Concerto Barocco,” “Duo Concertant,” “The Four Temperaments ” and “Symphony in Three Movements”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

by Tom Phillips
copyright © 2007 by Tom Phillips

I remember reading that Lincoln Kirstein once begged George Balanchine not to put on another black-and-white ballet, fearing that the audience would kill them both. So I wonder how much he would have appreciated the full week of monochromatic masterpieces presented by New York City Ballet in honor of his centennial.

Still, it was a fitting tribute. Most of these pieces wouldn’t exist without the creative freedom that Kirstein carved out for his choreographer. And they are still recognizable as masterpieces, even though the company’s collective memory of Balanchine’s aesthetic has faded. Among the dancers in Program Three there were some who remember, some who just get it, and some who don’t, and need help.

Wendy Whelan gets it, and even adds something to the master ’s work. One of her secret assets is the extra centimeter of sinewy length between her forearms and her fingertips. “Concerto Barocco” is full of baroque flourishes which she articulates through the hands, flipping them freely and even comically to bring out the jazz in the choreography. In the first movement you’ll see the “chicken step,” with the upper body  bent forward and the wrists flapping out behind, and also a funny limping sprint around the stage, on pointe and off, playing off the sharply accented ups and downs of Bach’s twin violins. Whelan romped through the allegro parts with a mischievous elation, and painted herself in long lines against the deep blue backdrop, in an achingly smooth adagio with Albert Evans. Rachel Rutherford kept up in the soloist part, and the eight-woman corps never missed a beat, following the steely musical discipline of Alina Dronova. “Concerto Barocco” may be the best curtain-raiser Balanchine ever composed; you can’t take your eyes off the stage.

Darci Kistler remembers. In “Duo Concertant,” she caught all the playfulness of the miniature allegro movements, and poured herself out in the eerie conclusion, where the two dancers reach for each other in an isolated spotlight. Unfortunately her partner Nilas Martins was not quick or light enough to keep up with the allegro, and brought his customary blankness to the pas de deux relationship.

“The Four Temperaments” is a signature Balanchine piece, a perfect example of his ability to create abstract movement with a human dimension, but here it got an indifferent rendering from a mostly young and inexperienced cast. Sean Suozzi was way too “up” as the Melancholic one; this is not about defeating gravity, but struggling and succumbing. Ask la Cour was well cast as Phlegmatic, but needs to master the strange moves that signify self-containment and self-involvement. Sofiane Sylve and Charles Askegard worked up a little heat in Sanguinic. And the ballet was bracingly bracketed by the sky-high extensions of Faye Arthurs in the first theme and Teresa Reichlen in the Choleric finale, with a powerful kick in between from Georgina Pazcoquin and Ana Sophia Scheller as the two Melancholic demi-soloists, who enter with those dazzling grand battements going down to a bent knee. If Four T’s is to survive as a Balanchine classic, the dancers need to have an understanding of its casual sweep — the whole of human nature, not just the parts that ballet dancers are used to expressing.

A seeming lack of understanding also dogged “Symphony in Three Movements.”  It was hot in spots, but overall lacked the fierceness and commitment that Stravinsky’s martial, menacing score demands. Abi Stafford and Jared Angle had it in the central pas de deux, and it was visible here and there but never everywhere in the corps. Ashley Bouder, as one of the three female leads, bizarrely had it in her body but not her face, which kept breaking into a flirt-with-the audience smile, as if she were hoofing on Broadway. This is not a smiley-face ballet!   

On this night, the legacy of Lincoln Kirstein seemed to be here one moment and gone the next. The program was accompanied by a photo exhibit on Kirstein in the New York State Theater, including some seldom-seen shots of him in the company of dancers. Here he looks solemn and self-conscious, an awkward giant in a world of fleeting grace, a world that wouldn’t have existed without his vision.

Volume 5, No. 17
April 30, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Tom Phillips

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