The Exception

“Carousel (A Dance)”, “Tarantella”, “Symphony in Three Movements”, “I’m Old Fashioned”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York City
January 27, 2006, matinee

by Carol Pardo
copyright 2007, Carol Pardo

This season, the New York City Ballet is testing pre-packaged mixed bills, rather than its traditional mix-and-match programming. If you want to see “Mozartiana” you’ll see it with “In Vento” and “Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto” under the moniker “Tradition and Innovation” or not at all — and vice versa. What would a rule be without an exception, however, and this program was it. “Tarantella” appears on no other regular programming; the remaining three works otherwise appear on a different bill under a different slogan.
Presenting these four ballets together also went against the NYCB tradition of a good program, cohering and developing organically like a good meal. Here instead were two short pieces followed by two closers, one astringent, one wan.

“Carousel (A Dance)” was made by Christopher Wheeldon in 2002 as part of a centenary tribute to Richard Rodgers. It looks like an assignment executed by someone who hadn’t yet found his voice. The undulating line of dancers bisecting the stage is straight out of Jerome Robbins’ “Opus 19”, the cartwheels straight out of most any Robbins ballet you care to name. The theme of the piece, the elusive woman — here, really a girl — is pure Balanchine The moment when the girl is bent nearly supine over her partner’s arm evokes Balanchine’s Tatania swooning over Bottom as the ass in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Tiler Peck, in a debut as the girl, was more of a tease than a chimera, strong and invulnerable. The audience was very glad to see Damian Woetzel, and he and Peck looked good together. The four soloists, Amanda Hankes, Craig Hall, Rebecca Krohn and Jonathan Stafford, combined abandon and concentration, to be believable as young people carried away by a festive night out.

“Tarantella” is eight minutes of speed, energy, and gaiety and — with any luck — charisma, a pas de deux that was once as close to character dancing as one got at the City Ballet. Over time it has strayed further and further from its origins, its rough edges and wit smoothed out. But the speed and energy are present in Joaqin De Luz’ performance; he slapped his tambourine so energetically that its jingles went flying — four times. After some initial gasps (would he or his partner Megan Fairchild come to grief over a jingle?) the audience lapped it up.

Even though “Symphony in Three Movements” is a large-scale piece, six principals, ten demi-soloists and a corps of sixteen, I found myself focusing on use of arms and angles, a combination of semaphore and weaving, ultimately strange and slightly disquieting, in the pas de deux. Credit for being able to see so clearly belongs in great part to the dancers, Jennie Somogyi and Amar Ramasar. Somogyi has always been a beacon of good taste: scrupulous, cool, clear and musical, best known for her work in the allegro gut crunchers. But here she shows herself to be a more compleat dancer. Mr. Ramasar, ardent and attentive showed himself to be a superlative partner in the making.

Jerome Robbins’ “I’m Old Fashioned”, the other closer on the program starts out well. The credits, in their graphics reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden era, roll. Applause greets each one, these days even those for the New York City Ballet and Robbins himself, with the loudest and most prolonged applause reserved for the words “Dedicated to Fred Astaire”. Astaire and Rita Hayworth are then shown dancing to Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned”, the theme from which fourteen variations flow. Unfortunately, the variations aren’t up to the theme. Robbins’ theatrical savvy does not mate well with Morton Gould’s admittedly diffuse variations on Kern. And there is very little that the dancers, game though they all were, could do to rescue the situation. Even the presence of Sara Mearns, lush and of a similar build to Hayworth, didn’t help. What might have been is all too evident in the finale where Robbins’ Broadway smarts do mate with a reprise of the theme. First the three principal couples, outfitted to resemble Astaire and Hayworth on screen, return dancing their dance live and in human scale. They are soon followed by the rest of the cast. As the film dancers gain exuberance, the live ones stop, turn toward the screen, arms up and watch. It all happens just at the right moment, and the audience departs happily, singing, with a vision of Astaire and Hayworth, and by extention the New York City Ballet, easing the ride home. Robbins, master showman that he was, almost saves what is otherwise a very long thirty minutes in the theater. Perhaps that’s why this “exceptional” program was sold out.

Volume 5, No. 5
January 29, 2007

copyright ©2007 Carol Pardo

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