"Visionary Voices"
"Klavier," "Russian Seasons," "The Four Temperaments"    
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
February 13, 2007

by Gay Morris
copyright ©2007, Gay Morris

New York City Ballet opened a program on Tuesday that it is optimistically calling Visionary Voices. It consists of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Klavier,” Alexei Ratmansky’s “Russian Seasons,” both premiered last year, and Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments.” Bringing together two of today’s most inventive choreographers with a twentieth century master should have made this program a highlight of the company’s winter season, but it was disappointing for several reasons.

To begin with, “Klavier” is not one of Wheeldon’s best works. Presumably he intended to create a ballet that is darkly romantic, even decadent  in mood. Jean-Marc Puissant’s set consists of a crashed chandelier that lies at the back of the stage, making an admirably evocative statement. But his costumes are bizarre see-through black dresses over leotards for the women and equally strange transparent shirts with little ruffled fronts for the men, worn with what look like gaucho pants. Then, too, “Klavier” is set to one part of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier,” and like so many ballets set to Beethoven, it is defeated by the composer’s deeply complex musical vision. It is no wonder that Wheeldon’s choreography appears forced. It’s conceit is a slide that the dancers execute in various positions and that becomes a repeated motif, but it is a device that rarely fits comfortably into the dance structure or the music. Uncomfortable, too, are the many convoluted lifts and male manipulations of the female body that are reminiscent of the kinds of duets Kenneth MacMillan used to create.

Wheeldon made “Klavier” for two central couples, Wendy Whelan, Sébastien Marcovici, Miranda Weese and Albert Evans, who repeated their roles on Tuesday. Whelan always seems to inspire Wheeldon, and he created more imaginative movement for her than for anyone else. Her intelligence and musicality enabled her to make the most of what she was given. She alone imbued the dances with ease, making the movement fit the texture and shifting dynamics of the music.

Alexei Ratmansky’s “Russian Seasons,” set to a score of the same title by Leonid Desyatnikov, was the hit of City Ballet’s 2006 spring season. Like “Klavier,” Tueday’s performance featured many of the dancers who appeared last year, including Whelan, Evans, Jenifer Ringer, and Rebecca Krohn. The ballet deals with themes of birth, marriage, loss, and death, but also with moments of joy and playfulness. Ratmansky makes references to the primitivizing modernism of  Nijinska’s “Les Noces” through gesture and movement structures.  These references  also reflect Desyatnikov’s similar combination of folk and modernist sources.

After the opening of “Russian Seasons” in June, critics spoke of the depth and poignancy Ratmansky brought to the human themes he engaged with. This performance, though, did not always make clear what those themes were. It didn’t help that the words to Desyatnikov’s songs for mezzo-soprano (Susana Poretsky) were not printed in the program, despite the fact that Ratmansky closely based his dances on them. This is a kind of stylistic arrogance with City Ballet—to assume the dance is transparent, when it is not, or when at least noting a song’s words might enlarge the ballet’s meaning. The audience’s tepid reception (and remarks around me when the curtain fell) reflected a certain level of puzzlement at what had been presented.

Again it was Whelan who brought the most focus to the work. Her central solo is one of loss, set against three couples who attempt to be consoling but cannot really understand. She imbued the dance with the deep sense of aloneness that accompanies the pain of losing a loved one. As a whole, though, the cast seemed to have little idea of what they were doing, short of executing steps. The sense of understanding, commitment, and passion the ballet calls for, were in little evidence.

“The Four Temperaments” has not looked good at City Ballet for some time, and Tuesday was exceptional only in the degree of mess that was made of it. It did not look rehearsed, let alone coached. Many of the dancers were from the corps and appeared to be learning on stage. Most could not execute the movement, or at least not at the tempos played. The worst element was the lack of clarity in placement. All the dance images were blurred as the performers strove just to get their bodies to somewhere in the vicinity of where they were supposed to be.

In  the three theme duets only Megan LeCrone was able to give her dancing the lucid silhouette Balanchine’s choreography demands. Tom Gold’s Melancholic variation substituted histrionics for precise dancing. In the Sanguinic pas de deux an expert Charles Askegard partnered Savannah Lowery, a corps member who was far out of her element. She is a fast turner, but that is of little importance in a dance that calls for a thorough knowledge of the contrasting nature of balance and imbalance and how these can play off each other. Ask la Cour fared much better in the Phlegmatic variation, looking cool but engaged and dancing with calm confidence. Teresa Reichlen has the speed of sound, and although she had no problems with the steps of the Choleric variation, she did not stop long enough to expand the movement where she could or to define it through shifts in dynamics and texture. For instance, she took no advantage of one of the variation’s most beautiful images, when the dancer seems to calm the stage with her outstretched arms. Reichlen simply treated this important moment like all the rest, and it disappeared in a mass of undifferentiated movement. As for the large corps that plays such an important role in “The Four Temperaments,” the less said the better.  

Front page, "Russian Seasons". Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 5, No. 8
February 19, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Gay Morris

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