As It Ought To Be
York City Ballet
"Divertimento No. 15", "Polyphonia", "West Side
Opera House, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
Friday, March 4, 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
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.
March 5, 2005
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Kathrine Sorley Walker
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