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Winter Season, Week 6

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Thurs. 2/13 -- Agon, etc.

Thursday's night performance of the 1st pas de trois in Agon (the Sarabande Gaillarde) by Deanna McBrearty, Pascale van Kipnis and Peter Boal has stuck with me now for two full days as one of the very finest moments of this season and thus I post this comment. The pas de trois is, overall, a sort of chassee with a series of small jumps and entrechat beats for the two women. The man is in the middle. The three dance with linked arms. It was very beautifully performed and showed that both McBrearty and Van Kipnis are superbly trained classical dancers. Their ensemble motions were superbly coordinated, the jumps and landings in 5th etc. were a joy to behold.

This Sarabande is indeed a passage in which Balanchine shows his direct lineage to Petipa and something more. The steps and enchainments could in a sense come right out of a divertissment from Don Q, but in excising them and adapting them to Stravinsky's haunting, but slightly hurdy gurdy lament, the choreography reveals something about the core values of classicism. The essential aesthetic, so to speak, revealed because you can excise it and show it whole, as if on a plate.

Agon in general was performed neither very well nor very badly. Peter Boal seemed tired. Nor do I think that this is one of my favorite roles for Wendy Whelan. I've seen her twice in the pdd this year, with both Evans and Soto as partners, and neither performance has been able to efface the memory of Monique Meunier's (to me) absolutely riveting performances in this role a few years ago, during that brief year when Meunier was at the top of the company and being cast in everything. It breaks my heart that I may never again see Monique dance Agon.

Agon also showed to what a degree Jason Fowler and Stephen Hanna, at the demi soloist and de facto soloist level, have become mainstays of the company. They have very much held things together for the company this winter among the men. Both have fine proportions and placement (if in the slightly bulked up City Ballet male version) and were more than equal to the principal dancers Thursday night.

As for the rest of the program: I surprisingly loved Soiree (superb performances from Janie Taylor and Benjamin Millepied, Carla Korbes and Seth Orza, Linday Mandrajieff and Daniel Ulbricht. The slightly feverish empassioned concerto atmosphere into which we are introduced in media res is a little hackneyed, as are the men's costumes, but what the heck -- the dancers look great, the pas de deuxs are inventive, and Tanner knows how to direct your eye. Unlike some other choreography, you know who is the corps and who are the principals and whom you are supposed to watch and when you watch them you see something happen, not just a rhinestone or paste).

I found Porte and Soupir also interesting and worth a second viewing, this time from the rings, where much greater dramatic detail emerged, i.e., the shadow play in back of Kowroski in the middle passage, the stagecraft of seeing Maria linked to those huge bolts of cloth into which she retreats and from which she advances, enveloping Tom Gold as the poor sigh. The Door certainly gets the best of it. The sigh gets machine gunned before getting dumped upon, in what I think is a hilariously vulgar and funny final moment. Wonderful peformances from Kowroski and Gold who both left everything they had on the stage. How long can Maria hold that deep pliee to the floor on point in 4th position, supported on her hands in front? It seemed impossible.

I hope to change my mind but I found Antique Epigraphs one of the worst bits of Jerome Robbins I've ever seen. It is Robbins to Debussy but as singularly infelicitous as Afternoon of a Faun is inventive. The Robbins we've seen this season (In G Major, or Piano Pieces) is often a master in pas de deux or principal passages but sometimes less than inventive, original or interesting in his manipulation of the corps de ballet. Unfortunately, Antique Epigraphs is almost all corps. He makes the unhappy choice of having no dance at all to the extended Pan-like flute passages and the more basic unhappy and trite choice of equating flute passages in general with a Greco-Roman quasi-pastoral scene from Ovid -- but the staging is of such a scene as it might have been rendered by a 17th century French history painter. Pan pipes equal pastoral. How unoriginal and dull. The Robbins estate might consider supressing this one in the interests of his posthumous reputation.

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Thanks for that, Michael. I'd be interested to hear from those who'd seen "Antiques Epigraphs" with its original cast -- has it deteriorated? It may be, of course, that Michael would have found it negligible then, too, but I remember it fondly and it's one of the pieces I've missed. It was of its time, with a renewed interest in Nijinsky and neo-neogrecian material, and I think also related to the minimalism that was the hallmark of postmodern dance then. It was made on a group of extraordinarily beautiful women -- as in the first movement of "Suite No. 3," I think a celebration of women with long, beautiful hair was one of its subtexts" -- and they were women who could make languid movement beautiful.

Has it not survived that cast? Or just looks dull out of context? I'd (silently) nodded in assent to Farrell Fan's post yesterday, applauding the decoupling of "Epigraphs" from "Faun" -- they were never meant to be married.

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Well I hope to give it another chance next week. And you never know, on one viewing, what moves you. It can be your proverbial "after dinner sleep dreaming of nothing" or it can be cast related, as you suggest. It could well be, that if I'd been seated right up front, the overwhelming beauty and physical presence of the dancers might have carried it for me, as they often do. The company did, however, make the choice to have Jennifer Ringer go galoomphing around the stage in what surely must be the most unflattering costume I've ever seen her in (except for the couture thing in "Thou Swell," come to think of it). And Rachel Rutherford also looked extremely uncomfortable. All the same, the impression of a lack of content or of any kind of dramatic tension or point of interest, to fill the space and the music, is what I was left with.

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In my opinion, Antique Epigraphs continues to be a beautiful ballet. I've seen it twice this season, and while some of the mystery imparted by the original cast may be lacking, it still casts a marvelous spell. Jennifer Ringer was stunning in her solo, Kowroski's legs never looked better, and Rachel Rutherford and Pascale van Kipnes were fine. The costumes are gorgeous. It may be a slightly different piece of ancient pottery that these women have stepped from, but it's the real thing, not a fake.

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Of course, you know, people disagree about these things. My opinion was just the opposite, that's all. If you put it too categorically, all discussion has to cease. When it's reduced to nothing but taste, nothing more can be said. I do not want to provoke anyone's ire.

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I just returned from NYCB's matinee (Feb. 15), and I must say I have rather mixed feelings. Things started off well enough, with Soiree showing off the lovely talent of Carla Korbes. I felt that Soiree, while containing a lot of "fluff" was still enjoyable. Janie Taylor exhibited her marvelous jumping capabilities. Amanda Edge replaced an ill Lindy Mandradjieff... she did satisfactorily. However, Miss Korbes with her attentive partner, Seth Orza, gave me goose-bumps during their pas de deux. In terms of the Corps performance, things went relatively smoothly despite some timing problems.

I was particularly looking forward to Valse-Fantaisie and getting to watch Robert Tewsley live for the first time. I didn't get much fulfillment, as Tewsley hobbled off-stage after about 3 minutes of dancing. Interestingly, Ben Millepied, still dressed in costume from Soiree, appeared to finish the piece. I must applaud him for his ballet-saving action. Yvonne Borree was uncomfortable and I much rather would have seen Alexandra Ansanelli in the role. Faye Arthurs out-shone her from the "mini-corps." Aesha Ash really stood out in the small group of female dancers as well- what speed she has in her turns! In sum, the occurrences were just odd and the curtain closed with me still thinking, "What just happened here?"

Opus 19-The Dreamer was certainly the high point of the bill & the company as a whole appeared their best and most prepared in this work. Wendy Whelan, as usual, was secure in technique and divine in her stage presence. Peter Boal was exceptional in the male lead... he and Whelan really make such a great pairing. The Corps in general seemed to have it together.

Chaconne, the last ballet of the matinee, was a close second to Valse-Fantaisie in terms of the oddness factor. Darci Kistler, despite decline in technique, is still such a lovely presence on stage (but she should cut that hair!). Her feet are just so exquisite. However, her presentation was very watered-down. Despite the modifications, Kistler still seemed to struggle. At the end of the first section, she stumbled when hitting her final pose, she fell out of turns, etc. I was nervous watching her for fear that she would have a really "noticeable" boo-boo. During the final "chaconne" section of the ballet, there appeared to be a traffic accident on-stage with Kistler seemingly ducking to miss being knocked flat by a corps member. In contrast to Kistler was the dashing, young Megan Fairchild. What pirouettes! They were so incredibly solid! Carrie Lee Riggins, Dena Abergel, and Saskia Beskow did well in their respective featured roles. Philip Neal was lovely as the male lead.

Despite the mixed performance today, I look forward to seeing Vienna Waltzes and Steadfast next week.

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Ballerina -

Welcome to Ballet Alert and thank you for debuting with such interesting observations. I hope Tewsley is OK.

On a tangent (from looking at your location) are you seeing any ballet local to you as well? We'd love to hear about it.

I was there Thursday night as well, but I'll collect my thoughts and comment a bit later.

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I saw Antique Epigraphs only once, at its premier, and I had a very negative reaction to it -- something rather rare with me, especially with Robbins. (At the time, too, I thought it was appropriate ballet fan etiquette to share no-holds-barred versions of one's opinions with other fans, and I let loose on "Antique Epigraphs" to some new acquaintances. I later learned, to my genuine surprise and hurt (!) that they thought I was an unspeakable jerk. Unfortunately, we didn't have a moderator to intervene.)

I cannot quite reconstruct why I reacted to the ballet the way I did -- I certainly would not mind seeing it again today. I do remember thinking that I felt as if Robbins was offering a kind of comment on, or response to, Balanchine's idealizations of women. In principle, I found this to be an interesting idea, but practically I thought the result ended up as merely derivative. I think, too, the sheer prettiness of the ballet came across to me as somehow unearned and therefore the fact that the ballet was so very pretty actually irritated me -- the ballerinas seemed less like classical nymphs than vogue models. This was definitely a minority opinion at the premier and I gather that it would be today as well.

I will check in to see, though, if Michael likes the ballet better on second viewing -- I never had one.

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You really have to wonder why dancers like Borree and Kistler are still on stage. It must drive the talented younger dancers nuts.

When you think of the money people dole out for tickets to these performances, it seems irresponsible of Martins to have these ladies in top roles.

Maybe Kistler's name fills the seats, but it sounds like people are attending just to see if she makes it through in one piece. And Borree I've never understood (well maybe just once with the televised Swan Lake pas de trois). She's obviously talented but her stage fright takes everything away from her performance.

I know the feeling on this site is to be aware of people's feelings when posting, BUT these dancers are professionals and admission to the NYCB isn't free. The fact that Martins continues to cast his wife and son in top roles (is Yvonne Borre a niece?) when it sounds like they are fudging their way through ballets, is really quite shocking.

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I can't comment on the why certain dancers are still dancing, Lillian -- maybe some who see them regularly will try (nicely, nicely!)

But I wanted to join Leigh's welcome to ballerina1023 and thank her for her review. I hope we'll hear more from you!

I wish I could remember more of "Antiques Epigraphs." I saw it several times, but only in one season, and quite some time ago (the last time NYCB was in DC, and that was when Kistler was young!) I was genuinely curious whether people simply disliked the work, or whether those who'd seen it over time thought it had deteriorated. There are severall ballets from the '70s ands '80s -- "Tombeau du Couperin" is another one -- that seem less than they did in their original cast. I couldn't analyze the work from this distance; I just have a fond memory.

I think Drew's Vogue models comment is apt. I didn't think of it in relationship to Balanchine's view of women -- although I find that comment interesting as well -- but in relationship to the other freize-like ballets/dances that were being done at the time -- the Nijinsky revivals, Paul Taylor's "Profiles" are others. And rather than thinking it TOO pretty, I was grateful for it after "Calciium Liight Night"! and thought it more coherent than "The Dreamer." I'd never try to make the case for it as a major ballet.

Drew, your experience venturing an opinion in the wrong company will ring true to many of us, I'm sure. It's what I'd hoped to get at on the taste thread (on Discovering Ballet). If you and I went to a restaurant, and you ordered a blue cheese and cherry tomato salad and raved about it, and offered me some, and I said, "I'm so sorry, but I don't like blue cheese or tomatoes, but it does look lovely if one does," I doubt you'd be hurt or angry (well, YOU wouldn't be hurt or angry if I said I didn't like a ballet that you'd just said was your favorite either, unless I said it rudely, I'm sure, but you'll take my point).

Back to the programs generally, this week sounds like a particularly interesting one -- I wish THIS had been the week I had to visit New York instead of mid-Week 8.

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I saw Ansanelli and Tewsley in Valse-Fantasie Tuesday night, the 11th, and they were charming together. Then on Friday, the 14th, he and Weese did Fruhlingssteimmen in Vienna Waltzes, and his performance -- in a role originated by Helgi Tomasson, no less -- seemed to me plodding and earthbound. It was one of those moments when I bemoan the current state of NYCB. But such moments don't last -- especially not when Kyra Nichols comes on to do the Rosenkavalier finale, abetted by the excellent Philip Neal.

On that same Friday program, Yvonne Borree performed one of her best roles -- the doll in Steadfast Tin Soldier -- and Tom Gold was very appealing as the soldier.

Before Valse-Fantasie on Tuesday came Peter Martins' Bach Concerto V. I'd seen this ballet twice before and considered it a trifle best forgotten. But on Tuesday, Jock Soto and Darci Kistler gave such a committed, lovely performance that they won me over. Don't other Ballet Alertniks ever have this experience?

Darci's powers are much diminished, but she is still capable of thrilling performances. And her hair is glorious. Long may it wave. :D

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I actually thought Tewsley's performance in "Vienna Waltzes" on Friday was wonderful, especually in the beginning of the section/movement . In comparision to his dancing in other ballets, he seemed to soar and be much quicker on his feet. I think it is a great role for him!


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Sunday Afternoon's Mozartiana (Whelan, Neal) was without a doubt the single best performace of a ballet I've seen this season and was also (by very far) the best I have ever seen Philip Neal perform. I understand Jennifer Dunning's praise of him in this role. The small corps de ballet was also quite lovely. (Brava Rebecca Krohn).

The rest of the program was also very strong.

As Farrell Fan mentioned about Friday night, Yvonne Borree and Tom Gold give a beautiful rendition of Steadfast Tin Soldier.

Adam Hendrickson, dancing with effortless grace, was compelling opposite an equally wonderful Alexandra Ansanelli in Tarantella. Since her debut several weeks ago, she has grown tremendously in this role. She has the presence, speed, spring, buoyancy and attack to handle it, and yesterday the obvious confidence too and met the technical demands. (What a beautiful girl). Ansanelli and Hendrickson are a good match: about the same age, both apparently nice kids, both open dancers who feed off the audience, both with a hint of something darker underneath (particularly Hendrickson: his Bad Boy air is half his charm), and both have a great deal of the Ham in them on occasion.

Symphony in C was very good in Movements 1 and 2 (the best I've seen it this year) but less so in 3d and 4th Movements.

In First Movement, Abi Stafford has made the phrasing completely her own and Nilas Martins, replacing Tewsley on short notice, gave a fair account of himself.

Darci met the demands of Second Movement better than she has anything else this season and was, in light of this, heartbreakingly poignant. The source of the poignancy was my simultaneous awareness of all she's given to us for all these years, her emotional committment to and rendering of the role yesterday, and her physical transcendence of her limitations in it. (Yes, I saw and remembered her Chaconne on Saturday). The Ballerina role in 2d Movement requires an awareness of tragedy and an awareness of tragedy there was yesterday afternoon. Time changes and We Change in It. Kistler received very warm, very sustained applause at the curtain (the best ovation I've seen her earn this year, and she didn't have to ask for it) and appeared visibly moved. (So did Soto, God love him). What must this be like for her?

Also, the corps de ballet in both First and in Second Movements (which have largely been kept together through all three or four performaces) was coherent and understood the spirit of the piece. (Amanda Edge, Melissa Barak, Elizabeth Walker, Martine Ciccone, Alina Dronova and Genevieve Labean almost otherworldly in 2d Movement).

Things then fell apart a little in Third and Forth Movements. In Third Movement, Taylor was paired again with Antonio Carmena and looked very very uncomfortable indeed. Conductor Richard Moredock set Tempi that no one could keep up with. You could see everyone -- corps, demi soloists, and principals -- struggling and falling apart from the Tempi from the first series of rhythmic, ensemble pliees. After the Chassee en Tournant, Carmena --instead of partnering Taylor -- actually seemed to compete with her and galloped off into his own separate universe in search of applause. (He would do just fine across the plaza). I don't really understand what Dunleavy and Lavery are doing in their casting of 3d Movement: Even the corps de ballet here is composed of some of the tallest, most "classique" type girls in the company -- Tess Reichlen, Carla Korbes, Gwynneth Muller, etc.. Isn't this supposed to be a jumping/pliee movement?

Moredock's tempi in Fourth Movement were then if anything even faster than in 3d. Pascale Van Kipnis and everyone else flailing away to keep up.

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I'll compose longer thoughts later (I was at the same program) but regarding third movement in Symphony in C there's been a "Shadow Box" tradition in casting the movement (tall corps, short soloists) for a long time. I can't state with authority it goes back to Balanchine, though.

I had a different impression of Carmena and Taylor. I found her daring in the movement interesting but Carmena is ill-matched for her and it is not his fault. This season is the first time I've got a good look at him and he's a talented, clean dancer with an elegance to him. But Taylor is just too unpredictable and wild a dancer for someone close to her height. She needs a partner several inches taller than her, with real bulk to muscle her down; if she's off her leg (which in the penchees, she was both times; she just dives for the floor and it's all he can do to stop her) anyone his size not built like a refrigerator is not big enough to set things right.

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Michael, from what I've always remembered, even when watching as a young child, the corps parts in the third movement of Symphony in C went to the taller ladies, while the smallest were in the 2nd movement. Was this true in the 60s and earlier?

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How differently we all view things sometimes!!

I very much agree with Michael about the Mozartiana. Wendy was just glorious, and Philip Neal's performance was on such a high level that I was comparing him to Ib and Peter in the same role. As I have mentioned before, as good as Tom Gold was in the Gigue, I still prefer that it be cast with a taller dancer. The four demis (Abergel, Bewkow, Krohn and Natanya) were excellent yesterday.

As far as the Bizet is concerned, I thought the only weak movement was the first movement. Abi Stafford gave a surprisingly underpowered performance. (But then again I look for a Merrill or a Kyra in this section, so my standards are pretty high here.) Darci can still pull off the adagio work in the second movement and turned in a grandly shaped performance. In the often undersung fourth movement, van Kipis and Arch Higgins were very good. Keep your eye on Arch; he's gaining in statute with each appearance.

As far as the third movement goes, I seem to be the only one who enjoys the pairing of Janie Taylor and Antonio Carmena. As a matter of fact, it was that highlight of the Bizet for me. They were both out there "selling it" and good for them. For those of you who weren't there yesterday, the audience loved the performance -- (even with the upcoming blizzard in the forecast) stayed to bring the principals back three times in front of the curtain. I found it an exhilerating performance.

As far as the Steadfast Tin Soldier and Tarantella goes, Tom Gold was just terrific in the former. He caught all the nuances of the role: both times he went to his knee to kiss the doll's hand he did that part as well as Helgi and Mischa in their heyday. Adam Hendrickson was also fun in Tarantella.

Why did I not mention the female leads? Okay, fellow-ballert alertniks: My performal contention: Patricia McBride has been the most irreplaceable dancer at New York City Ballet. With the exception of Nichol Hlinka in Coppelia -- for me -- no dancer has even come close to giving a satisfying performance of any Patti role. There have been very many satisfying performances of Suzanne roles, of Violette roles and of Merrill roles, but none of Patti in any of the roles created for her. (I was again reminded of this a week or so ago when a miscast Miranda Weese tried to do Patti's role in Who Cares?)

That having been said though, Ansanelli did turn in a very respectable performance performance yesterday. YB in Steadfast was her usual sweet self, but she is a dancer for me who always "under-dances" roles. But there's still no one over these last 15 plus years who has the McBride magic.

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On the subject of Antique Epigraphs, I wish I had known Drew way back when--she could have talked to me! This cast looked as good as I have ever seen the ballet look, beautifully rehearsed and performed, but the ballet just so full of phony and pointless drama and goes absolutely nowhere, at least as far as I can see. I kept thinking it could have been called Dances at the Parthenon--I love Dances at a Gathering--when it is replayed in my memory with the cast I saw first, that is--but I wish he hadn't made it over and over again, getting hokier and hokier all the time.

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I got to see Antique Epigraphs again Tuesday night, when it replaced Ballade on the program (apparently because of Robert Tewsley's injury) and my reaction to it did not greatly improve. I did notice more about why I dislike it, however. The problem goes beyond the static conception for the corps de ballet. That can be defended and could have been redeemed. The deeper trouble is that that two of the three characters' individual dances are either are dull, uninspired and, as Mary said, repetitive compared to Robbins' other work, or were performed that way both times I saw them.

On a fundamental level, Epigraphs may just be the dance that has convinced me that Ballet is an acquired language for Jerome Robbins, a second tongue, something he learned to speak later on, that it is not really his native language in the way it was for others. Robbins' enchainements in Epigraphs almost seem intellectual, like a cut and paste job from a ballet manual.

There were some redeeming moments early on. It is not exactly unrelieved tedium. The part for Pascale Van Kipnis either has some nice choreography in it, or Pascale made something very good out of it. What soft feet Van Kipnis has. She is a wonderful classical dancer. She feels the floor and presses to it with every step. When you watch her feet softly "work the floor" everything Van Kipnis does -- indeed everything around her for about five feet on the stage -- becomes clear. She and Sebastien Marcovici also totally blew me away in "I'm Old Fashioned" at the end of the program. I remembered what beautiful Petipa-type variations I used to see Van Kipnis dance, e.g., the back end of the pas de trois in Act I of Swan Lake a few years ago.

Also the final vignette, the women all in a line looking out, is striking.

On a more pro-Robbins note, "I'm Old Fashioned" looked very good (most of the time) Tuesday night. Overall, however, with all the Robbins we have seen lately and the way it's looking to me ("The Dreamer" Saturday Afternoon among the ballets) -- I've started wondering whether Peter Martins isn't a better choreographer than I thought.

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