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“Architecture of Dance”
New York City Ballet • David H. Koch Theater • Lincoln Center, NYC
April 29–June 27, 2010 • Reviewed by Wendy Perron
When he invited architect Santiago Calatrava, famous for his radical designs of museums and bridges, to collaborate with commissioned choreographers, Peter Martins had intended this festival to emphasize “the new.” But at least half of the seven premieres looked back to the past.
The most contemporary—and most exciting—ballet came from Wayne McGregor, who chose to design his own set. For Outlier, the first backdrop looked like a deep hole in space, as if it could suck dancers into a vacuum. From the moment Craig Hall began stalking Tiler Peck, the softly menacing quality of the ballet was riveting. To Thomas Adès’ sometimes explosive music, partners tangled, locked in ornate eroticism, a bit like Balanchine’s Bugaku but rougher. A woman being held high pumped back and forth like she was trying to get away. There were no simple, sweeping phrases. Many moves seemed like frenetic adjustments: Hall’s hand churned in space before it went to lift Wendy Whelan. Entering late, Whelan leavened the proceedings with her gentleness and vulnerability. Near the end, three groups of three dancers launched into a barrage of astounding choreographic connections under hurricane lighting (by Lucy Carter, who also helped design the set).
Of the five choreographers who did collaborate with the architect, Martins got the best results. His Mirage allowed time for Calatrava’s suspended multi-stringed form to morph from what faintly resembled a dove into other shapes. The dancing was expansive but delicate, with extensions swiveling slowly in the joint. Lightness of the legs (breathtakingly slow reverse développés) echoed the fineness of the strings in Calatrava’s sculpture. Violinist Leila Josefowicz stretched out long, tremulous notes for Robert Fairchild and Kathryn Morgan’s tender duet. Esa-Pekka Salonen’s music was at once light and dark (think Arvo Pärt). Jennie Somogyi, as the lead woman, danced with a gorgeous, grounded fullness.
Finally, the Calatrava figure tipped forward like a hawk swooping down in slow motion. Only in the last seconds did you see its congruence with the pitched-over partnering shape that recurred throughout the piece. Mark Stanley bathed the sculpture in rainbow colors that seemed to radiate a celestial blessing.
For Mauro Bigonzetti’s Luce Nascosta (Unseen Light), Calatrava devised a cluster of golden discs that grew from a single disc—a thing of dark, glowing beauty and a metaphor for expanding time. These multiplying orbs presided over a strange kind of life where living beings were dangerous to each other. The hunched-over partnering looked part animal, part insect-y. Jabbing, spiky fingers and flexed feet suggested some kind of electrified existence. The women looked terrific in Marc Happel’s long-sleeved, black two-piece outfits, with bare midriffs and tutus that emphasized pelvic tipping.
The climaxes of Bruno Moretti’s commissioned score were too big for Luce Nascosta. You felt them coming but there was no narrative reason for them. A sense of urgency, however, pushed the dancers beyond their comfort zones, especially those who tend to be tame, like Gonzalo Garcia. Often a woman would run and slide recklessly to her partner. When Teresa Reichlen entered, the other women backed away from her. She then embarked on a fantastic, oozy solo. Craig Hall also had an intense solo, reaching to deep places in the spine. Peck pressed her foot on her partner’s shoulder (annoyingly similar to the move that wowed ’em in Bigonzetti’s Oltremare from 2008). Amar Ramasar and Maria Kowroski wrangled in an off-kilter duet. Ashley Bouder and Adrian Danchig-Waring nearly strangled each other. Eventually the several discs slid back into place behind the first one. In sync with that closure, the women’s daring slides melted to the floor.
Like McGregor, Alexei Ratmansky chose not to work with Calatrava. Following his interest in history, Namouna, A Grand Divertissement used music by the 19th-century composer Édouard Lalo. It harked back to Petipa’s sense of pageantry, but with sweet, gentle twists. The quaint look of it reminded me of Nijinska’s Les Biches, where you’re not sure if something (choreography or costume) is a joke. There were charming moments, for instance Jenifer Ringer furiously smoking a cigarette, and Daniel Ulbricht picking up one girl and then another and setting them down just a few inches away. But mostly it was lots of women in billowy yellow dresses and black pixie wigs forming lines and circles. The men’s helmets and women’s wigs (costumes by Marc Happel and Rustam Khamdamov) robbed them of personality. Were the men from the military? Were they goons from Prodigal Son? The saving grace was an enchanting scene where the 16 corps women, now wearing tunics and turbans, alighted in Isadora-style repose under the moonlight.
Christopher Wheeldon and Melissa Barak opted for story ballets, choosing two-dimensional backdrops. Calatrava made beautiful impressionist paintings: the Argentine pampas for him, the Las Vegas desert for her. But one wondered why these two choreographers didn’t take the three-dimensional challenge.
Wheeldon’s Estancia was a bit like Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo, except that a city boy has to win the cowgirl’s heart. With a singer occasionally piping up from the corner, it seemed more like an operetta than a ballet. The play-acting was strangely conventional, much like his An American in Paris of 2005. The biggest lost opportunity was to make something really wild for the lead Wild Horse, played by Andrew Veyette, who knows how to let loose.
Barak’s Call Me Ben, to music by Jay Greenberg, had a thin script and even thinner choreography. One scene with gangsters at a table, scissor-kicking over the chairs, seemed taken right out of Jooss’ The Green Table.
Benjamin Millepied’s piece did use a sculpture by Calatrava, but he too tried to tell a story. Why am I not where you are had to do with a man (Sean Suozzi) who is invisible to a woman (Kathryn Morgan) because he dresses differently from the crowd. He gets forced by local bullies (Amar Ramasar and Sara Mearns) to dress like them. These same bullies strip the girl until she’s wearing only white. Then she can’t be seen by him, and ends up alone. There was little interplay with the set, which was a stunning white arch with spokes.
The two major revivals of the season were Martins’ Morgen and Balanchine’s Danses Concertantes. The former is a lush, romantic reverie for six—beautifully danced. The latter is relentlessly cute, with a few elegant choreographic touches at the end of each of four trios. It’s one of those ballets, like Cortège Hongrois, that round out a program but have little connection with life today.
Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet was the most unevenly danced ballet. Jennie Somogyi and Jenifer Ringer both gave beautiful performances. Savannah Lowery was totally miscast; the romantic tutu only emphasized her lack of grace. Millepied looked uninvolved in partnering Yvonne Borree, while Maria Kowroski kicked up a storm, her final pirouette devilishly off balance.
If Calatrava wasn’t well used, the architecture of pure dancing was. Joaquin De Luz was a forceful Prodigal Son. Ashley Bouder was softer than air in Scotch Symphony. Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall were heavenly in Wheeldon’s . And Robert Fairchild was terrific in everything.
On a sad note, we bade farewell to Yvonne Borree, Albert Evans, Philip Neal, conductor Maurice Kaplow, and, most notably, Darci Kistler (see “Transitions,” page 66).
Pictured: The final moment of Peter Martins' Mirage; set by Calatrava. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.