New York City Ballet

January 28, 2011

New York City Ballet // Susan Stroman’s
For the Love of Duke
// David H. Koch Theater, NYC // January 28, 2011 // Reviewed by Susan Yung

Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar in
Frankie and Johnny… and Rose. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.

For the Love of Duke
, Susan Stroman’s premiere for New York City Ballet, in theory shares DNA with musical theater repertoire by Balanchine and Robbins, as well as her Double Feature (2004). A short new section, Frankie and Johnny… and Rose, is paired with Blossom Got Kissed, created for the company’s 50th anniversary in 1999. It’s perfect gala fare, light-hearted comedy to Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn songs played with verve onstage by the David Berger Jazz Orchestra. Yet it is as light as helium, not only relative to the NYCB canon, but in its use of ballet and its soddenly cliché narrative.

Amar Ramasar plays a cad getting cozy with ingénue Tiler Peck, in William Ivey Long’s hot pink tunic with a car-wash skirt. A low bench is key—besides a spot for canoodling, a platform for tricky lifts. Peck, from atop it, tips into Ramasar’s arms, and he glides her over it in a split. Everything’s peachy until his other gal, Sara Mearns, shows up, and the bench becomes a place to shove Peck behind. Comic timing rules as the dancers peek and duck with precision.

Stroman uses ballet’s vocabulary rudimentarily, even giving Mearns some fouettés, but it’s got a heavy Broadway accent, meaning lots of fan kicks and hip thrusts. Mearns is a potent presence, but here, as the slinky girlfriend, the drama feels applied to the character and movement, rather than emanating from within. The section’s brevity (under 15 minutes) limits character development and might explain Stroman’s reliance on romantic clichés—the jealous women unite against the promiscuous guy, who’s hiding yet a third gal—but it is a flimsy entry in the repertoire.

The most thrilling moment of Blossom Got Kissed is the opening of part two—as the curtain rises, Robert Fairchild is doing fast pirouettes in second, ending with a ting of the triangle he holds in his hand. The Duke suite in this part is more extensive, allowing for a slower build-up of Savannah Lowery’s character—a partnerless, klutzy ballerina (in a powder blue tutu) trying to fit in with a group of sleek, jazzy women (in “Rubies”-like tunics, similar to Peck’s) who all have partners. As the title portends, she eventually wins over the debonair Fairchild. Lowery’s outsized charisma is allowed to shine in this work, as is Fairchild’s flair and improvisational sensibility. The sum total of the work, however, is as cloyingly sweet as meringue, and about as satisfying.


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