DanceView Times, New York edition
The Show Goes On
Variations/Scotch Symphony/Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2
It seems as if the programs for this season’s Balanchine Festival should come with a medical update. This week yet more injuries and illnesses resulted in an unexpected guest, Caroline Cavallo, from the Royal Danish Ballet, who danced the injured Jennie Somogyi’s Swan Lakes and the flu-bound Miranda Weese’s Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 on very short notice. Cavallo had danced both roles (Peter Martins’ Swan Lake was made for the Danish company) and her invitation was a more farsighted choice that the “shove an unprepared corps girl on” scenario we too often see.
Cavallo’s Tschaikovsky was more than adequately danced; she has a fearless technique and she deserved her welcoming ovation. But the role calls for more than technique, and she didn’t really convey the emotional variety and depth in the role. She gave a thrilling, detailed, and scrupulous illustration of the steps, but the effects seemed studied rather than resonant and the dancing was a bit emotionally pallid. This, of course, may be partly a function of the comparative size of the State Theater, but her dancing in Copenhagen has been equally accurate and somewhat uninvolving.
Ashley Bouder danced the difficult second lead; she, too, is an outstanding technician, but she seems to be able to play with the steps, giving them sparkle and individuality. She is not a light dancer, which makes her effortless yet powerful jumps so distinctive. She does seem to be carving through the air. As yet, she does not have all the command the role can use—she seems more of a Princess Florine than a Lilac Fairy. It is not really a question of size (Somogyi is not tall, but she when she danced the role, she commanded the action), but of spirit, but Bouder is an extraordinarily gifted dancer.
Charles Askegard, substituting for Philip Neal, was Cavallo’s generous and sympathetic partner. He is a fine dancer, with a secure technique, and understands the role; the heart is in the mournful, searching adagio, not just in the bravura turns. Those turns, in the finale, are wonderful, but it's his sad farewell to his invisible partner that's the image that lingers.
Philip Neal replaced Benjamin Millepied as Jenifer Ringer’s partner in Donizetti Variations. The quicksilver, demi-caractere nature of the roles doesn’t really suit his noble style, but he managed the fast little steps very well, and as always, has a gracious and understated presence. Ringer was just luscious, and made her first solo into a witty and vivacious conversation; the bubbles were more innocent than champagne but richer than sparkling water.
The ballet, delightful as it is, has an incomplete feeling, rather as if it were pieces from a long-forgotten story, set somewhere in Spain (what else can explain the faint echoes of the Spanish arms the men sometimes have). It does rush from the slapstick humor of Elizabeth Walker’s sunny little solo to the unexpected and somewhat portentous eye shading movements. Like so many of Balanchine’s delicious little baubles, it seems to follow the mood of the music rather than controlling with dramatic coherence. But what music it is, and what moods he shows us!
This diffuse dramatic focus is even more obvious in Scotch Symphony, which, with its sets and period costumes, seems to be telling a story. But it doesn’t really. The little Scotch girl (an elegant Pascale van Kipnis) greets the hero at the end of her sparkling solo, looks longingly and significantly at him, and goes off stage, never to be seen again. The kilted men dance with the village girls in the opening scene, then seem to be alternatively guarding and enabling the sylph in her first encounter with James (are they men or are they a ghostly hoard?). The sylph, too, has an unexplained dual nature. She is the mysterious and possibly dangerous temptress (what’s with all that pointing?) in the adagio, and then the happy bourgeois wife in the final scene. But the ballet has some breathtaking choreography and it is more a beautiful decorative gloss on some aspects of the Romantic ballet, rather than actually being a Romantic ballet.
Kyra Nichols danced the sylph, and, as usual, made every dramatic highlight seem inevitable. The iconographic whisper did seem to tell of another world. The fast and hearty dancing of the final scene is a bit beyond her now, but she can find ways to illuminate any movement; she does not just illustrate technique.
Photo: Jenifer Ringer and Philip Neal in Donizetti Variations. Photo: Paul Kolnik.
Reviews of other Winter Season performances:
thoughts on Balanchine, with references to Arlene Croce (Gay Morris)
Also Mindy Aloff's Letters related to the Balanchine Celebration: