Four Voices
"Carousel (A Dance)," "Middle Duet," "Moves," "La Sonnambula"

New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
May 6, 2007

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel

It’s hard to pin down a choreographer’s voice. It takes multiple viewings; you might not hear it the first few ballets you see. If a choreographer does have a distinct style, chances are that he or she will be forced to make the same ballet over and over again in guest commissions by companies that need a sure thing or risk insolvency. 

New York City Ballet’s program on Tuesday night, “Four Voices,” led off with the choreographer with the least distinct identity, Christopher Wheeldon, and his “Carousel (A Dance).” The original male lead, Damian Woetzel, is still in the ballet; Alexandra Ansanelli’s part was performed by Tiler Peck.  The dance is Broadway for ballet; the sort of thing that is second nature to Woetzel with his loose, easy style and amiable stage presence. Between “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” and “Fancy Free” he’s more than prepared for this part. Peck danced on Broadway so she’s prepared as well, but this role relied not only on Ansanelli’s projection, but her vulnerability. Peck is another of Peter Martins’ can-do girls — technically proficient and reliable.  He tried to make Ansanelli into one of that group who churn out pirouettes and don’t cause problems, but couldn’t. 

It isn’t as if Peck is unpleasant, nor is she dull, but she can’t hold together a ballet for which she’s emotionally not a good fit. With a weaker center, one notices the rest of the ballet and its vacuity. The corps work concentrates on ingenuity (“Wow! You haven’t seen this port-de-bras before, have you?”) and lacks any recognizable sentiment. When the dancers finally form a CAROUSEL! the ballet almost seems to congratulate itself. It’s true that a choreographic voice isn’t just what the choreographer says, but what you hear. Still, I’m trying to listen carefully, and I’m hearing nothing.

For each of Alexei Ratmansky’s ballets that I have seen I’ve wished for program notes, yet even though I’m uncertain as to what he thinks his ballets are about, I don’t feel lost. Even without being certain of his meaning I can sense his intent, and that’s more important to understanding his voice. “Middle Duet” was made by Ratmansky for the Mariinsky Ballet in 1998.  Ratmansky, a Russian who divided his career between Russia and the west, is now helping to bridge repertory at the Bolshoi to accommodate the developments made in the west without losing the traditions Russia developed in isolation. “Middle Duet” owes a good deal to William Forsythe, but emotionally its mix of gallows humor and sentiment is Russian to the core.

Maria Kowroski has her back to us most of the dance, with legs like the hands of a watch ticking away positions in a square of light. She and her partner, Albert Evans, are watched by one-winged angels, one dressed in black, one in white. The choreography moves them compulsively step for note until the two of them collapse in exhaustion or worse. The angels seem to battle over them as a new couple comes in to start the dance anew.  Kowroski’s wit holds the work together and prevents it from becoming maudlin.

Sometime between in the ‘80s Jerome Robbins changed the subtitle of “Moves” from “A Ballet in Silence about Relationships” to “A Ballet in Silence.”  The relationships are still there, but Robbins never seemed to believe that his natural bent towards narrative could produce anything as good as Balanchine’s natural bent towards abstraction.  The ballet isn’t even really danced in silence; it’s inevitably — particularly at this performance — performed to the ambient accompaniment of coughing, throat clearing and seat shifting.

Rebecca Krohn and Jared Angle made debuts in the central pas de deux.  Krohn is an interesting enigma in her part; when she puts her head on Angle’s shoulder at the end of their duet it’s almost predatory. Angle’s tenderness gives depth to the aggression in the role.  Of the veterans, Rachel Rutherford makes herself into the quiet center of the piece.

With six decades of choreographing to his name, it’s easy to see Balanchine’s voice in his most abstract works as well as the less common narrative ones. There’s a body of work large enough to sense themes and repetitions; “La Sonnambula” looks at some of Balanchine’s most Romantic notions — the burning need in men for a feminine ideal and the elusiveness of the women who embody it.

There were several debuts in supporting parts. Amar Ramasar donned a mustache and powdered his hair to play the Baron as older and cruel, much as did James Fayette, who did the role before Ramasar. Ana Sophia Scheller had no difficulty with the pas de deux once danced in blackface, but both she and Craig Hall are upright, even-toned classical dancers cast in roles that calls for a quirky character style. Stephanie Zungre, Lauren King and Austin Laurent went into the Pastorale for the first time; Aaron Severini used his familiarity with the part to deliver a relaxed performance. 

As the poet, Nikolaj Hübbe delivered a fine performance as usual, perhaps even better than he’s done before, but it was danced in a vacuum. Jenifer Ringer didn’t become vivid as the Coquette until nearly the end when she plotted her revenge. She was lovely as always, but her relationship to the poet was cryptic; it seemed as if she could have met him for the first time a half an hour before the ballet. Darci Kistler, the NYCB ballerina for my generation, danced the Sleepwalker. There’s not much that can be said about her performance except that she was once so beautiful in this part.

Photo on front page: Alexandra Ansanelli, Damian Woetzel. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 5, No. 21
May 14, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Leigh Witchel

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