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By Susan Yung
New York City Ballet
The Seven Deadly Sins
David H. Koch Theater
May 14, 2011
Reviewed by Susan Yung
Patti LuPone, Wendy Whelan, and company in the "Pride" section of Seven Deadly Sins. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
The factors that must have made Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's ballet chanté, The Seven Deadly Sins, irresistible to choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett also weigh it down in the season's new production, which premiered May 11. The sins divide the work into seven sections—each set in a different city—plus a prologue and epilogue. Two sisters bustle through this whirlwind moral and geographical journey, with Patti Lupone (Anna 1) singing and striding, and Wendy Whelan (Anna 2) dancing. The Annas are sent out into the world to make money to fund a lavish residence for the family, encountering a manifestation of each sin along their frenetic sojourn. Unfortunately, busy isn't inherently interesting—sometimes it's just busy.
Taylor-Corbett's choreography is Broadway-friendly ballet done in slippers or character shoes—pretty, lyrical, and humdrum, with lots of swooping attitude pivots, chassés, and stag leaps. Combined with Whelan's presence, which is more spiritual than corporal, the dance segments dissipate almost immediately after they're over, like smoke. Lupone's world-wise vocals, supported by four male singers humorously dressed as the family, make the witty songs resonate despite tinny amplification. In a clever conceit, eight "shadows" (men in charcoal) dart and hover around the chorus. Whelan makes costume changes onstage, aiding brevity and continuity, but the undergarments designed for her by Judanna Lynn are unflattering, especially when paired with the skull cap worn under her wigs. (The ballet should be a tribute to Whelan's talents, not a takedown.)
When Sara Mearns appears as a Latina Diva in front of a sunny painting of Los Angeles, she flashes the star quality that had been missing until then. This dance is closer to Broadway than a traditional ballet, and her dazzle—really, the role's—is a fine fit for the sly, savory music. Many of the scenes (with sets designed by Beowulf Boritt, lighting by Jason Kantrowitz) are visually punchy: a scarlet-hued cabaret, a groaning buffet table, an endless row of houses lining a sloped San Francisco street. But just as one scene settles into focus, on comes the next in the jam-packed libretto. It entertains as a glossy showcase for Whelan and LuPone, but time will tell whether it becomes a repertory staple.