writers on dancing


City Ballet Opens Winter Season
An American Music Celebration: Fearful Symmetries,” “In a Landscape,” “N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz”
New York City Ballet Opening Night Gala
New York State Theater
New York, NY
November 22, 2005
by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

Three days later, the snowflakes would fall and the sled would sail through the air, but first New York City Ballet presented a bracing opening-night program that was as far from “The Nutcracker”’s sugary fantasy as is possible. There were no tutus, no allusions to the 19th century—and also no Balanchine. (There were also, thankfully, no speeches.) Under the rubric of “An American Music Celebration,” the company offered works by Peter Martins and Jerome Robbins, as well as a riveting, impressive premiere by principal dancer Albert Evans.

Evans's “In a Landscape” featured every NYCB choreographer’s current favorite muse, Wendy Whelan, in a role suffused with poignant vulnerability. As the delicately spare, melancholy 1960 John Cage score (“Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard”) began, she made  a striking entrance, pulled along on her side by an intensely focused Philip Neal. She glided—almost—floated—serenely, as together they crossed upstage in near-silhouette, establishing it as a potent landscape through which they had some purposeful mission to see through. He let her go, not pausing or looking back, and she danced alone, with that wonderful, slightly edgy, creaturely attack that she has, at times reminiscent of her exceptional interpretation of the Novice in Robbins’ “The Cage.” Her thin arms sculpted the air with tendril-like delicacy, and her body reverberated with that seemingly contradictory blend of fragility and tensile, molten strength.

Neal returned and they joined forces for an extended duet set to a haunting, supple piano section of the score. Both were dressed in inky black, but Neal’s sleek shirt and pants grounded him in worldly reality, while Whelan’s elegantly cut leotard and cut-off tights made her seem more a figure suggested by the music’s possibilities. As they moved together, she let herself be wonderfully soft, taking the edge off—as though she was just letting things happen. Even when things took a more gymnastic turn —as she went into a slow-motion handstand on his thigh, from where he scooped her up so that she sat on his shoulder—nothing appeared calculated. It all unfurled with fluent equanimity.
Evans accentuated the angularity of Wheelan's arms, having her break their line at the elbows. He presented her lean form with sculptural fullness, so that you could feel her pressing through space. The fascinating Cage music, which at times suggested a kinship with the English lyricism of Vaughan Williams, brings out a quality of unhurried plastique and somehow makes her incredible pliancy and facility seem to be something that she is discovering in the moment.

Neal’s beautifully calibrated performance contributes a potent, solid counterpoint to her questioning, exploratory presence. The music’s six sections are not sharply delineated, but seem to flow into each other; pianist Alan Moverman and violinist Kurt Nikkanen brought all its subtle nuances and shadings. As its reaches it quiet conclusion, the dancers are once again crossing the stage as they did at the start, with Whelan on her side magically defying friction and gliding across, her arm lazily unfolding upward. What could easily have been an image suggesting dominance or cruelty—man drags woman— is instead a vision of some unknown quest, a somber march into unknown possibilities.

The program opened with the vigorous, propulsive activity of Martins’ 1990 “Fearful Symmetries,” a work in which he is very much on the wavelength of John Adams’ score. Martins seems to take delight in shooting his multiple, hierarchical squadrons—all costumed in shades of crimson, rose, burgundy, salmon—across the stage in no-nonsense, charging movement, all of it delivered with a driving attack. It is effective, if at times hyperactive, but often it seems like martins is trying to create his own “Symphony in Three Movements,” of which there are also some echoes in Adams’ score. But Martins’ work, for all its expenditure of energy, is precise and safe, while that one veers excitingly towards chaos.

Sofiane Sylve fit well into the role created for Merrill Ashley; her tough veneer and appetite for space suit it perfectly. Miranda Weese, a ballerina bred for finer things, worked gamely but did not seem quite at home in the counterpart ballerina role originated by Heather Watts. Their partners, Sebastien Marcovici and newly-named principal Jared Angle, shot through the athletic choreography with appropriate intensity. Most exciting were the high-octane pair of Ashley Bouder and Joaquin de Luz, making every springy jump and high-speed spin look effortless and radiating pure energy.

Robbins’ “N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz” seems to be settling nicely into the company’s repertory, but it fell a little flat as a program closer, perhaps because of its no-hierarchy, all-ensemble presentation. But the dancers, sleek, and oh-so-cool as they extracted maximum juiciness out of their sneaker-clad jiving moves, were thrilling to behold. Having mastered his “West Side Story Suite” over the past decade, they understand and really get inside this related choreography, giving it its full due and never condescending to it.

First: Wendy Whelan and Philip Neal in Albert Evans' “In a Landscape”. Photo: Paul Kolnik.
Second: Sofiane Sylve and Sebastien Marcovici in Peter Martins' "Fearful Symmetries." Photo: Paul Kolnik.

Volume 3, No. 44
November 28, 2005

copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on November 28, 2005