writers on dancing


Corps vs. Soloists

New York City Ballet
"Symphony in Three Movements", "Shambards" and "Glass Pieces"
New York State Theater New York
New York, New York
Wednesday, February 16, 2005

By George Jackson
Copyright 2005 George Jackson

The program's three ballets went well together, which isn't always the case despite NYCB's large repertory by mutually sympatico choreographers. Balanchine's Stravinsky "Symphony in Three Movements", Christopher Wheeldon's "Shambards" and Jerome Robbins's "Glass Pieces" are thematic works that extend choreographic ideas. They differ in the degree of abstraction from their themes and the intensity of the predominant moods.The corps is important in all three.

The Balanchine opens and ends astringently. What the theme is, is guesswork but there is a theme. Because of its long corps lines, I've associated "Symphony in Three Movements" with the Olympics, particularly the Berlin ones Leni Riefensthal filmed in the 1930s. That astringency triggered the connection. The question the ballet poses concerns the soloists. What relationships are possible for individuals who meet at such a mass event? It is the women who define the relationships more than the men, as often in Balanchine.

At this performance, "Symphony in Three Movements" seemed the least rehearsed of the three ballets. The diagonal line of women that can be so spectacular at the start wasn't ruler straight. Some of the subsequent corps formations were also untidy. The three leading ladies, technically proficient, hadn't quite the right airs. Jennifer Tinsley was bland, Sofiane Sylve was too spicy although admirably supple and energized, Wendy Whelan was self-involved and stringy. The men—Tom Gold, Jared Angle and Albert Evans—served. Nevertheless, one could see how admirably the choreography's blocking and freeze fractured classicism matched Stravinsky's chords and allowed lyricism to emerge despite stringencies and strictures.

The corps at the start of "Shambards" seemed to refer to that in "Symphony in Three Movements". Probably this was unintended, a chance convergence. If Wheeldon was thinking of Balanchine, more likely he had "La Valse" and "Scotch Symphony" in mind. The stage's autumnal coloration is darker than necessary for James MacMillan's music. If one opts for reading a story into action, this becomes a late romantic tale, something grotesque in which a beautiful woman dies twice. However, it is quite plausible instead to see a more abstract theme in "Shambards", one that has to do with energy levels of the soloists vs. the corps and of the men vs. the women. In the first or Beginning section, the corps wins. Its energy level is higher than that of the ever so slow solo pair, patiently performed by Carla Ko"rbes and Ask la Cour. Within the corps, the men have more drive than the women.

A ballerina is the focus of attention in the Middle and End sections of "Shambards". Energy is drained from her by her partner. She fades beautifully the first time, then drastically. Her demise overrides the energy play of a quadrille group (Daniel Ulbricht, Joaquin de Luz, Ashley Bouder, Megan Fairchild) and of the corps de ballet. Miranda Weese and Jock Soto as the ballerina and her partner were splendid. The entire cast seemed to believe in this ballet.

"Glass Pieces", to three Philip Glass orchestral compositions, is lighter in tone than the two preceding ballets but urgent. Robbins alternates stylized walking and stylized ballet dancing, he contrasts the crowd and individuals (Tinsley, Rachel Rutherford, Rebecca Krohn, Whelan, Arch Higgins, Jason Fowler, la Cour, Philip Neal). He gives the male corps some spectacular passages and alludes lightly to Petipa's Shades, ancient Egyptian postures and electronic grids. The flash ending, with the full cast suddenly silhouetted, is as effective as the evening's opening with the "Symphony in Three Movements" diagonal could have been. The dancers looked like they enjoyed themselves.

More seams show in Wheeldon's ballet than in Balanchine's or Robbins's, but "Shambards" is worthy of being on the same program as "Symphony in Three Movements" and "Glass Pieces".

Volume 3, No. 8
February 21, 2005
Copyright ©2005 by George Jackson


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