Variety without cohesion

“Songs of the Auvergne,” “In Vento,” “Symphony in C”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
May 4, 2006

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2006, Leigh Witchel

It’s cause for rejoicing when a festival of new works produces something that can last beyond the festival.  I wouldn’t put money on Mauro Bigonzetti’s ballet “In Vento” (“In the wind” in Italian) persisting in repertory; the score of the same name is another matter. It is composed by Bigonzetti’s frequent collaborator Bruno Moretti and is sonorous, danceable and quite beautiful. Commissioned by NYCB for the Diamond Project and scored for orchestra, the music deftly walks the line between classical and contemporary by seeming not to concern itself with being either traditional or cutting edge.  It’s just good work.

As for the choreography, it’s rather familiar. Benjamin Millepied began the work alone balanced on the floor and did what looked like Pilates exercises. Shadowy figures appeared out of the smoky darkness. The men were bare-chested; the women wore black lace leotards. The corps remained anonymous and shadowed in Mark Stanley’s dramatically gloomy lighting, but one woman (Tiler Peck) was disgorged to do a solo and then dance with Millepied. She disappeared back into the corps. Maria Kowroski also got a solo, then a pas de deux with Jason Fowler. 

One could infer from the look of the steps that Bigonzetti is the sort of choreographer who works on his own body by feel. If he likes a movement, if it feels good to turn his shoulder or twist his arm behind his back, it gets put into the ballet. The theme of "In Vento" seems to be the place of the individual in the faceless crowd and Bigonzetti manages to ramp up quite a bit of existential angst. There are enough identifiable horrors and outrages nowadays to make existential angst seem self-indulgent. 

The piece is theatrically interesting; Kowroski has an arresting moment when she turns away from us and all we see is the plunging back of her costume, exposing white skin in the darkness. The dancers, particularly Peck in her uncredited solo, give it their all. Still, Bigonzetti seems to be trying for a frisson this work might have had two decades ago if he worked before William Forsythe instead of after. It’s also one of life’s little ironies that choreographers who have the least to do with Balanchine are the ones who most loudly proclaim their devotion to him. This work is “humbly and passionately dedicated to Mr. Balanchine, my master and master of all my masters.”  This little bit of brown-nosing is about as convincing as when Boris Eifman tried it.

There are countless ballet dancers who find classical ballet limiting. Choreography becomes a way to take the reins. It shows in Bigonzetti’s work; the classical vocabulary looks dutiful even when it’s good — there’s an energetic male quartet that alas, stopped before he developed it. The implications in his style are clear. Classical ballet is a limiting prison, the corps de ballet is a metaphor for smothering convention; freedom lies in removing all rules and constraints. It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. With vocabulary that personal and quirky, none of the dancers look like themselves; everyone, including the women, looks like versions of the choreographer. The only exception is Millepied, probably from sympathy in viewpoint. He looked quite good indeed and relieved as well as released not to be dancing classically. It would be interesting to see Bigonzetti dig into classical ballet instead of running from it, as Moretti digs into classical music. That will take more than a fervent dedication in the program.

“In Vento” was the centerpiece in a less-than-great evening, one that had variety without cohesion. The forced wholesomeness of “Songs of the Auvergne” was leavened by an interesting debut by Sterling Hyltin in a featured role (Sébastien Marcovici and Amar Ramasar also made debuts). Hyltin is strong and thin with pulled-out limbs. She has quick timing and strong technique (the role was mostly turns) but she’s not straight and needle-like; she’s curved like a tensed bow. Her shoulders are carried slightly behind her hips — not textbook posture, but it seems to show her feelings:  A full heart throws her open and bends her back.

Symphony in C, performed by a cast previously reviewed [], closed the evening and looked under-rehearsed — a situation endemic to festivals at NYCB. The corps de ballet was full of apprentices and the ballet looked as if it were thrown together with a minimum of rehearsal time because the new works have taken the lion’s share.

Photos, both by Paul Kolnik:
First: Maria Kowroski and Jason Fowler.
Second (l to r): Maria Kowroski, Jonathan Stafford, Teresa Reichlen, Robert Fairchild and Saskia Beskow in "In Vento."

Volume 4, No. 18
May 8, 2006

copyright ©2006 Leigh Witchel



©2006 DanceView