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The DanceView Times, New York edition

Rare Ashton, Balanchine and Tudor Works

Capriol Suite/A La Francaix/Designs With Strings/Solitude/Judgment of Paris
New York Theatre Ballet
Florence Gould Hall
New York, NY
April 23, 2004

by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2004 by Mary Cargill
published 11 April 2004

The New York Theatre Ballet gave an intriguing evening of rarely seen works by the great choreographers Ashton, Balanchine, and Tudor, leavened with John Taras’ Designs With Strings, and a premiere by the young Italian choreographer Marco Pelle. The works suited the small company’s delicate style and theatrically oriented approach very well.

Ashton’s Capriol Suite, a very early work, is a series of Elizabethan-tinged dances to Peter Warlock’s piano music (played live by Noriko Suzuki), and is an absolute joy. There are hints of later works, especially in the rollicking Mattachins for four men who look like the cousins of The Dream’s rustics. But this is in no way a preliminary sketch of anything; even in this early piece, the musical response is so rich that the steps seem inevitable and there is not a dull or wasted moment. The dances are fresh, varied, and wonderfully inventive, ranging from folk inspired romps to more formal explorations of Elizabethan courtly love. A pas de trois for two men, a woman, (Melissa Beaver, Steven Melendez, and Tobias Parsons) a rose, and a poem was particularly evocative, and it is puzzling that this little gem is so rarely performed.

Balanchine’s A La Francaix, too, is a rarely seen comedy, and it was enterprising of the company to find a rarity in this Balanchine-saturated year, where every company seems to be doing the top five Balanchine hits. The work was created quickly to fill a repertory hole, and is a riff on the French Romantic era, from the punning title (Jean Francaix wrote the music) to the pushy sylph. It begins with two matelots dancing with a frisky young girl, who are brushed aside by a suave tennis player (Steven Melendez with a debonair false mustache). The sylph (Melissa Beaver) then absconds with him using all the sylphian clichés—there is a whole lot of whispering going on. Eventually she morphs into a very earthbound bathing beauty. It was a very entertaining bauble.

John Taras’ Designs With Strings is, I’m afraid, a bauble as well, though one with higher aims. It has a lot of energetic wafting and some very striking images, but emotionally it seems a bit wan. Marco Pelle’s Solitude, too, does not quite match its ambitions. It opens with a young man in front of a mirror, apparently trying to release his inhibitions. (At least I suspect that is what he was doing, though it looked like he was taking off his suspenders.) His thoughts, fears, and dreams emerge from behind the mirror; he seems to live in a 1950’s surrealistic dream in which all the men are studs and all the women are really bad news. Eventually everyone goes into a transparent box for an orgy, and our hero emerges to stand alone in a pool of light. In the middle of this adolescent angst (the episodes had names like “Obscurity” and “Misunderstanding Me”) were some interesting choreographic images. I particularly liked Sharon Milanese and Steven Melendez as a dreamy couple yearning after a styrofoam ball.

Judgment of Paris is Tudor’s sardonic take on the Greek myth, complimented by some of Kurt Weill’s irresistibly sour songs (played on the piano by Norkio Suzuki). The performers (Melissa Beaver as Juno, Kathleen Byrne as Venus, and Diana Byer as Minerva) caught the tawdry atmosphere without descending into overly broad comedy or cheap vulgarity.

The New York Theatre Ballet concentrates on making dance accessible and available for children, but when their current audience grows up, they will be lucky if they can see works as carefully and thoughtfully presented as these were—if only they could do more than one grown-up program a year.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 15
April 26, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Mary  Cargill



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on January 11, 2004