Funerals, Weddings and Westerns

“Russian Seasons," "In Memory Of . . .," "Western Symphony"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
June 21, 2006

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2006, Leigh Witchel

Miranda Weese holds up more than her share of the repertory at New York City Ballet, but not much of her share was also Suzanne Farrell’s. The roles Weese performs that were created by Farrell are few; they usually go to taller dancers who bear a closer resemblance to Farrell. Her most notable Farrell part was one she had to campaign to get – “Mozartiana”. Weese gained a new role on Wednesday night with her debut in “In Memory Of . . .”, a ballet Jerome Robbins created in 1985 to Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. The score was dedicated by the composer “to an angel”, Manon Gropius, who had died from infantile paralysis at age 18.  With two men, the first a young lover originally danced by Joseph Duell and then Adam Lüders as a Death figure, Farrell brought that angel to life — and death.

Weese began her career as a virtuoso, speeding through Merrill Ashley’s coloratura soprano roles. Maturity (and injury) added darker coloring as well as emotional complexity to her dancing; to extend the metaphor she’s become the company’s preeminent contralto. Still, even though handsomely danced, Farrell’s part wasn’t a great fit for Weese. The role calls for a sacrificial lamb, something that Farrell could embody with no effort and is foreign to Weese. She can do tragedy, but she needs a more active role — Juliet, for instance — anything that lets her do something instead of have things done to her. 

Charles Askegard (who inherited almost all of Adam Lüders’ repertory because of physical resemblance) played the Death figure. Jason Fowler made his debut in Duell’s part, but his role is undeveloped and the ballet isn’t top-drawer Robbins. The references to fascism in it are heavy-handed: the dancers exit the first movement in a stiff walk recalling a goose step. The weakest aspect is Robbins’ work for the corps de ballet. He set tendus, promenades and other academic vocabulary as if the Berg concerto were musique dansante.

Alexei Ratmansky’s “Russian Seasons” (See for Susan Reiter’s initial report on the ballet) demanded a great deal from the dancers but gave a great deal back in return. The dance is complicated and it’s still comparatively unfamiliar; Wendy Whelan nearly fell during some tricky pointe work and the ensemble work got ragged at points. Ratmansky doesn’t only keep the cast busy with technical demands; he’s asking for new dramatic gifts from the dancers. There is tremendous warmth of feeling in the work. The dancers flirted and quarreled and if the emotions were not cryptic, sometimes the situation was.  Whelan fell to the floor in a moment recalling the Russian Girl in “Serenade” and just as enigmatic. If we were Russian we’d probably get the play of emotions instinctively, but a short “Note from the Choreographer” in the program would be welcome.

Enigmatic emotions aside, “Russian Seasons” is a lovely addition to the repertory. Ratmansky is interested in “modern” vocabulary but it’s used for an expressive purpose here, not as an end in itself. There aren’t just contemporary distortions either, there are folk references; it all creates the landscape onstage. As refreshing as the work seems, there are plenty of repertory echoes. One gets the sense of Ratmansky entering Balanchine’s house as a guest and both choreographer and composer (Leonid Desyatnikov) celebrating their common roots and culture with Balanchine and Stravinsky. The score parallels Stravinsky’s interest in Russian folk material; the music gets one thinking of “Les Noces” and also “Histoire du Soldat.” In the choreography, one can sense “Apollo” as well as “Serenade”.  The mix of folk and modern influences, as well as sections of the score, recall “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”.  Robbins, particularly his “Dances at a Gathering”, gets acknowledged as well in the sense of community onstage, as does Nijinska’s “Les Noces”.  It’s a nourishing soup of the best ingredients with a lovely, hopeful ending that doesn’t tie everything up too neatly.

Certain dancers really blossomed in the work. Ratmansky gave masculine choreography to Antonio Carmena and Adam Hendrickson. Abi Stafford, beaming with pleasure, looked practically unrecognizable.  That chrysalis has been incubating all season and it’s a wonderful development. Rebecca Krohn went into Sofiane Sylve’s part, not a smooth transition since the role seemed to hinge on Sylve’s virtuoso turning skills.

The evening ended happily with a repertory staple, “Western Symphony”.  The first two movements were the same cast as reviewed previously ( Hendrickson and Megan Fairchild have further honed their performances and partnering.  In the final movement, Maria Kowroski gave a confident and showy performance; the unfocused look she sometimes got onstage has vanished.  Damian Woetzel did one of his loose, ad lib performances that nobody else can get away with.  At the curtain call, Andrea Quinn, the company’s retiring music director, got enough flowers from her fellow conductors, the dancers and Peter Martins that she almost disappeared behind them.

Volume 4, No. 25
June 26, 2006

copyright ©2006 Leigh Witchel



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