News for the Muses
York City Ballet
Spring Gala 2005
"Tala Gaisma"/Peter Martins
"Broken Promise"/Albert Evans
"Double Aria"/Benjamin Millepied
"Distant Cries"/Edward Liang
"An American in Paris"/Christopher Wheeldon
New York State Theater
New York, NY
May 5, 2005
©2005 by Nancy Dalva
Here's what I really want from a ballet: either to be transported out
of my body into some fantastic heady realm, or to be transported into
my body via some kinesthetic magic. What I don't want is to sit around
thinking up snappy one-liners and experiencing various worrisome somatic
symptoms, so that instead of drifting out of the theater, I hobble home
cackling to myself like Carabosse, the embittered self-invited fairy spoiler
in "Sleeping Beauty."
I am grateful to Edward Liang for "Distant Cries," his beautiful
duet for Wendy Whelan and Peter Boal set to Albinoni, the 18th century
Italian composer, which I saw first in the smaller confines of the Joyce
Theater. It took well to the New York State Theater, gaining in poetry
what it lost in intimacy. And how nice to see Boal, in his last season
at the company before leaving to head the Pacific Northwest Ballet, take
the stage in a piece he had commissioned for himself, so we might see
that the excellent taste he has shown in his dancing runs deep. What a
partner he has been, though it is his classical line and refinement that
are usually most commented upon. He's been romantic with romantic girls,
like Jennifer Ringer. He's been courtly. And here, with Wendy Whelan,
he is a tragic lover. Nobody wafts or is wafted better than Whelan, who
seems to be the choreographer's partner of choice for parting-gift duets.
I've never seen a clearer dancer, except maybe Fred Astaire, whose gifts
were of course otherwise altogether different—but for one other
thing, which would be flattering one's partner.
Christopher Wheeldon has made another such tribute duet, also quite lovely,
involving Whelan—for her and Jock Soto—but he was represented
here by a more cynical undertaking, namely "An American In Paris,"
a ballet invented for those who don't like ballet. More about that in
a minute, but first to the other tribute number on the bill, the program's
The stalwart Soto, as it happens, is also retiring this season, but his
tribute ballet by Peter Martins went on without him. While I am not saying
he was lucky to be injured and not in it, one might as well look for the
silver lining–because what a weird ballet "Tala Gaizma"
is, starting with its inhospitable violin score by Peteris Vasks, and
proceeding to its inevitable conjuring of Apollo, the Balanchine role
Peter Martins himself danced with such blond godliness. Either he intended
this piece to look like a retirement party for Apollo, or he didn't. Who
knows? How can you conjure three Muses and not have people think of Apollo?
And who knew Apollo was a hairdresser?
You should see those Muses! With Jared Angle filling in for Soto, there
appeared—I am making this up from looking at it, this isn't in the
program—the Muse of Gynecology, played by the magnificent Sofiane
Sylve, sporting an Afro; Miranda Weese, as Medusa, her hair done up in
corn rows and a French twist; and Darci Kistler, her strawberry blonde
hair streaming, who did everything but lean on Angle and murmur "I
have always depended on the kindness of strangers." This is a better
idea than depending on the kindness of Martins, who, after interminable
comings and goings of this ill assorted quartet, has a penultimate moment
when you think he is going to kill off his hero, in a kind of symbolic
retirement. (That's what Wheeldon did with Soto.) But no. Wait. The girls
are down. Bad news, Muses! You're toast.
course Apollo's not dead. How could he be? He's heading the New York City
Ballet. Which to his credit has some talented dancers who are choreographers,
another being Albert Evans. Here's the best thing about the two pieces
he had presented at his home company—this new one called "Broken
Promise," and the previous "Haiku," made in 2002 to a score
by John Cage. They are really musical, and not in a decorative way, but
in their basic impulse. The Cage laid down a huge floor of sound under
the dancers, and so does this new score by Matthew Fuerst, who is currently
completing his doctorate at The Juilliard School. You never wonder why
Evans is making a piece. You don't feel he is idea driven. You see his
response to what he hears. This is all good, as is how good he makes his
dancers look. They, in turn, flatter him. As indeed Ashley Bouder flatters
everything, including her partner here, Stephen Hanna. They both look
a bit like Evans as they dance, and that's a good thing, too.
In an interview with Sylviane Gold in "The New York Times,"
Christopher Wheeldon—whose talent I very much admire—points
out that if he had "stayed dancing," he'd still be in his prime.
"I was always kind of a showman dancer," he says. "I could
always strap on that smile and look like I was having a good time, even
when I wasn't." And this is exactly what his "American in Paris"
looks like. Fake. Never mind what looks like the dubious desire to complete
with Broadway's Susan Stroman, creator of a full length pot boiler for
this company. Never mind the wholesale doom that settles on the remaking
of Gene Kelly vehicles for the stage. (Did no one recall Twyla Tharp and
"Singin' In the Rain" and express doubt?)
Because how about this for hubris? Says Wheeldon to his interviewer,
"Gene Kelly was the master at doing nothing.....he just runs around.
And the pas de deux is very simplistic. He and Leslie Caron do nothing...."
Say what? I'm not one for giving instructions to choreographers, but here's
a memo to Christopher Wheeldon: Do more nothing.
what a French poodle's dinner this ballet is. The Gershwin score's fine,
of course, very easy on the ear, but the ballet is like a sojourn in one
of those souvenir stands on the Rue Rivoli, where familiar icons appear
on t-shirts, dish towels, and lunch bags, and the notion is proposed that
the French still wear berets. Adrienne Lobel has whipped up some sets
that owe a lot to Robert Delaunay, and costumer Holly Hynes has conjured
Madeline and her little convent school friends. and Miss Clavel, the nun
who leads them around Paris; and a hooker; and a whole flock of girls
who appear to be Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face," with Carla
Korbes as their dishy leader. Jennifer Ringer plays a beautiful love interest,
which is no stretch for her at all—she is beautiful, and what's
not to love? And then there is Damian Woetzel, who has turned choreographic
dross into gold on more than once occasion, and is naturally splendid
in anything naturally splendid. He's an excellent dancer, and he's full
of manly ease, and if I had to pick someone at New York City Ballet to
play Gene Kelly, I'd probably choose him too. But it's a thankless assignment.
At least the choreographer didn't ask him to sing.
It's strange how Wheeldon makes the occasional ballet that looks as if
it were choreographed during the Eisenhower Administration. He told Sylviane
Gold the Gershwin score "is accessible and exciting for an audience
that doesn't normally come to the ballet," and I suppose that's what
this ballet is meant to be. Accessible, and exciting. Yet to me this is
a tragic misreading of the New York City Ballet audience, and culture.
Alexandra Danilova, the prima ballerina assoluta of incomparable elegance
who began her career by leaving Russia in a troupe headed by George Balanchine
and ended it teaching at the School of American Ballet, was talking once
about her years of touring the backwaters of the United States. "Even
when there were chickens in dressing room," she said in her wonderful
accent, "I never dance down."
Anyway, there was one real French deal on Gala night, and I will close
here with it: Benjamin Millepied's duet for Maria Kowroski and Ask La
Cour called "Double Aria." The score is a violin cadenza, composed
for Millepied by Daniel Ott, and performed on stage. Thus the "Double
Aria" of the title is about two duets—that between the dancers,
and between the choregrapher and the musician. Millepied, who is actually
French, gallantly puts the music first. His is a fine ear, and he is an
elegant and modest choreographer who makes impeccable ballets. He draws
from Kowroski a performance of great seriousness and no sweetness, rescuing
her from the soubrette mode into which she is so readily cast, and she
is well matched by La Cour, who is shaping up to be another in the succession
of great Danes with whom the New York City Ballet has been blessed.
Photo on front page
of Benjamiin Millepied's "Double Aria."
First: Wendy Whelan and Peter Boal in "Distant Cries."
Photo: Paul Kolnik.
Second: Darcey Kistler and Jared Angle in "Broken Promise."
Photo: Paul Kolnik.
Third: Ashley Bouder and Stephen Hanna in "Broken Promise."
Photo: Paul Kolnik.
Fourth: Damian Woetzel and company in the finale of "An American
in Paris." Photo: Paul Kolnik.
May 9, 2005
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Kathrine Sorley Walker