New York City Ballet

January 5, 1999

New York City Ballet

New York State Theater
New York City, New York

January 5-February 28, 1999

Reviewed by Kate Mattingly

As a new currency drew Europe together, New York City Ballet divided repertory according to the country of each composer’s birth. Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Russia were represented in their Nation’s Tribute Series, which featured choreography by Peter Martins, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, and Richard Tanner. With rare exceptions, national attributes were not evident in the choreography. What was evident in this series was the stellar repertory of fifty years performed by this world-class company.

Each country honored sent a member from its consulate to inaugurate the dancing. Each dignitary laid claim to their country’s role in ballet’s evolution; the most extreme was Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi DiLampedusa’s declaration: “Italy-historically, we have invented all the art forms.”

Although Russian-born, Balanchine created a distinctly American company-sleek, fast, modern. So how significant is the birthplace of artists and is that heritage always evident in their work? Folk dances intertwine a country’s history with movement, music, and costume, but twentieth-century choreographers seem to exhibit less nationalism.

During the Tribute to Russian Composers, the music guided Balanchine’s creations visually and kinetically. Valse-Fantaisie, set to Mikhail Glinka’s music, featured women in pink tutus. Costumes for his Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra were minimal, leotards instead of tulle for Stravinsky’s scores. In Cortège Hongrois, to music by Alexander Glazounov, sequined outfits challenged the glamour of Fabergé’s eggs. Half of the cast wore boots, the other ballet shoes, and their dancing juxtaposed folk and aristocratic forms-one exuberant, the other elegant. Jenifer Ringer blended both energy and grace.

The Tribute to English Composers opened with Robbins’s Fanfare, a mix of music, choreography, and pedagogy to a score by Benjamin Britten titled The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Dancers are the instruments of the orchestra, color-coded by section. As the harp, Maria Kowroski stretched her legs in seemingly endless développés. The final section assembled the 34-member cast, dancing to a crescendo. This pageantry resembled Balanchine’s Union Jack, which closed the tribute with Hershy Kay’s adaptations of traditional British music. Monique Meunier excited as a fierce MacDonald of Sleat [Scotland] . Audience members were literally waving Britannia as the curtain came down.

Two women dancing to scores by Maurice Ravel made the Tribute to French Composers an ode to beauty: Balanchine’s Sonatine featured Isabelle Guérin, and Robbins’s In G Major, Kyra Nichols. Partnered by Damian Woetzel, Nichols brought a magical transcendence to an otherwise light-hearted romp.

A duet within Tanner’s Ancient Airs and Dances was the highlight of the Tribute to Italian Composers: “Siciliana” featured Miranda Weese and Jock Soto. Weese made the movement her own, a vital skill when choreography alone does not captivate. Soto contributed to the ease with which she moved through Tanner’s phrases. Other cast members appeared to struggle with the nearly reckless spins and fast movement set to Ottorino Respighi’s music. Robbins’s breezy Four Seasons, set to Verdi’s score, ended the program with a crowd-pleasing jaunt through weather types, proving that pop ballet has been around for a long time. In “Spring,” corps member Pascale van Kipnis danced like a new daffodil-bright, sparkling. Edward Liang, her more understated partner, was flanked by four outstanding men: Christopher Wheeldon, Christopher Boehmer, Sebastian Marcovici, and Julien Ringdahl. Woetzel burst through his variation in “Fall,” as he also did in Union Jack, investing as much energy in the jovial as he does in the weighty roles.

The best evenings of the series came from those devoted to German-speaking regions. In Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, Weese and Jennie Somogyi provided the perfect balance between the methodical, introverted (Weese) and the more energetic, forceful (Somogyi) dancing. Corps women in white became the strings of Bach’s music, alternately lyrical and staccato. Aesha Ash and Deanna McBrearty were standouts. Martins’s Beethoven Romance (1989), the most recently choreographed piece on the program, displayed the most traditional scenario. Nilas Martins lifted Nichols in gliding jetés and ended by kissing her hand. In The Four Temperaments, Albert Evans dazzled, mastering both the puppet-like moves and the minuscule steps of the Phlegmatic variation. Unfortunately, corps member Jenny Blascovich lacked conviction as Choleric.

As sweet as Mozartkugeln, dancers in light blue and yellow opened the Tribute to Austrian Composers, an all-Balanchine program that began with Divertimento No. 15. Beaming, Kathleen Tracey, Somogyi, and Weese tackled difficult variations gracefully. In Divertimento, Balanchine played with parallel positions. In Episodes, made three years later in 1959, ballerinas are stripped to black leotards and tights. Mary Helen Bowers and Dana Hanson epitomized the long-legged Balanchine look, feet flexed. Men flipped their partners upside down and dragged them by their armpits. Set to Webern’s orchestral works, movement is clipped, sparse. Pas de deux become mechanical manipulations, a cool precursor to the formal extremes of America’s expatriot choreographer William Forsythe.

For more on New York City Ballet’s 50th anniversary season, see Dance Magazine, “NYCB Celebrates: Homecoming for Former Members,” February 1999, page 62, or New York City Reviews, April 1999, page 100.