writers on dancing


Partners on Parade

“Octet," "After the Rain," and "Stravinsky Violiin Concerto"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
March 31, 2005

by Tom Phillips
copyright ©2005 by Tom Phillips

Partnerships are what makes ballet romantic, sexy and intriguing, and there were more than half a dozen of them on parade Tuesday night at The New York State Theater—some new, some old, and one unique combination that is about to pass into the history books of the New York City Ballet: Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto. The second half of Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” is just for them. After a high-energy opening for three couples (that’s the “rain” part) they come on for a meditative duet, in a setting that looks like a desert sunset. The atmosphere is relaxed and almost trancelike, a window in time where conflict and anxiety are suspended. Arvo Part’s music is a slow walk for one hand on the piano, and long, even notes, one step apart, high on the violin. Barefoot and bare-chested in an ordinary pair of pants, Soto is stripped down to his essential self, which is more than anything else a partner. As Whelan rolls her body around, slowly turning herself upside down and inside out, he hovers over her, lifts her, balances her, supports her, twists himself around and under her. He is her “strength and shield,” the constant presence that allows her to work out the energies that move her from within, without fear. It’s a strangely calming sight, a woman completely secure in the presence of a man, and that’s the magic of this partnership. Soto has the emotional capacity to absorb the storms of the most skittish or hyperactive ballerina, and the calm center to be able to join her in meditative repose. They got a standing ovation, the beginning of a wave that will culminate with Soto’s farewell performance June 19th.

In the stormy first part of “After the Rain,” Whelan and Soto shared the stage with two other couples, and while the veterans were more polished and smooth, for pure electricity they were outshone by the new combination of Sofiane Sylve and Amar Ramasar. Sylve, like Cleopatra, is a “piece of work,” and a daunting assignment for a partner. She is big, strong and seemingly independent, with an intense focus and quick, decisive movements. You better be there when she needs you to catch her, because she’s not going to wait. Ramasar, a young corps member dancing here with principals, was up to the job. Physically, these two are made for each other; his broad, sloping back is a man-sized, dark shadow of her milk-white classic form. He is big and strong enough to surround her without upstaging her, and he has something she lacks—full flexibility in the upper torso. Ramasar adds a ripple to Sylve’s smoother wave of movement, and together these two cover enormous gaps of territory. Sometimes he has to scramble to keep up with her, but that’s part of the fun.

The other couple in this all-star cast, Maria Kowroski and the newly promoted soloist Ask la Cour, seemed pale by comparison. He is tall enough to dance with her, but it’s hard to detect any sparks flying in either direction.

The first piece on the bill, Peter Martins’ “Octet,” belonged to the combination of Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz. The choreography is long on symmetry and almost devoid of interaction, allowing the couples only token moments of connection before they are whisked off again into the athletic spectacle. But Fairchild and de Luz made the most of these moments, and even when they were pulled apart, kept the connection in their eyes and their gestures. She is an amazingly expressive and charming young performer, using her eyes, her fingers, her hips, anything that moves, to communicate with her partner and with the audience. And what does she communicate? Wit, mastery of her body, irony, amusement, affection; it’s all light and comic, but it has a lot of shades to it. As for de Luz, he seems to be loosening up. His smile is becoming more natural, and his explosive leaps convey joy as well as technical bravura.

Alexandra Ansanelli danced with Jared Angle as the other couple. Sadly, she is still a princess in search of a partner in this company. No longer a teenager, Ansanelli has kept her doll-like smile and vivacity, but doesn’t seem to have added much to it. Her best-fitting role to date has been the girl next door in Susan Stroman’s silly “Double Feature,” but you have to believe there is more in her. Where is it? Jared Angle was not the one to bring it out; he was pleasant but detached.

The program ended with a lukewarm rendition of Balanchine’s "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." Sylve was back, this time with Albert Evans, who matched her energy but didn’t raise it as did young Amar. The slow movement was performed by Yvonne Borree and Nilas Martins, who have danced together for years and appear comfortable with each other. Still, their relationship doesn’t project much beyond the footlights. She looked self-conscious, while he was absorbed in his work.

Volume 3, No. 22
June 6, 2005

copyright ©2005 Tom Phillips



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last updated on June 6, 2005