writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Greek Night

New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
June 10, 2004

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2004 by Leigh Witchel
published June 14, 2004

The “Greek Trilogy” of Apollo, Orpheus and Agon contain three decades of George Balanchine’s artistic growth from the end of the jazz age to the dawn of the space age. It was the all-Stravinsky centerpiece of the first week of the Russian Music Festival, with two experienced casts in the outer ballets and a much newer cast of the less frequently performed Orpheus.

Nikolaj Hübbe has danced Apollo for at least a decade and has grown into his interpretation, which used to look portentous. His interpretation has lightened over the years, but he's gained physical presence, and the these opposing forces have come together and he's finding a balance in the role. The part contains possibilities towards a more classical or a more untamed interpretation; Hübbe is interesting in the role because he straddles many worlds. He’s of medium height, neither tall nor short. His looks and proportions are classical—he’s quite the blond god—but his temperament is Mercurial. Hübbe uses these disparate elements to show Apollo’s transition to maturity; he becomes more grounded as the ballet goes on. Hübbe’s Apollo is also sensual; when Peter Boal approaches the three muses to set them moving like a toy train, he gently pushes them into motion. Hübbe seems to embrace them as they rise to point.

His muses were Miranda Weese, Ashley Bouder and Yvonne Borree as Calliope, Polyhymnia and Terpsichore. The work well together, though Borree is a bit too lightweight for Hubbe.

Almost all the main parts in Orpheus were taken by new dancers except the main role, danced by Nilas Martins, as it has been for many years. In most situations, this would be wise to give the other dancers an anchor. The problem is that Martins has been cast exclusively in the role for years, although he has never been right for the part. His strength is in small quick movements and he has a small-featured face that doesn’t read expressively on stage. The role demands an expressive dancer whose strength is a still presence. He gives his Eurydice, Darci Kistler, little to respond to. Ask la Cour does not yet have the sort of presence the Dark Angel requires. As the leader of the Bacchantes, Ellen Bar does, and does all she can.

The ballet has difficulties that require good casting to reconcile. Like The Firebird, also in repertory this week, it has a monster problem. The scene in the underworld in Orpheus has been revised several times; the last that has been recorded was by Peter Martins in 1980. There’s a design conflict in both works. Isamu Noguchi’s magically effective set and less flattering costumes portray a barren, primitive place of bones and rocks; Stravinsky’s music influenced by Monteverdi recalls the High Renaissance. As exquisite as the score is, Noguchi was the one on the theatrically right track. In the furies sections, instead of the anguished chromatic harmonies of madrigals, we get a brisk allegro with trills on the woodwinds. But nobody should be able to dance in Hell.

Agon had one dancer making her debut; the rest of the cast was again experienced. Sofiane Sylve danced the second pas de trois. She’s an amazon of a dancer, sanguine and virtuoso. She moves avidly and for her, the difficult technical challenges are a stroll in the park. That's also her biggest challenge as a dancer; she moves without inflection. As Alexandra Danilova admonished to her students, sometimes it isn’t enough for the audience that you can do everything easily. “Make them think it’s hard, make it look difficult!”

As they have in several other ballets this week, Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto showed new details in roles they’ve had years to grow in. What struck me this go-round was the burst of prodigious confusion close to the end of the pas de deux as Whelan keeps trying to jump beyond Soto’s grasp and repeatedly gets yanked back. Peter Boal has done the first pas de trois for more than two decades; he learned it as a student at the School of American Ballet. To keep the role fresh, he seems to feed on immediacy and always looks as though he’s encountering it anew; nothing seems planned. Though it’s almost impossible for him to make anything he dances look unclassical, his way of getting tension into this role is to try. At this performance, he ripped his legs to the sides harshly in his variation and then bowed to us as if in challenge. His approach varies from performance to performance, but he never does this part prettily. In the demi-soloist roles, Stephen Hanna and Arch Higgins danced the first pas de trois and Jennifer Tinsley and Dana Hanson the second. They are all good, but less good together; they’ve all been previously cast with other dancers with whom they pair better.

First: Yvonne Borree and Nikolaj Hübbe in Apollo. Photo:  Paul Kolnik.
Second: Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto in the Agon. Photo: Paul Kolnik.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 22
June 14, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Leigh Witchel



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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 June 14, 2004