Balanchine & Robbins: Masters at Work
"Raymonda Variations," "Dybbuk," " Stravinsky Violin Concerto"

New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
June 19, 2007

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel   

Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette made their debuts as the lead couple in “Raymonda Variations” on Tuesday night. Bouder’s performance was the sort we expect from her, musical, sunny, witty, assured — and brash.  She sailed through the technique and used her energy to flirt with us.  It’s always enjoyable but not what the role called for. Her talent and ability make us want to see her as Everyballerina but by nature she’s a soubrette. Bouder has broken type often; her performance as the Firebird was heroic, and her Swan is no little chickadee either. There’s no need to — pardon the pun — pigeonhole her, but her interpretations of grand roles are going to look different; sunshine where we expected moonlight and roses.  Her debuts tend to be more excessive than subsequent performances and down the road there will be a compromise.  She’s at her most engaging when she’s being herself yet she has to work at being what the role demands.  Veyette sped impressively through the beats in his variations, but his lines are less than refined with feet that don’t always point and legs that don’t always close into tight positions. His partnering in the first pas de deux seemed uncertain, perhaps from nerves, and though he’s learned to smile, he still smiles as if he learned to – it looks like something he does to get a response rather than from pleasure.

The soloist ladies did well in their variations.  Faye Arthurs did the hops on pointe that are so difficult with highly arched feet and Gwyneth Muller insisted her way through the turns at the end of the “harp” variation.  Alina Dronova hummed across the stage in her allegro variation.  Abi Stafford performed the second variation; Ana Sophia Scheller went into the final pizzicato variation that Bouder has done. Both women are built similarly to Bouder, but physique is not temperament.  Neither are soubrettes; Scheller is about as even toned and classical a dancer as is in the company. All the soloists perform in the corps as well, which never seems as if it has been rehearsed in the opening dance. The variations get time in the studio and the rest is left to fend for itself.

Jenifer Ringer and Benjamin Millepied were convincing and affecting in Robbins’ “Dybbuk” but the ballet is earnest, long and confusing. Based on the Yiddish play by S. Ansky about a student of the Kabbalah who claims his beloved from beyond the grave, the ballet doesn’t purport to tell the story, but you’re lost without a clear grasp of the plot. Robbins originally tried to salvage “Dybbuk” by extracting variations; NYCB has gone back to performing the full ballet. It doesn’t hold up to revival, but the good parts have interest. Perhaps, like a dybbuk, that’s why it keeps coming back from the dead.

Robbins made a valiant attempt to turn Jewish folk traditions into classical dance; Balanchine didn’t even have to try when he used Russian folk dances in “Stravinsky Violin Concerto.”  It’s not a fair comparison; Balanchine was working with character steps that were taught to him in school and were part of the theatrical repertory at the Mariinsky. Robbins was on unknown turf. The one moment in “Dybbuk” that recalls something Jewish dance is when the women hold hands in a line. Judaism, particularly the mystical study of the Kabbalah, translates more naturally to the expressionist than the classical.

In “Violin Concerto,” Sterling Hyltin made a slightly nervous debut, but she is matched with Nilas Martins in physique and demeanor. Hyltin is small and delicate; Martins imposes on her as his father might have with Kay Mazzo.  Both male leads, Martins and Albert Evans, are noticeably out of shape but paradoxically Martins is starting to deliver more of a performance.  There’s a whiff of humor in the first movement as he enters like a fatuous toreador. Partnered with Evans, Maria Kowroski uses her delicate wit to personalize the role Karin von Aroldingen created. She danced her duet with Evans with focus and concentration.  There were some substitutions and newer dancers in the male corps; chaos threatened in some of the denser sections but was always averted.

Volume 5, No. 25
June 25, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Leigh Witchel

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