Girls, Women and Tomboys
“Allegro Brillante," "Liturgy," "Monumentum Pro Gesualdo," "Movements for Piano and Orchestra," "Symphony in C," "Fearful Symmetries"
by Leigh Witchel
In ballet, girlhood and womanhood aren't always defined by age. New York City Ballet’s ballerinas have always been the company’s treasure; they range from coltish to sophisticated. All have their place in the repertory; the girls who show us delicacy and vulnerability as well as the women who bring maturity and strength. The company lost some of its golden girls recently, but a duet of strongly programmed and nearly identical repertory performances gave the company’s women a chance to show off.
“Allegro Brillante” is a classic opening ballet. The score is a standalone first movement taken from a piano concerto that Tchaikovsky did not finish. It is marked with anticipation for events that must forever remain imaginary. Two dancers made their New York debuts in the female lead, Miranda Weese and Sofiane Sylve. They’re both women, and both sophisticates. Weese was full of warm authority. The trademark surgical leg positions were there with changes of directions as sharp as an incision and as undetectable. Weese knows how to lead a cast and still connect graciously with the audience. She’s a great Queen Bee, Margo Channing without the booze and smokes. Sylve’s calling cards are her turns: double to triple and I think double to quadruple in the infamous unsupported series at the center of the ballet. They’re as pulled up and as reliably gyroscopic as precision machinery. She doesn’t have Weese’s speed, but if you look closely she doesn’t do some of the things Weese does to remain on top of the music. Sylve’s retiré stays pulled up high at the knee in all turns and she points her foot all the way down to the toe even if the music threatens to rush ahead of her. Each chose the more suitable tradeoff for them. Both were nicely partnered by Philip Neal.
The corps roles in “Allegro” are considered some of the most senior in the company, practically a demi-soloist role. It’s often cast with soloists in the roles and usually thought of as four couples. It is but it isn’tmore accurately it’s four women and four men. Although much of the dancing in the ballet is in pairs, the couplings are unstable. Often, they’re dancing with the person who happened to be closest to them at the moment. As with the male lead, the corps de ballet remained constant at both performances: Glenn Keenan, Rebecca Krohn, Sarah Ricard and Kristin Sloan were the ladies, Kyle Froman, Craig Hall, Christian Tworzyanski and Andrew Veyette were the gentlemen. They look new to the ballet; on Thursday they looked rushed and surprised by the rough demands of the ballet. By Saturday, that had lessened considerably.
Even though I can live without Yet Another Ballet to Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres”, Christopher Wheeldon’s “Liturgy” works as a vehicle for Wendy Whelan’s intensity. Whelan was never girlish, but neither was she womanly; her virtues onstage are her commitment and her honesty. Alexandra Danilova said that the prime virtue of the ballerina was modesty; honesty keeps us modest. With Jock Soto retired, many of his roles have now gone to Albert Evans. It’s an interesting contrast. Soto could take a supporting role and force himself into equality simply by his physical presence. Evans is more reticent and becomes more of a consort and less of the power behind the throne. “Liturgy” also adds contrast to programming. It pairs surprisingly well with the self-contained duet of “Monumentum Pro Gesualdo” and “Movements for Piano and Orchestra”.
Moving from “Liturgy” to “Monumentum” is the opposite of what the names would lead you to expect: from gray limbo to blue paradise. “Liturgy” gets the bigger reception by far; the audience relates to it more, though I found it a bit dated even at its premiere. “Monumentum” is of Stravinsky and Balanchine’s time, Gesualdo’s time and the realm where time is immaterial. For eight minutes, we get to peer through the keyhole into heaven.
“Movements” is modernism ‘60’s style. The corps of six women opens the ballet in two trios, each with a central dancer holding the other two as they pull of balance. They end one of the movements curled up in balls littered about the stage. Even if modernism is no longer particularly modern, I find the aesthetic bracing. Darci Kistler performed both ballets squired by Charles Askegard. Kistler’s beauty was her girlishness, though she was always a tomboy. Now that she’s one of the senior ballerinas in the company the girlishness is disorienting. Her performances haven’t been what they were for a while now, but at least in “Monumentum” she delivered something closer to the spirit of the law, even if the letter of the law had been abandoned years ago.
The two performances closed with different ballets: “Symphony in C” on Thursday and “Fearful Symmetries” on Saturday. Sylve again made her New York debut in the second movement partnered by Askegard. She looked rushed, perhaps by nerves. Her footwork was brittle and she didn’t luxuriate in the movement. She hit her stride in the finale; perhaps the speedier tempo let her work with the adrenalin instead of having to fight it.
I won’t argue that “Fearful Symmetries” is a great ballet and it certainly isn’t loveable. Your blood pressure shoots up about twenty points from the tension in John Adam’s incessant rhytmic score. But if there’s little to love in Martins’ ballet, there’s something to watch. The ballet, choreographed in 1990, is very much of its time with its emotional ambivalence built right into its contrary, weird structure. Contrast it to the formal casting of “Symphony in C” with leads, demi-soloists and corps in each movement. Martins has two pairs of dancers in oddly recessive leads. Their partnerships aren’t stable (there’s plenty of wife-swapping going on here) and a third couple shoots out to do bravura work and steal their thunder. Three jumping men, four couples and six women complete the hectic landscape.
Jenny Somogyi is back after a long recovery from injury and performed in both this and “Symphony in C”, reclaiming her lead in the first movement. Like Kistler and Ashley Bouder, she’s a tomboy, but she left that behind a while ago for womanhood. As with Weese, first movements suit her; she’s got the authority and technique to open a ballet. Amar Ramasar and Stephen Hanna were the male leads; Ramasar injected an interesting attitude into the steps as he flicked his legs out like a street tough with a switchblade.
Bouder and Joaquin de Luz danced as the third couple. Martins’ repertory has more room in it for de Luz than Balanchine’s and this virtuoso role is a good one for him. Bouder also went into the third movement of “Symphony in C” for Megan Fairchild. In both roles Bouder cheerfully rewrote the laws of physics. I guess that’s possible for a tomboy if no one bothers to tell her there’s such a thing as gravity. Bouder sometimes has a problem with mental gravity; she vamped the audience the whole time.
Abi Stafford danced the fourth movement in “Symphony in C” and the other female lead in “Fearful”. What looked to be an easy path for her after debuts in leading roles almost immediately upon entering the company hasn’t; the road has been twisted and rocky. Stafford seemed trapped by her appearance that went beyond girlishness to almost that of a child. Things are looking better. Her fourth movement was charming and vivacious. “Fearful” is an emotional stretch for her, but one she wants to make if she is to leave that limbo of precocious childhood.
Volume 4, No. 1