writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Weese's Sophisticated Charm in La Source

La Source/Dances at a Gathering/Chaconne
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
May 19, 2004

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter
published 24 May 2004

There were many delights to be found within this evening of beautiful (mostly French) music and three ballets all created within a seven-year span—two Balanchine works framing a Robbins masterwork. Chief among them was the return of La Source, one of Balanchine's effortless ventures into sheer, sophisticated delight. Twenty years ago, Merrill Ashley and Ib Andersen gave performances of this confection that moved me to tears by virtue of their sheer beauty and effervescence. While this performance did not achieve that level of perfection, it offered sublime dancing from Miranda Weese, making her debut in the ballerina role that bears Violette Verdy's indelible stamp of French flair and witty musicality.

The clear yet intricate choreography that Balanchine shaped for Verdy in this role requires a degree of lightness and unforced articulation that is not easily achieved. The dancing seems to ride along the music as gaily and swiftly as water bubbling downstream. Despite the gleaming pink tutu in which the ballerina is dressed, this is not a sugary role. It radiates refinement, expansiveness, and asks that the dancer apply contemporary speed and aplomb to delicately perfumed, richly detailed steps.

La Source—with its divine Delibes music that sweeps the dancing along with its achingly joyous melodies, yet never cloys or holds the dancing back—has an old-fashioned look (all that pink!) yet always feels fresh. This is one of Balanchine's subtle homages, summoning up the style and aura of French romantic ballet yet allowing his dancers to express their individual present-day selves.

Weese and Nikolai Hübbe embodied that past-meets-present aspect of the ballet wonderfully. Hübbe shaped his two fleet, demanding solos with touching care and precision, but sometimes added a layer of slight effortfulness in his many jumps and airborne passages. He partnered with gallant ardor and attentiveness, but unfortunately on this occasion somehow missed the connection for Weese's final, dramatic headlong plunge in the finale, creating an awkward moment that unfortunately mitigated the vigor and delight with which the performance had been building.

Weese was completely in her element, articulating every decorative flick and musical fillip with an infectious joy and ease, never over-emphasizing anything. This was a very complete, fully shaped performance, amazingly confident and spontaneous for a debut in such a challenging role.

Their opening duet resembled a delicate little chase, with Weese always advancing just out of Hübbe's reach, as he had to follow to keep up. He caught her as she turned in attitude with the timing of a gentle sigh. Yet this was certainly a harmonious, rather than contentious relationship; the duet presents a playful, gently teasing pair who enjoy a sophisticated give and take. Their second duet has more of a stately grandeur, presenting its big moments—such as the ballerina's deliberate promenade a la seconde as she proudly faces the audience—with more formality.

The 8-woman ensemble that framed demi-soloist Ashley Bouder displayed subtly feminine épaulement and a delicacy of bearing that were very French, and reverberated with the bubbly onrush of music to which they dance. Bouder's precision, attack and musicality were as impressive as ever, but she had not yet found that shading and modesty, that ability to pull back just slightly, that the role demands.

Created a year after La Source, Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering also creates its own very specific world, one of trusting companionship, folk-inflected casualness and gentle contemporary-flavored romanticism—all conjured up by an hours' worth of sublime, contrasting Chopin piano music, which Suzanne Walters played with particular flair and distinction at this performance. With its blend of newcomers and veterans, this cast was mot the most integrated the ballet has seen. Here and there a dancer forced an effect that should just arise with casual inevitability.

As the man in Brown who opens the ballet, Benjamin Millepied is a newcomer in a role assigned to a select few, who tend to dance it over a period of many years. During an earlier era, it found ideal interpreters in Helgi Tomasson and then Ib Andersen, and for the past decade Peter Boal and Damian Woetzel have offered contrasting yet equally persuasive interpretations.

Ten years ago, Millepied created the dominant male role in Robbins' delicate, unpretentious Two and Three Part Inventions, the Bach ballet made for SAB students. Ever since, he has seemed a natural Robbins dancer, attuned to the gentle dramatic inflections and naturalness the choreographer prized. His ascension to this role is well deserved, and he made the opening solo a beautifully understated study in reflective exploration. He made clear the special magic of this solo—that it shows us a man shaping the movement as he goes along, drawn towards greater intensity and expansiveness of movement as he finds his way into the music. He was equally impressive in the turbulent solo that helps propel the ballet towards the unease and sense of lurking danger that climaxes in the extended Scherzo that is its penultimate section. Millepied achieved the look of being tossed along by the wind, hurled in this direction and that, as Walters' impassioned playing added to the ferocity of the solo.

In the central role of the woman in pink, Yvonne Borree was acceptable but nothing more. She was too busy trying to imbue the role with dewy delicacy and sometimes tended towards coyness, and gave a performance that offered the surface of this role but none of its pure heart. Jenifer Ringer now performs the mauve role that has a calmer center and a quieter focus than the Green and Apricot roles she has also done. Whatever color she wears, she still performs the effervescent "wind waltz" that is the work's second section, which she and Sebastien Marcovici brought to life with playful vigor. Maria Kowroski has matured into an impressive woman in Green, holding the stage magisterially in her first, delicately shaded solo and flouncing perhaps a bit too effusively in the comic solo in which she can't hold the attention of any of the men passing by.

In the whirlwind, almost hyperactive "Giggle Dance," Bouder and Joaquin de Luz had the requisite bounding energy and sense of fun. Again, Bouder here looked in need of a some subtle coaching; she had not quite shaped herself into a Robbins dancer, into a full member of this softer-edged community.

Closing the program was Balanchine's stately rococo divertissement, Chaconne —one of those works that is particularly problematic to cast. In the ballerina role that will always reverberate with Suzanne Farrell's blend of grandeur and wit, Darci Kistler caught remnant of the requisite sweep and daring, but this was more a case of the spirit being willing. She looked rapturous, but does not have the command to seize the series of variations and make them her own. In the opening dreamy duet, the costume looked unflattering, and the exit—carried across the stage as her legs pedal through the air—lost its magic, as Kistler moved her legs too rapidly and gave none of the illusion of resistance. Nilas Martins partnered well but just does not have the technical chops for the challenging choreography made for his father's technical strengths. He gave a hectic, abrupt account of the variations which looked more like marking that full-out dancing.

Top: Miranda Weese and Nikolaj Hübbe in Balanchine's La Source.  Photo:  Paul Kolnik.
Bottom:  Darci Kistler and Nilas Martins in Balanchine's Chaconne. Photo: Paul Kolnik.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 19
May 24, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

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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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