writers on dancing


Apollo in Princeton

Peter Boal & Company
McCarter Theatre Center
Princeton, New Jersey
October 3, 2004

By Dale Brauner
copyright © 2004 by Dale Brauner

Peter Boal is a very busy man these days. He is an inspiring teacher at the School of American Ballet by day and star dancer at the affiliated New York City Ballet by night. He has been performing with a small group during his time off from NYCB and recently was tapped to lead a major American company. And after the Suzanne Farrell Ballet was forced to cancel its entire fall 2004 tour, including its visit to Princeton University’s McCarter Theatre Center, Mr. Boal stepped forward, snapping up the engagement and providing this New Jersey suburb a chance to see world-class ballet on its own stage.

Suzanne Farrell had intended to present her company in a program of duets taken from works by her mentor, George Balanchine, to celebrate his centennial this year. It was a program shown only in Washington D.C. in December 2003, so the event was eagerly awaited by many further north. Mr. Boal brought together a troupe for a season this March at the Joyce Theater of contemporary fare of Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe, Marco Goecke and John Alleyne. He has remained busy since the end of the New York City Ballet spring season, performing the Paul Taylor solo from Balanchine’s “Episodes” at Jacob’s Pillow and at New York’s City Center and has emerged as the leading candidate for the soon-to-be vacant position of artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.

Mr. Boal, who also has performed with Farrell’s company over the years, retained Tharp’s “Pergolesi” from his recent engagements while revisiting Balanchine’s “Apollo” and adding “Pavane,” “Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux” and the pas de deux from “Chaconne,” also by Balanchine. The dancers were culled from friends and neighbors—NYCB senior principal dancer and Princeton Resident Kyra Nichols, American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancer Marcelo Gomes, Suzanne Farrell Ballet stalwarts Chan Hon Goh (a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada), Ben Huys and Bonnie Pickard (replacing Natalia Magnicaballi), as well as former ABT soloist Sandra Brown.

The program opened with “Pergolesi,” a solo made in 1993 on Mikhail Baryshnikov. The style is quintessential Tharp-on-Baryshnikov—lots of little shrugs, amusing leaps and centered turns. The choreography was the type Mr. Baryshnikov routinely turned into a monologue of great interest. In lesser hands, it can be precious. Mr. Boal is one of the great classicists of our time and the choreography sits less well on him. That’s not to say he is without the personality required, but that his personality grows out of his understanding of form. Still, clad in his cream-colored Isaac Mizrahi pants and sweater, Mr. Boal pattered about appealingly, much to the delight of the mostly full house, which laughed openly at Tharp’s usual fillips of head bobs, shimmies and shuffles set to several orchestra pieces by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (the music was taped).

Ms. Nichols—that most musical of dancers—was given an on-stage pianist (uncredited in the program) for her performances of “Pavane" and "Chaconne.” “Pavane” was made on Patricia McBride for the 1975 Ravel Festival at NYCB. It was considered a slight work, light on steps and heavy on atmosphere. But on the right dancer, it can be very moving. Danced by a woman in white, the ballet is performed to "Pavane pour une Infante Defunte (pavane for a dead princess)" and Balanchine just barely hints at a woman grieving. She carries a long bolt of chiffon, which she sometimes wraps around herself as a shroud or cradles on her arms like an infant. At other times, she raises it up and runs defiantly. Ms. Nichols, using her years of experience, revealed the full emotional richness of the short work.

The opening pas de deux of “Chaconne” also evokes a dream world, that of Orpheus and Euridice in an abstract work from 1976. Like “Pavane,” the woman is in filmy chiffon dress with loose hair. Here, partnered by former NYCB soloist Ben Huys, Ms. Nichols floated and swam over the earth.

"Tschaikovsky pas de deux," sandwiched in between "Pavane" and "Chaconne," received an uneven performance. Ms. Brown started each of her solos with the snap and alertness that marked her work at ABT, but she appeared to lose strength at the end of each section. Mr. Gomes brought the audience to attention with high scissor leaps and multiple turns that came an ever-so-slow conclusion. Unfortunately, the flying fish dives that end the ballet were botched as well.

The program closed with “Apollo.” Mr. Boal has been one of the leading interpreters of the leading role in this seminal ballet, created in 1928 and performed here in the truncated 1979 version. The 38-year-old Boal first performed the part when he was 23 and has had years to develop various approaches to the role. On this occasion, he settled for a looser-styled Apollo. The shorter version, which omits the prologue, can make it harder to indicate Apollo’s journey from callow youth to god. Mr. Boal’s protagonist was more like a Hamlet who learns to shed his indecision. He started off unsure of himself, trying this move and that with his lute. But by the second solo, after seeing his muses (Mss. Goh, Brown and Pickard) perform, he gained vision and understanding.

Ms. Goh was light and jazzy as Terpsichore, Ms. Brown, recovered from the unfortunate "Tschaikovsky," was a striking Polyhymnia, and Ms. Pickard was properly dramatic as Calliope. The crowd gasped in awe at the “swimming” section and the “sunburst” ending of Apollo and appreciated the chance to experience top-flight dance outside of New York City.

Photos (all by Paul Kolnik):
First and third:  Peter Boal in Balanchine's "Apollo."
Second:  Kyra Nichols in Balanchine's "Chaconne."
Volume 2, No. 38
October 11, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Dale Brauner


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last updated on October 4, 2004