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Dancer Proof

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It's been said that Balanchine's ballets are dancer proof. That isn't quite true but many of his works can encompass dancers a broad range of body types and personalities. Today's Vienna Waltzes was a good example.

At its premiere, Vienna Waltzes seemed a portrait of the company's senior ballerinas. It contrasted the dramatic talents of Von Arnoldigen with the comedic talents of Leland. McBride and Farrell were give roles that highlighted their unique gifts. The odd women out was Mazzo who never seemed to have the mystery and sexiness that the Merry Widow required.

In the years since then we have seen many varying ballerinas and soloists take these parts, some with great success and today's performance was a very succesful one.

Rachel Rutherford and James Fayette led the first movement. When Von Arnoldigen danced this role with Sean Lavery, the older woman younger man dynamic made this movement of the ballet especially poignant. Other interpreters have included Nichols and last season, Monique Meunier who gave a beautifully danced and acted performance. Rutherford seemed a little pallid in the early part of the dance but her concentration on Fayette as the dance progressed was very moving. The tall ladies of the corps were very beautiful.

Weese and Boal led the second movement. Boal is simply one of the greatest classical dancers and this is a charming role for him - he is in the period of the ballet, never forcing his effects. Weese was terrific, the perfect French Second Empire ballerina (down to the diamond drop earrings). She danced lushly and wittily, not just for her partner but also as though she was hoping to attract a rich protector. This role has been done wonderfully by ballerinas as diverse as Ashley and Ringer and Weese is equally good in her own way. I also noticed youngster Jessica Flynn in the corps, maybe some day we'll be seeing her in the lead role.

The Explosion Polka has always been the least understood section of the ballet. But I think we need a little humor here to refresh us before the two final movements. No has adequately replaced Leland in this movement, she was both sexy and dirty and funny all at once. Many of the interpreters of this role have just been wild mistaking energy for humor. But today, Amanda Edge was a Kewpie doll with a slightly dirty mind. Arch Higgins partnered well and with great good humor (and he looked very dashing in the tux in the final movement). The Polka looked better rehearsed than it has recently.

The Merry Widow has been danced by Mazzo, Ashley (I think) and recently by Alexopulous. Helene was sexy but cool and some what remote. Ringer and Askegard had much more chemistry. She was warm and sexy and they both danced well. The final clinch before the curtain was hot enough to make you think they would immediately be looking for the castle bedroom.

Kistler and Neal led the final movement. (Is there going to be a shoot out about who gets to retire in this role - Nichols or Kistler?) Kistler look terrific, she may be dancing with less power than formerly but she does know how to create a world with her dancing. The women's newly remade costumes are a tribute to the talent of Holly Hynes and her costume shop - they glowed.

The balance of the program included Reliquary, which I did not see. Eight Easy Pieces and Steadfast Tin Soldier.

Soldier had Bouree and Gold. Bouree is good in this role but she doesn't always have the technical security one would like to see. She would fall off pointe periodically and there were other technical insecurities, she lacks some of the edge McBride brought to this role - she's continually cute and sweet. Gold was terrific, a very clean and secure performance. I can see Ulbricht and Hendrickson inheriting this role. Interestingly, the role was created by Peter Schafauss (sp?), a danseur noble but since Baryshnikov danced it, it has been done only by demi-charachter dancers.

I haven't seen Eight Easy Pieces bfore. I had real reservations about both Ulbricht and Hendrickson. Ulbricht's performance was very strong technically but seemed to be very forced - he's pushing for every effect and it seemed phony. Hendrickson was some serious technical flaws, unstretched feet and he doesn't pull his leg out of the hip in his turns in a la seconde, making for an unattractive line. Both of these men are demi character dancers, it is hard to imagine other of them in classical roles. And there are just not that many roles in the Balanchine rep for dancers like this.

Carmena is another story. In the role choreographed for Boal, he gives a convincing performance and seems a classical stylist in the making.

I think the company is dancing well this season. I didn't really give the men in Vienna Waltzes their due, all danced well and partnered better. All in all, a great day at the ballet.

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Actually, the original costumes are a wonderful champagne ivory, which has, indeed, darkened with age. The new ones look lighter to us, but as the original fabric was specially gotten in France, perhaps the dyes used now are picking up the light differently.

They are perhaps my favourite costumes--in my next life I would like to wear that, the red Musetta costume from the Luhrmann La Boheme, and Fonteyn's Ondine costume. Variety, you know.......:)

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Although I don't particularly enjoy the choreography of Reliquary, or even the entire concept of it, I must say that the dancing/dancers certainly made the performance watchable. I just adore Alexandra Ansanelli. To me, at least, she is such a beautiful presence on stage- such a lovely sight. She was secure in the jerky, uncomfortable choreography, and I think she makes an interesting pair with Craig Hall. I was quite interested in seeing both Ansanelli and Janie Taylor on stage at the same time. In some ways the two are quite similar: ferocity and abandon juxtaposed with a glittering stage presence. However, they also have quite a few differences in their dancing. When the two were sharing the stage, I must say that I found myself watching Ansanelli more than Taylor. But still, they were both wonderful in this not-so-wonderful ballet. Dana Hanson, Deanna McBrearty, and Eva Natanya were quite good in the demi-soloist roles, although they had some timing issues (perhaps conductor Andrea Quinn is again the culprit). Their male counterparts: Jason Fowler (some of the best technique in the corps), Stephen Hanna, and Jonathan Stafford were equally as good. Teresa Reichlen was lovely in the corps.

Yvonne Borree- so many of us are so hard on her (myself included- last week's Valse-Fantaisie). I do empathize with her & almost feel sorry for her. When I was a competitive ballet dancer, I always had terrible cases of stagefright/nerves, etc. It's so obvious that Borree tries sooo hard in her performances & she does have talent. In Steadfast Tin Soldier, I enjoyed watching her. This is undoubtedly one of her best roles. She looked as cute as a button in her pink tutu and her curly up-do was quite fitting. Yes, there were a few times when she fell off of balance and it was visible she was shaking, but all in all, I felt she turned in an admirable performance. She certainly has the paperdoll image and mannerisms down to a science. During the signature moves where the Doll blows kisses to the Soldier, I could actually hear her kissing to Tom Gold from my seat in the orchestra level. It was touching. I just have to think, what if she sees this website, as well as others that criticize her dancing. It certainly cannot help her in gaining more confidence on stage. Tom Gold was wonderful as the Soldier. Beautiful double tours. He and Borree really captured the magic between the two characters. From now on, I am going to try and understand Borree's vantage point when she's dancing. I'm starting to like her more.

Eight More replaced Sinfonia due to illness/injury, and I must say I was glad to see the former as opposed to the latter. In response to others' comments on Daniel Ulbricht's "pushing" his bravura too much- I respectfully disagree. All of the dancers, Hendrickson, Carmena, and Ulbricht were obviously throwing everything they had into this performance. When they would turn, I could see the sweat beads flying off of them. It was exhiliarating. Ulbricht is built like a tank- and much has been made of his height (or lack thereof) and concerns with partnering. However, he is of comparable height to several men in the company. I would enjoy seeing him in a more danseur noble piece partnering a lovely Megan Fairchild, Ashley Bouder, or other smaller female dancer. Maria Kowroski is certainly not an option ;) . I just don't want him getting stuck in these character roles. Regardless of all of this, his technique and ability are astonishing, with a light, airy stage presence to boot. He was giving so much to his performance. Antonio Carmena is a lavishly classical dancer and a nice contrast to Ulbricht. His lengthiness and elegance make me think of one Angel Corrella. He also has the speed to match him. Again, it was obvious he was throwing everything he had into his performance. Adam Hendrickson did have some noticeable mistakes and was the least secure of the three (but he's in some really good company here). However, again, he was really putting a lot into the performance. His bobbles were a result of this effort rather than mere technical deficiencies. Wonderful performance put in. My companion watching the ballet with me commented, "After that, I'd just want to collapse and take a nap."

Vienna Waltzes was really showing the company at its best yesterday. As with Yvonne Borree, so many of us seem hyper-critical of NYCB in general these days (again, I know I am guilty of this myself). I realize that criticism is needed for improvement and not everyone is going to agree, but we all seem bent on dismantling Peter Martins' capabilities as both a director and choreographer, criticizing the dancers, lamenting on the downfall and imminent doom of the company, etc. NYCB is by no means ready to crumple. Bar none, its dancers are the best in the world from a collective approach: no one else dances as much as these dancers do, or dance such a wide variety of ballet. I guess this is just my little cheer section for the positives of NYCB at present. Maybe I'm just in an overly optimistic mood recently, but I think NYCB deserves a lot more credit than its "fans" have been giving it.

Anyway, Rachel Rutherford and James Fayette were divine in the opening section of Vienna Waltzes. Rutherford just glistened and I could not help but think of her eery resemblance to Tanaquil LeClerq. Haunting. Rutherford epitomized class on stage. Fayette was dashing and attentive. The corps seemed well rehearsed and looked wonderful in their pink gowns.

It was wonderful seeing Miranda Weese in the Spring section of Waltzes. I know some comments have been made concerning her weight gain from her extended injury, but she looked divine. Wonderful chainees, wonderful speed, airiness, and assertiveness. I love the look of her feet in pointe shoes. Peter Boal was incredible as her partner. They work very well together. LOVED seeing her, simple as that. In this section, Martine Ciccone stood out from the corps. Although she isn't often cited as being an up-and-comer or someone to watch, in all of the ballets I've seen her perform in, I always notice her first. Reason: her wonderful smile. The girl never stops. She's always beaming. This is nice... she looks like she could die a happy girl when onstage.

For Explosions-Polka, Amanda Edge was again quite lovely. She fit the bill in terms of characterization of the role. Arch Higgins was also terrific. Megan Fairchild (big surprise) and Lindy Mandradjieff (again, not a surprise) were great in the corps during this section.

Jenifer Ringer and Charles Askegard were stunning in the Merry Widow section. Wonderful chemistry. Askegard was regal and handsome. Jenifer Ringer=GORGEOUS. Divine in the black dress. I agree that the final pose as the lighting silhouettes them was boiling with heat and intimacy.

Darci Kistler was elegant in Der Rosenkavalier, as was Philip Neal. This role is perfect for Kistler given her present talents. She was the personification of mature assurance and purity. The culmination of all dancers was great. Ask la Cour (wonderfully tall) was a stand-out in this section.

NYCB was certainly at its best yesterday afternoon. It was a performance that refreshed me and renewed my love for the company and its dancers. A great day for the ballet. This is the final time I could make it to a performance before the winter season comes to a close, and I'm glad I go on my break from the ballet leaving with such a wonderful performance. I cannot wait until the spring season. Hurrah NYCB-- you're still #1 in my book.

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