writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

The Russian-American Music Festival

Raymonda Variations/Monumentum pro Gesualdo-Movements for Piano and Orchestra/Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux/ Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3
June 16, 2004
Agon/ Monumentum-Movements /Duo Concertant/Symphony in Three Movements
New York City Ballet
New York State Theatre
June 17, 2004

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2004 by Leigh Witchel
published June 21, 2004

The cord of nationality that binds the composers together in the Russian Music Festival is a very thin one. Tchaikovsky exemplifies the soul of the nation, but what to do with the cosmopolitan Stravinsky, who lived in France and the United States as well? Certainly on Thursday with later compositions that Balanchine translated in ways so native to his adopted land, we saw the American wing of the Russian Festival.

Alexander Glazunov left Russia for France towards the end of his life, but Raymonda (1898) was composed for the Imperial Theater at the height of his career. On Wednesday night, Miranda Weese danced the ballerina role in Raymonda Variations, Balanchine’s concoction of favorite sections from the larger work. She’s shared it this season with Jenifer Ringer. Ringer gives the role a sweetness, Weese invests it with authority. She leads the ballet and finds “her steps” in the part. The ballerina enters in fleet runs on point, and pas couru is a Weese step, as is almost anything with sharp footwork or quick, tight turns. Her two variations were beautifully accurate and she was intrepid as well; she literally takes the plunge at the end as she dives directly at the audience, smiling. Weese’s musical sharpness feels like an intelligent conversation, Ringer’s softer attack reads as gentleness. Watching Ringer in Raymonda Variations; you feel as if you’re watching an homage to Romantic era ballet. Watching Weese, you feel like you’re watching a commentary on it.

Nilas Martins made his debut in the male lead the night before. His variation has “his steps” as well; lots and lots of beats. Martins excels in beats and has very developed arches but also has little stretch at this point. His arabesques are too low to be attributed to tasteful restraint. It doesn’t look like he’s doing more to maintain himself in dancing shape than the bare minimum.

Weese’s risky leap at the close of Raymonda Variations is surprising; Alexandra Ansanelli’s two dives through thin air at the end of Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux are absolutely hair-raising. She was paired for the first time with Benjamin Millepied. They’re quite good separately, but the partnership isn’t blessed. Ansanelli needs a bigger partner who can handle her. The final no-handed fish dive of the entrée was too shallow; he’s just a bit too short for her. Ansanelli is a major risk-taker when she dances. When she darts through the sissonnes in the coda she jumps onto pointe at such a distance that there’s a chance she’ll turn her ankle. She forces her risks on her partner as well, and she needs someone who can cope with it. Even though the first of the final dives didn’t quite work, she didn’t rein herself in at all and plunged into the second without looking for him. That’s exactly as it should be done, but it takes nerves and muscles of steel to dance with someone like that.

Andrea Quinn conducted relentlessly for both Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux and Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. In “Theme and Variations”, she used tempos that would have been appropriate for someone with limbs three inches shorter than Wendy Whelan’s. It took its toll and Whelan had a bad fall in the finale. Theme is too orthodox to be a great Whelan role, but she shouldn’t have to fight the music as well. Robert Tewsley was her partner. He has a technique strong enough for Theme but it isn’t steel-coated; you could see where he was fighting as well.

Suite No. 3 is really a ballet in two parts. Balanchine first made Theme and Variations in 1947 for Ballet Theatre; he added the other three movements of the suite for his own company in 1970. They show three facets of love less commonly depicted in classical ballet: loss, conflict and comradeship. Stephen Hanna made a handsome debut partnering Carla Körbes in the Élegie. Körbes dances outsize in the role of a love lost; she recalls Monique Meunier’s tragic interpretation of the part but she’s less excessive. With her beautiful hair flowing free, it’s hard, to mangle Yeats, to love her for herself alone and not her strawberry hair.

In many ways the Valse Mélancolique, with its restless couple pacing and stalking, is the most interesting of the three sections. Rachel Rutherford is sunnier and less dangerous than others have been in the role. As she and James Fayette enter and exit, she doesn’t push him with her steps; he clasps her waist and they seem to go out dancing. The quick and aerial Scherzo is a fine role for Jennifer Tinsley, who still seems to be finding her niche in the repertory. It may be in the allegro roles.

Monumentum pro Gesualdo is a commentary on the times and morals of the Renaissance that doesn’t feel like commentary. In a transcendent performance it feels like you have been presented with a small brilliant truth about humanity that cannot be expressed, only seen and felt. That sort of transcendence is elusive and we didn’t quite get it at either performance this week. It isn’t just the dancers that bring this magic about. The audience needs the right energy as well, expectant and ready.

Monumentum and its companion and doppelganger Movements for Piano and Orchestra were performed on consecutive nights and I saw them with different vantage points. A bit of height and distance from a Balanchine ballet can be very useful. Seen from above, Monumentum leads off the third madrigal with the men and women alternating in a diagonal line, and Movements has the women assemble in a similar line to begin one of its sections. Seeing the ballets from the orchestra also means you seek out the soloists through the layers of the corps. It’s nice to look down on the ballet rather than through it. You can also concentrate less on the personal in a role and Monumentum especially is about archetypes rather than personalities. Not surprisingly, Darci Kistler feels more angelic at a slight remove. Both male partners made their debuts, Ask la Cour in Monumentum and Sébastien Marcovici in Movements. La Cour is getting all of Charles Askegard’s roles thrown at him because of Askegard’s absence due to injury. He’s very young, but here, his youth and his slight gaucheness have an innocence that make him interesting in the role. In his part Marcovici substitutes force for clarity.

Yvonne Borree has been performing Duo Concertant for a while now and it's one of her nicest roles. Nikolaj Hübbe seemed to draw out of her one of her best performances Thursday. Hübbe has always pushed the part hard and this time the Gigue bordered on frenzied, but his energy and confidence transferred to her. The first four parts work well with a strong energy and attack, but the last movement, a sort of dumb show, is better off being underplayed. It’s harder to accept protestations of love to the heavens rather than quiet declarations of it.

If one enjoys playing “spot the diagonal” there were several good other ones in these performances. In Raymonda Variations the corps enters for their coda in two nifty traveling ones and Symphony in Three Movements has the Mother of all Diagonals: A line of girls in shocking white to open the ballet and also close the first movement. It’s rendered even more glaring by forced perspective; the tallest girls are placed closest to us.

Ashley Bouder and Adam Hendrickson came flying in doing the ballet’s signature jump with the legs tucked up to the side. They both come on strong here and pair well. With her hair in a ponytail, Bouder reminds me a little here of pictures of Sara Leland in the lead role.

Miranda Weese danced the second movement pas de deux with Albert Evans. More commentary—when Weese does this part it feels Oriental. One moment there’s a scrap of “Balinese” arms, the next moment Weese recalls Mme. Butterfly and the ballet looks like Bugaku. When Whelan does the part, these resonances aren’t there; she is exotic, so there’s no sense of “being exotic.” The ballet isn’t even consistent in which hemisphere it places its gaze. The tucked jump is straight from playgrounds at home; Balanchine even has the five demi-soloist couples play a sort of hopscotch game doing them. But the central pas has a non-specific exoticism portraying an imaginary region that flickers in the fantasies of the West.

Photo: The company in Symphony in 3 Movements.  Photo:  Paul Kolnik.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 23
June 21, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by  Leigh Witchel
revised June 21, 2004


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last updated on June 21, 2004