writers on dancing


Imperfect Fits

““Divertimento from ‘Le Baiser de la Fée’”, “Tala Gaisma”, “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
May 28, 2005

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2005 by Leigh Witchel

“Divertimento from ‘Le Baiser de la Fée’” returned to the repertory on Saturday matinee with Joaquin De Luz and Megan Fairchild making their debuts in the lead roles. De Luz has held an ambivalent position in the company since he joined it in 2003. The company needs at least one male virtuoso. Damien Woetzel has held that position for a long while, but he can’t last forever; Benjamin Millepied can second Woetzel respectably, but the rival pressure from ABT’s contingent of pyrotechnicians is strong. The appetite of the audience today is for male virtuosity, and NYCB needed De Luz to keep up, but the Balanchine repertory suited to a short male pyrotechnician is limited; principally Edward Villella’s roles. Baryshnikov encountered a similar problem during his brief tenure. Where is their repertory to come from?

So far that question has not been answered. De Luz has found a few roles that suit his métier, such as the Fall section of Robbins’ “The Four Seasons”. Even there, he’d be better in the Puck role than the lead. “Baiser” is not a good fit. It’s certainly not a question of ability; he danced the steps brilliantly. Despite the partnering issues he has even with a dancer as small as Fairchild, it isn’t his height. It’s a question of temperament.

Like the Stravinsky music that comments on Tchaikovsky like vinegar dropped into milk, the Balanchine choreography has a strange sour mood to it. On the surface it’s pastiche, but there are all sorts of undertones below the surface. They aren’t necessarily in the steps; they’re in the vestiges of the libretto—the story of a fairy who saves a boy from freezing to death and years later on the eve of his wedding comes to claim him—once attached to the music as well as the music itself. It takes a more reticent, introverted dancer to get at the melancholy within and De Luz is an extroverted, presentational dancer. Balanchine’s moody poets are foreign to him. His performance was all shiny surfaces, delivered straight at the audience with lots of sparkle but not much depth.

He and Fairchild look better apart than together. She’s saddled with this partnership by default; though he dances occasionally with Bouder, Fairchild is really the closest it comes at NYCB to a comfortable height for De Luz. But the partnership makes her dance small. Despite some impressive footwork in her variation, Fairchild also didn’t get much deeper into the role. Perhaps that will change for both of them with repeated performances, but it seems a shame that in the final week of Peter Boal’s tenure with the company he is not scheduled to dance at least one performance of a ballet he has owned for several years, at least to set an example of good casting.

Jock Soto has now assumed the role created for him in Peter Martins’ new “Tala Gaisma” that he was originally unable to take due to injury, but Kistler has now been replaced by Carla Körbes in her role as the Muse of Long, Lustrous Hair. Körbes has always been more than her hair, but it certainly is striking in hair-down parts. There was one moment during a series chaîné turns straight to the audience that, wildly spinning, her hair threatened to engulf her and she spent the next few seconds with it falling in front of her face like Cousin It.

Körbes does not mesh well with the other women in the cast, Sofiane Sylve and Miranda Weese. Those two are powerhouses. The ballet begins with the three women doing unsupported extensions. It’s child’s play for both Weese and Sylve, Körbes has to adjust slightly. But this isn’t just a matter of technique, there’s also a change in archetypes. Körbes isn’t utterly self-reliant for her effects; she needs a partner not just for support, but because she’s that much more beautiful with a man. She’s one of the few women in the company now one could imagine as a Muse, as Dulcinea. It is a very particular and special gift.

The ballet is assumedly Martins’ present to Soto in honor of his impending retirement. It’s a strange gift. A mark of a great partner is the ability to achieve communion with one’s partner. That’s a rarity in Martins’ ballets, which often end with the protagonist alone and indecisive. The ballet tactfully choreographs around Soto—the solos for him involve more emoting than virtuosity—but with all the virtuosity given to the women, it gives him an oddly recessive place in his own ballet. The only pas de deux where he seems to be in the forefront is the one with Sylve and it’s because the partnering is the most manipulative. Sylve’s Amazonian prowess is used to great effect here, as is Weese’s precision and speed. But Weese’s role seems to be the one she’s getting a bit too often. It could be innocently because she’s one of the smaller principals, but how often now is she The Girl Who Gets Thrown Around?

It’s impressive that Kyra Nichols is taking on new challenges even at this point in her career; but I’m not sure that the first movement of “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet” is the most suitable. Balanchine usually crafts and casts his first movements just so; the ballerina is generally one of the cleanest in the company. Weese is a first movement ballerina, and Jennie Somogyi is missed in those roles as well. At this point, that introductory spot is very exposing to Nichols. She can get through the part, but one can see the limitations in her lines and footwork, something no one wishes to be aware of while watching a dancer. Stephen Hanna partnered Nichols ardently; Ellen Bar was compelling as the soloist ballerina. She’s tall with beautiful features for the stage: dark hair and pale skin. All she needs is some coaching; she looks like she’s had to work on her good instincts alone so far, but everyone needs someone to watch and tell them little things like to not open their mouths at the end of every pose.

The woman in the second movement Intermezzo is so dependent her partner that it’s impossible to think of the role in isolation. If the partnership isn’t on, there’s nothing she can do to save the performance. If it is on, it’s magical. Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette had a grand performance. Their timing was exactly right and Ringer swooned back in his arms with the sort of abandon and fluidity that recalled her great debut performances in the role more than a decade ago. As marvelous as they are together, there’s more to watch than just those two. Balanchine has included a trio of women who observe the proceedings like the three women at a more deadly ball in “La Valse”, but they are far more benign. And one can marvel at Balanchine’s craft in the most mundane situations. The ladies have an opening phrase of bourrées and walks that moves them across the stage. It’s really nothing, but the way Balanchine could make pointework travel and act as a counter-rhythm to the music is second to none.

Nikolaj Hübbe and Yvonne Borree danced the third movement. As has been the case with the two of them before, the partnering got tense, but she gained life when the military march introducing her solo broke out. Hübbe needs to perform more than he has lately; the more he’s on stage, the better he is. It’s a fine balance; his best and most frequent dancing has often been frustratingly followed by an injury. In the Gypsy finale, Damian Woetzel charmed the audience with his loose style and even got Wendy Whelan to smile a few times seemingly in spite of herself.

Volume 3, No. 21
May 30, 2005

copyright ©2005 Leigh Witchel



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last updated on May 30, 2005