writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Brick to Brown

Dances at a Gathering/Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet
Dances at a Gathering/Union Jack

New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
May 11, 2004 and May 15, Matinee, 2004 York City Ballet

by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2004 by Mary Cargill
published 17 May 2004

Dances at a Gathering, Jerome Robbins’ lyrical, moving, funny, profound, and very fragile ballet, returned this season, with several debuts, and looks in fine shape. Damian Woetzel and Benjamin Millepied (in his debut) danced the boy in brown; both had been very good as the bounding boy in brick. The boy in brown opens the work with one of the most remarkable men’s solos that Robbins (or anyone else) ever created. In an interview published in Ballet Review, Peter Boal (another brick to brown boy) said that Robbins had taught brown to both him and Woetzel long before they danced it, because Robbins felt they would perform it at some point. Boal remembered Robbins saying about the opening solo “You are an older man, you’ve been through a lot, and you return to the dance studio where you first studied. You walk into that room, you look at the barre over there, and there were your friends, you look over that way, and you think, I never liked that person, and the teacher used to stand there, and the piano was there. And then you begin to dance.” The lighting, of course, does not suggest a dance studio, but Boal said Robbins felt that “the ballet studio was the best metaphor for us to grasp. The ballet studio where we learned to dance is our frame of reference. He wanted that sense of returning.” Both Woetzel and Millepied, in different ways, captured it very well. Woetzel was sharper, but Millepied was, possibly, even a bit more nuanced, sliding into the dance movements imperceptibly.

Kyra Nichols, in the May 11th performance, danced the girl in pink, a role she first performed in 1980. Pink was made for Patricia McBride, a small dancer, but Nichols, as she has done in so many roles, made the part suit her without any sense of distortion. She just seems to expand the choreography. Yvonne Borree (in the May 15th performance), is physically closer to MacBride, and brings a sweet-natured, gently flirtatious charm to the role, but tightness in her upper body lessens the elegiac flow of the choreography. Dances this go round was a bit more overtly dramatic that it has been, and Borree added an unusual touch at the end of her second pas de deux with the boy in purple by pulling away from him at the close as if something had ended suddenly and almost tragically. This led to the chaos of the stormy music, where the dancers rushed frantically with a real sense of loss. The haunting final nocturne, where the dancers stare hopefully, then despondently, and then reunite, seemed to be a reaction to the disturbance before; the nocturne seemed to sum up youthful dreams, eventual disappointment, and then peaceful resignation and eventual comfort and contentment with each other.

Sophiane Slyve (May 11th) debuted as the girl in green, and brought a witty sophistication to the role. Maria Kowroski (on May 15th) was, I think, funnier in her goofy, free-spirited approach. Jenifer Ringer, who had in earlier years been one of the most sparkling of yellows, debuted at the girl in mauve, and her air of dancing only for her partner, her lyrical upper body, and her dark-eyed contemplative melancholy gave a wonderful richness to the part. Ashley Bouder, who took over as the girl in yellow, danced crisply, with some bright musical accents. She has the ability to freeze a pose, yet keep to the music. Her first entrance, though, seemed a bit emphatic. Her bricks were the irresistible Antonio Carmena (May 11th) and Joaquim de Luz, in his debut (May 15th). De Luz, too, is a very engaging dancer with springs in his legs. He is a bit short even for Bouder, and some of the complicated lifts weren’t effortless, but there were no mishaps.

The same can’t be said for Sébastien Marcovici’s boy in green, and May 11th did have a bit of that dreaded dress-rehearsal feel, with several completely botched lifts, though he was fine by the later performance. Nikolaj Hübbe was especially notable as the boy in purple (May 15th), dancing with a more playful and extroverted feeling than is usual. But in the final pas de deux with the girl in pink, he danced with a passionate intensity; he can make the simplest gesture resonate, and just offering his hand to Borree was one of the most romantic moments I have seen since, well, since Hübbe stood by the chair in Liebeslieder Walzer, looking like Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were giving a party.

Dances at a Gathering is so emotionally draining that in a perfect world it would end an evening, but in the past a few oafish audience members have ruined it by bolting to the exit at the beginning of the final Nocturne, so it is now scheduled as the first or second ballet.

Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet followed on May 11. It is one of Balanchine’s delicious trifles, beautifully crafted and thoroughly entertaining, but for me, the music and the sets seem to imply more drama that the choreography provides. The music for the first and forth movements has a sweeping and restless intensity that the choreography just seems to decorate. It is beautiful decoration but it is really a chocolate box with ersatz goulash—delicious but not very nourishing. The mysterious Intermezzo and the Scherzo are, for me, more artistically complete.

For the Balanchine celebration, NYCB is inviting guest stars from various companies, and the Intermezzo was danced by Noelani Pantastico and Olivier Wevers from the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Wevers is tall, elegant, and a generous and sympathetic partner. Pantastico was brighter than most dancers in the Intermezzo, and, possibly due to nerves, wore a persistent little grin. She is a compact dancer, and the luxurious backbends were beautifully done. The dancers’ more cheerful approach seemed to bring out bright little gleams in the music, which I had not noticed before, and the unusual approach worked for them. The audience gave them a deserved warm welcome.

Union Jack followed Dances as a Gathering on May 15th, and looked very well rehearsed. The gloriously colorful stage picture of the first scene was exhilarating, though I was glad the army did not have more regiments. Nilas Martins and Jenifer Ringer danced the Costermonger pas de deux, and Martins proved to be a very limber song and dance man. The Royal Navy section is one of the most lighthearted romps City Ballet ever performs, and got a wonderful performance from Jock Soto as a very vain Popeye and Damian Woetzel as a rubber-legged hoofer. They were some dancers and that was some gathering.

First:  Jenifer Ringer and Sebastian Marcovici in Dances at a Gathering. Photo: Paul Kolnik.
Second:  Noelani Pantastico and Olivier Wevers in Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. Photo: Paul Kolnik.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 18
May 17, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Mary  Cargill



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