writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

An Uneasy Mix

Mozartiana/The Cage/Andantino/Firebird
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
June 9, 2004

by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2004 by Mary Cargill
published June 14, 2004

Breaking up the spring season into chunks of music makes for some strange programming, and this Russian evening coupled the sublime Mozartiana with the definitely unsublime The Cage. The evening, salute to Russia notwithstanding, could be called a salute to Wendy Whelan, since she danced in both.

It may be that the ballets were too varied, because Whelan's Mozartiana was somewhat muted. The opening Pregiera was more danced than experienced, and tended to go from pose to pose, without the consistent floating on the music feel that Whelan can give to so many roles, though her backward borrées were beautiful. It seemed to be directed outward to the audience, which is not what a prayer should be. She danced with Nikolaj Hübbe, a very different dancer from Ib Andersen, Danish ancestry notwithstanding. Hübbe can’t help but be romantic; no one looks at his partner the way he does. The quick, sharp beats were not as quick and sharp as they might be, and he does not have the oddly reserved quality that gave Andersen’s dancing its unique feel. But he gave Mozartiana a more weighty feeling that worked. This was a conversation between equals.

The Cage, that mixture of Giselle and Freud, is certainly a conversation too, and Robbins’ sheer craft is exceptional. There is never any ambiguity about the psychosexual feelings portrayed. Whelan is insect-like in her movements, using her physical form very well; she is not afraid to look awkward or grotesque and every nuance, from mindless killing to momentary regret, told. It was a powerful performance—if I were queen of that hive, I would watch my back.

The more lyrical Robbins followed, with the pas de deux Andantino, to Tchaikovsky’s 2nd movement of this First Piano Concerto. Peter Boal was understated magnificence personified, and Yvonne Borree, though stiff in the upper body, had a sweet-natured presence. The piece, though, pretty as it was, looked a bit like the Reader’s Digest version of Dances at a Gathering.

Balanchine’s Firebird, too, is really an abridged version of the Fokine work, and, I think, lacks much of the magic. It really comes alive only during the Firebird’s dances, and even those dances are not as powerful as the original. (Balanchine’s Firebird seems to give Price Ivan her feather on a whim, since she is already loose, while Fokine has her pleading for her release, bribing the Prince with the magic feather—I miss the desperate begging and expressive eyes of Fokine’s original.) The costumes, though colorful, make the dancers look like cartoons; the poor men in the finale looked as though they felt ridiculous in those wigs, probably because they did all look like Prince Valiant on a bad hair day.

Ashley Bouder was the Firebird; presumably she was chosen because of her powerful jump. But she was unrecognizable as the sweet-faced little dancer who captivated the audience in Sylvia. Her eye-makeup was exotic, lengthening her face and turning her into a creature. She was wild and fierce. There was nothing pliant about her, and it is clear that Bouder is far more than a jump and a smile. The Berceuse, though, was not as strong as it might have been. At one of the invaluable Guggenheim Museum Works & Process evenings, Maria Tallchief, coaching Patricia Barker in the Berceuse, stressed that the hands should not be classical. “Press with your palms”, she kept saying, explaining that all her piano training had given her very strong hands. The palms went forward and the fingers back, and sparks seemed to fly. Bouder’s hands were softer and her arms looked a bit like the poor swan was dying again. But details like that are issues of coaching; it was an impressive performance nonetheless.
Volume 2, Number 22
June 14, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Mary Cargill



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