where young corps members have gotten to dance perhaps too early, but I don't think this has happened in Barocco in the 10+ years I've been watching the company. Maybe one or two young corps girls were thrown in (understudies for an injured senior corps members probably), but I can't remember a time when it wasn't senior members. Again, there are definitely other ballets where we might have craved more experienced corps members, but I do think Barocco has still retained a special stature.


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Originally posted by Manhattnik

As for Kistler, . . . her current technical weakness became all too depressingly apparent.

No disagreement here. I was careful to specify that "Darci was glorious in the adage."

I have been accused of overly negative critiques lately, so I am leaving it to y'all to fill in my blanks. Thanks for keeping up your end, Manhattnik. ;)

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I enjoyed Who Cares, the last ballet performed on Thursday night, it also being the only ballet I made it over to the theater to see that evening. The pattern continued. The principle women: Weese, Somogyi and Taylor were gloriously good, one and all, Weese in particular moving more fluidly and easily than when I saw her earlier and Somogyi just about perfect.

Miranda may be dancing a little heavier than before her injury but she is not dancing with any less speed. She is so important to the company, she adds so much balance, no one can flow through so many positions and poses so quickly and keep moving yet seem to show each position and pose to me so clearly as if she indeed had stopped at each one for a microsecond, I adore her so much, she can keep dancing like this forever as far as I am concerned.

All the women had such equal but different individual weight in their performances, each being equally interesting and of principal dancer strength and quality in her role but each with such a different style and personality (Weese the most conventionally beautiful, Taylor so blond yet sylph like and feral, Somogy with her strange, lopsided beauty and flowing enchanted movements).

Nilas Martins partnered adequately, it is something he does well.

It was, however, another generally ragged performance by the corps, particularly at the commencement, when they do most of their dancing. (Amanda Edge, Eva Natanya and Saskia Beskow danced particularly well, but the general disorganization could not be overcome even by fine single performances). It wasn't poor individual dancing that spoiled it so much as a general lack of coordination and "pop." This is supposed to be jazzy when it opens.

Who Cares suffers some when the corps does not dance well, because they need to carry it at the beginning. However, I like Gershwin much better than Rogers. Of all the musicians of the 20s and 30's, he is the one who captures the bittersweet, the poignance of tragedy just past and the tragedy about to happen, most successfully. Even when he's happy, in a song as optimistic as "Stairway to Paradise" (performed beautifully by Taylor) -- His happiness seems massive, has weight. (Listen to Sarah Vaughan's recording of this). Whereas the company's performance of Rogers in Thous Swell made him seem almost vapidly, mindlessly optimistic and positive. The Rogers who was antecedent to "Victory at Sea".

I heard Mozartiana was very good Thursday night and perhaps someone who saw it will comment.

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Mozartiana with Kyra Nichols ..... just divine. Kyra Nichols was so able to inhabit the ballet, she is such a worthy interpreter of a work so associated with Suzanne Farrell. Nichols simply seemed to be floating seamlessly and soundlessly through the entire preghiera, showing the beauty in the simplicity and pureness of each movement. Thankfully the corp (Abergel, Beskow, Bowers and Natanya) was able to match Nichols in maturity which made for a very satisfying performance in general. Ulbricht performed the gigue very well. He seems like the male corps member with the most promise right now, and I hope Martins doesn't corner him into the "short guy who jumps well" role. Nichols and Neal were just beautiful in the theme and var. Neal's line and Nichol's musicality are just unparalleled. One can only hope that Nichols will have a Fonteyn length career.

Ballade replaced Burleske which was okay by me. I actually enjoyed it more on second viewing. But it does puzzle me that I could hear the toe shoes at all during mozartiana and the were very loud during Ballade, whatever. Whelan really carries the company now in the Balanchine rep, and is such a beautiful adagio dancer, despite how her body looks odd in in it at first. I thought she and Tewsley work quite well together. I'm curious to see what kind of roles will be created on Tewsley, because he seems and is cast in very vanilla roles at the moment.

Chiaroscuro .... very well danced by Jock Soto, Miranda Weese, Pascale Van Kipnis, Jennie Somogyi, James Fayette and Tom Gold. Not much to say, I kept wondering what the words on the backdrop meant and if I should be thinking about some kind of abstract story line in general.

Who Cares? Askegard made a great debute as the carefree swinger. Ringer was perfect in the McBride role, as described last season. It was so nice to see Pascale Van Kipnis in not just one but two pieces this afternoon. She really has been underutilized this season, but she is such a complete dancer, and I think she has the ability to inhabit many roles, including this one. More contained then Taylor but still very fresh and satisfying.

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