writers on dancing


Almost As It Ought To Be

New York City Ballet
"Divertimento No. 15", "Polyphonia", "West Side Story Suite"
Opera House, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
Friday, March 4, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

Audiences are demanding, first and foremost. Then, if expectations are met, they may be grateful. At this year's third Washington performance by New York City Ballet, applause was abundant and remarks at intermission expressed satisfaction. The dancing and performing were of a caliber commensurate with the company's reputation. Things were as they ought to be, with only a little left to be desired.

The opening work, George Balanchine's "Divertimento No. 15", named after its music by Mozart, was set on a stage barren of even a hint of the baroque. The cast wore Karinska's costumes—blue, white, canary yellow—and although the women's tutus, in particular, alluded to the ruffled decorations of the composer's day, that didn't quite compensate for the initial impression of vacant space. The choreography and dancing did!

The ballet calls for 16 dancers with half—5 women and 3 men—having to fulfill soloist requirements. Balanchine provides them, the women especially, opportunity to indulge in display, not just of technical skill but mood play. In a set of slightly overlapping solos, the women can show one side of their character and then, in a set of partnered adagios, which also overlap a little but are not in quite the same order as the solos, they can exhibit another trait. Precision is needed throughout both sets, and because the variations are short and even the duos aren't long, every one of the women must be vivid. The fifth woman to dance her solo must, in addition, be a bit grand, for she appears to hold the highest rank. That this dancing takes place at a noble court is implied in the choreography's bows and overall decorum.

Megan Fairchild, in the first female solo, displayed her joy of dancing but in her adagio was just a bit dreamy and had a smile of the sort that told of secrets harbored. Janie Taylor danced a dedicated solo, what seemed to matter was doing it exactly, quickly, at top energy but without excess, whereas she definitely enjoyed being partnered. Carla Ko"rbes, alone, was sensual and thoughtful (she has a gift for plastique) yet in the duo one saw her electricity spark. Ashley Bouder was her dynamic self both times and, when partnered, almost made it seem that she led and he followed. Miranda Weese's fine detail, warmth and elegance were qualities also apparent in both solo and duo, but a spaciousness and grand assurance blossomed in the duet.

All 5 solo women did themselves, the company and the choreography proud. That they had to share the 3 men was a given, one of their court's unwritten rules. Balanchine allows the male dancers less individuality than the women. Jared Angle and Arch Higgins served as a duo in stating the theme for the variations set, and only Philip Neal, Weese's consort, danced a solo—which he did suitably. The corps of eight women which Balanchine uses as courtiers and as architecture for "Divertimento No. 15" was clear and sharp, not at all labored as had been its amplified counterpart on opening night for another Balanchine look at the past, his Tchaikowsky "Theme and Variations".

In "Polyphonia", Christopher Wheeldon turned to time present and took chances —dark colors, stark music, the shades of other choreographies hovering behind his dances—and scored a success. The smog lighting and the simple practice wear's eggplant tint intensified the images of the eight dancers. Just a few of them are on stage most of the time and either poised or in motion in Wheeldon's visual environment they seem vulnerable and mortal. György Ligeti's piano music reduces and rearranges traditional forms but doesn't denature them. One can still respond to the tempo of a waltz or the flow of a cantabile.

The choreographer starts sections of his ten-part work with movement reminiscent of Balanchine's fractured classicism. There's an "Agon" theme here, an "Episodes" pose there. Suddenly, though, it becomes Jerome Robbins, the Robbins of the piano ballets, in a walk, a rush, or the ping-pong between two figures. Yet, Wheeldon never seems to be filching or even alluding. He makes the movement his own. Is it because of the intimate rather than demonstrative way in which he has his dancers' bodies meet? Is it because he combines denouement with coda? Some people complain that he is a cold choreographer (they used to say that of Balanchine too in the 1950s). I found the sparse, concentrated duo for Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto deeply moving. Moreover, Wheeldon made me appreciate the dancing of these two as no other choreographer had before.

"West Side Story Suite" is entertainment artfully made. It is the effect of the choreography, music and drama that really counts. Dances by Jerome Robbins (with Peter Gennaro's help) and some songs from the full 1957 musical have been assembled into a plausible summary of the action. And it is quite effective in terms of pity, fear and purgation although a love duet for the Romeo and Juliet figures is missing in the current version. Jenifer Ringer, Nikolaj Hu"bbe, Faye Arthurs and Amanda Edge were convincing and vital as four of the leading protagonists. Quite a few of the company's men seemed more at home in this work's Broadway show style than in classical ballet which ought to be at the heart of what they do.

Volume 3, No. 10
March 5, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson


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last updated on March 7, 2005