Reviews & Previews

January 3, 2006

In this version, Prince Siegfried falls in love with

Odette at night, when she is still a maiden, and he witnesses her dawn transformation

into a swan at the hands of the vengeful Rothbart. (Much use is made of his

billowing cape.) As a girl, Odette wears a long, white gown, and the flowing

partnering makes them more like human lovers than man and creature.

The traditional choreography for the White Swan and

Black Swan pas de deux was left intact, as was that for the four cygnets (mostly).

Welch handled the flocking of the swans beautifully. To keep the story moving,

he replaced the pas de trois with an introduction to four princesses from different

lands, whom the Queen Mother presents as possible brides for Siegfried.

In Act I (which in this version includes Act II),

Welch added a rousing dance for the men on their way to the hunt. Emerging singly

from their social clusters, they danced with zest and virility, then slipped

smoothly back into the groups. The dance not only showed off the company’s

strong male contingent but also gave dazzle to the choreography and momentum

to the narrative.

The palace scene (now Act II) provided a burst of

warmth with its golds, burnt oranges, and wine reds. However, during the Black

Swan pas de deux the crowd left the ballroom. Only Rothbart, who through his

gestures controlled the course of the seduction, remained. When Siegfried and

Odile performed their variations, he showing his misbegotten joy, she her power,

they had no one to “tell” their feelings to. (I was later told that

this is how Alicia Alonso does her Swan Lake.)

Guest artist Marcelo Gomes of American Ballet Theatre

was a divinely human, believable Siegfried. An open, relaxed prince, he registered

every emotion in an exquisitely natural way. Sarah Webb, though not particularly

vivid, caught the right plaintive tone in Odette and brazenness in Odile. Their

eyes met often, and they expressed their need for intimacy with urgency.

In another cast, Connor Walsh, plucked from the corps,

was a happy and technically adept Siegfried, but out of his depth emotionally.

As once was the case, Odette/Odile was split between two dancers for this cast.

As his Odette, Barbara Bears’ limpid, slow-motion pas de deux created

its own magic. Bridget Zehr, an up-and-coming corps member, showed determination

in her cherubic face and a sure technique as his Odile.

Although we see Siegfried take up the crossbow near

the end, we don’t quite see how he accidentally kills Odette as well as

Rothbart. But there is no mistake about his suicide when he takes her limp body

in his arms and walks into the dark (monster-laden) sea. As dawn breaks, the

eight maidens who had consoled Odette earlier are released from Rothbart’s

spell. In the morning light, they start to breathe once more as women, not as

birds. Out of the tragedy emerges life and liberty. See

New York City Ballet

New York State Theater,

Lincoln Center, NYC

January 3–February 26, 2006

Reviewed by Joseph Carman

Most ballet companies take a sabbatical after The

Nutcracker. But like the metropolis it represents, New York City Ballet never

wastes a moment. Without batting a false eyelash, the company proceeded directly

into its winter season. Featuring two world premieres, the repertoire included

several revivals, a run of Peter Martins’ Swan Lake, and notable performance


Any premiere by City Ballet’s resident choreographer,

Christopher Wheeldon, stirs up expectations and publicity, and rightfully so.

He’s demonstrated an impressive track record with his versatility, creativity,

and craftsmanship. Wheeldon doesn’t shy away from formidable musical challenges—in

this case a movement from Beethoven’s Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 106

(“Hammerklavier”). To the choreographer’s credit, his new

ballet, Klavier, drums up a lot of the angst and ecstasy implicit in the score.

As the curtain rises on Klavier, a grounded chandelier

upstage telegraphs an undercurrent of restlessness as the dancers pace upstage

and downstage. The subsequent pianissimo passages sort out the groupings of

the 10 dancers, including principal couples Miranda Weese and Albert Evans,

and Wendy Whelan and Sébastien Marcovici. Weese dances with feminine

abandon, but this is ultimately Whelan’s show. Marcovici acts like a lightning

rod to Whelan’s emotional electricity. When she slides across the stage

on pointe, it’s as if Beethoven himself were slashing out a staff of music

in frustration. As the music builds, Whelan translates into physical geometry

the essence of a nervous breakdown. The duet reaches a denouement when she stops

in an obliquely angled arabesque, face-down in resignation and resolution. The

same arabesque is repeated by the other women, an act of empathetic recognition,

and the ballet ends with the pacing movements of the opening.

Because the group sections lack urgency when Whelan

is offstage, the sum total of Klavier doesn’t place it at the top of the

Wheeldon canon. But any Wheeldon/Whelan collaboration means dance history in

the making; she is his greatest muse. (Further proof lay in season performances

of After the Rain and Liturgy.)

The title of Peter Martins’ new ballet Friandises

means “tidbits” in French, and the choreographer approached Christopher

Rouse’s commissioned score in five movements as if the music were to be

sampled like appetizers. Martins, obviously enamored of the young talent in

the company, wanted to showcase them. But the first four sections lack a viewpoint,

despite Rouse’s witty score. (The composer echoes bits of everything from

The Rite of Spring to a French can-can.) The last movement provides the raison

d’être for the ballet—a vehicle for wunderkinds Tiler Peck

and Daniel Ulbricht.

Dancing to a rousing gallop, Ulbricht zooms around

the stage at NASCAR speed, accelerating into triple saut de basques. And Peck

tosses off triple fouettés with alternating multiple back and front attitude

turns. It’s a trickster’s arena, but Martins seems truly inspired

by the brisk tempo. Like his ballets choreographed to the pulsing scores of

John Adams prove, Martins works best at top speed; the tempo seems to occupy

his mind and stimulate his creativity, letting him use the full expanse of the


Swan Lake brought a fresh wave of debuts, which focused

the attention on the dancing rather than the oddly scribbled sets by Danish

designer Per Kirkeby and the weakly developed themes of the production. Jenifer

Ringer, partnered by Marcovici as her soulful Prince, offered a thoroughly balanced,

intelligent portrayal of Odette/Odile. Often reminiscent of Margot Fonteyn,

she stressed the human pain and classicism of the role. A phenomenal allegro

dancer, Ashley Bouder confused Odette with the Firebird, causing her to channel

her energy haphazardly. When in doubt, Bouder relies on an overuse of her head

and a coy manner. She deserves better coaching.

A corps dancer who had rarely seen a spotlight, Sara

Mearns danced a surprisingly composed Odette with a pleasant Russianized style.

But her lack of experience and stamina forced her to run out of gas in the Black

Swan pas de deux, resulting in a fizzled coda. But stay tuned—she’s

talented. On the other hand, from her first jeté entrance, it’s

clear that Sofiane Sylve is the Swan Queen. You know why the other swans elected

her to be monarch, because she’s the biggest, the best, and can out-balance

any of them. Sylve’s plush movement quality buffers the strength she displays,

and her expressivity stems from full physicality with no strain involved. In

the end, she drew a sharp distinction between Odette and Odile.

Time tells a lot about the durability of revivals.

Some of Jerome Robbins’ ballets, like New York Export: Opus Jazz, seem

revelatory in retrospect. Mother Goose, with its tepid drama and thin choreography,

looks more like a cutesy experiment better left in the attic. Conversely, Wheel-don’s

lovely Scènes de Ballet, created by the novice choreographer in 1999

for students of the School of American Ballet, lends a new context to the choreographer’s

career. Built on the ingenious premise of a diagonally bisected stage that serves

as a mirrored studio and a young student’s looking glass into a fantasy

world of ballerina-land, Wheeldon demonstrated from the start that he possesses

imagination, vocabulary, and musicality. And the marvelously polished dancing

of the SAB students (rehearsed by Olga Kostritzky and Garielle Whittle) put

to shame the poorly rehearsed and miscast company production of the Balanchine

masterwork Episodes.

In other casting news, Megan Fairchild danced with a sweet soubrette quality

in Ballo della Regina rather than with the required attack and regality. The

pomp and circumstance went instead to her partner, Joaquin De Luz, with his

virile presence and endlessly resilient jumps. Sylve made an indelible mark

in her debuts in the adagio of Symphony in C and in Allegro Brillante. In the

latter, she was a gale force, answering Tchaikovsky’s arpeggios with quadruple

pirouettes and the fortissimos with yard-high pas de chats.

New York City Ballet is blessed with ballerinas of

the caliber of Sylve and Whelan and with a fine repertory stock. But be warned:

It always pays to check both the programming and the casting. See

Kings of the Dance

New York City Center, NYC

February 23–26, 2006

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

If you could get past the documentary film that aggrandized each of the four

“kings”—American Ballet Theatre’s Angel Corella and

Ethan Stiefel, The Royal Danish Ballet’s Johan Kobborg, and the Bolshoi’s

Nicolai Tsiskaridze—you had a treat in store.

Flemming Flindt’s stylized The Lesson (1963)

is both funny and horrifying. It depicts a musty studio run by a furtive, tyrannical

teacher who torments his eager student. Corella was terrific in the role; his

fingers crawled over his face and chest, not quite concealing a murderous impulse.

(Kobborg and Tsiskaridze played the role on subsequent nights.) His student,

Gudrun Bojesen (from the Royal Danish Ballet), had a perky exuberance, and Deirdre

Chapman (from The Royal Ballet) as the pianist/accomplice projected an uptight

authority from her first stiff-legged walk.

Each of the four stars performed a solo created for

him that deliciously undermined the concept of royalty. In Wavemaker by Nils

Christe, Stiefel, his back to us, started with hand jitters that grew to full-blown,

luscious despair.

Kobborg was sensational in Tim Rushton’s Afternoon

of a Faun. Impulsive and sensual, this faun enjoyed his own body and the ground

beneath him. With head cocked, he listened to the air around him for signs of

danger or pleasure. He flicked a hand or leg into a pool of light as though

it were water.

Tsiskaridze danced both the male and female roles

in specially tailored variations from Roland Petit’s Carmen. At first,

watching his dramatic gestures with a cape, one couldn’t tell if he meant

to be funny. But when he hid behind a fan and snapped it coyly, there was no

question about the camp factor.

Corella came back with We Got It Good, a jazzy number

by Stanton Welch. He was Mr. Smooth, sneaking up on outrageously multitudinous

pirouettes and melting back again into “oh-it’s-nothing” cool.

We ate it up.

The opener, Christopher Wheeldon’s piece d’occasion

For 4, allowed the four men to ride the nuances of Schubert’s Death and

the Maiden with a soupçon of wit and playfulness. But the piece was curiously

sterile considering Wheeldon’s usually breathtaking partner work for men

and women. Here only an occasional nod of camaraderie warmed up the symmetrical

patterns. However, For 4 introduced the Royal Four with a curtain of clean,

lyrical dancing, beyond which each dancer would go in his solo.

Ballet West

Capitol Theatre, Salt Lake City, UT

February 10–18, 2006

Reviewed by Kathy Adams

Jonas Kåge’s world premiere of Romeo and

Juliet takes a cinematic approach and ultimately a fresh look at a familiar

story. Armed with an accumulated knowledge of the ballet (he danced Romeo in

MacMillan’s, Cranko’s, and Nureyev’s versions), Kåge’s

adaptation is unmistakably his own.

Each scene is staged to organically shape and reshape

the visual plane, building physical momentum toward an emotional pitch. In the

moment when Juliet is transfixed by Romeo’s gaze, the background choreography

slows and guides the scene’s energy to the principals.

Kåge did not attempt such severe choreographic

changes as to turn this ballet on its ear, but he updated it in feel, making

it boldly sensuous. In the bedroom pas de deux, Romeo, wrapped around Juliet

from behind, guides her hand up her leg and across her body, past her open lips

and into his mouth, as if tasting her love. Juliet is not a child who gets tossed

and turned into a woman by fate, but a thoughtful teenager who makes a bad choice.

As a director, Kåge asks the dancers to attack and push the choreography,

not be led by it.

These devices, however, do not become a substitute

for meaty choreography. Kåge’s work is demanding, and Ballet West

has become a precision company that meets the challenge. Additional dancers

from Ballet West II, Ballet West Academy, and such wonderfully seasoned dancers

as Peter Christie (as Lord Capulet) create a cast that feels authentic in age

and character. In particular, demi-soloist Kate Crews, as the Red Harlot, is

a refreshingly free dancer.

Each Juliet brings her own characterization to the

role. Michiyo Hayashi clearly develops Juliet from child to woman through her

lithe body, expressiveness, and flawless technique. With Seth Olsen as her unwavering

partner, the lifts are seamless. Olsen runs to scoop Hayashi in his arms, pressing

her over his head; her arching back spills over his hands and her développé

extends beyond the lights.

Peggy Dolkas’ sensuous Juliet, partnered by

Christopher Ruud, makes a muddy transition from child to woman. But their pas

de deux as newlyweds is electrifying. Ruud is a raucous Romeo who sails through

the difficult choreography in the balcony scene.

Kåge fleshes out Mercutio’s character

through a longer than usual death scene, giving him a wider range of emotions.

Hua Zhuang conceived the character as a tall, lanky hedonist who mercilessly

taunts Tybalt (danced beautifully by Michael Bearden), while Jeff Herbig’s

hyperactive, annoying Mercutio scoffs at Tybalt even as he dies.

The costumes by David Heuvel, rich in texture and

color, informed the story and gave the processionals substance. See

Ballet Biarritz

The Joyce Theater, NYC

January 31–February 5, 2006

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Ballet Biarritz’s Thierry Malandain, a neoclassical choreographer guided

by music and story, is nothing if not intrepid. He used Beethoven’s Creatures

of Prometheus to set forth parallel histories of the Bible and dance in his

recent 70-minute dance, Création. His 16 dancers, with their hyper-polished

technique and stage presence, are well rehearsed and even seem competitive in

performance. All these ingredients comprise an evening of entertainment that,

despite its ambitions and pretensions, felt superficial.

After a Genesis-like flash (the lighting design was

by Jean-Claude Asquié, the dancers broke out of a diagonal column into

a favored Malandain arrangement—an irregular matrix of bodies facing various

compass points. They performed rudimentary ballet exercises, apparently the

building blocks of dance. From there, they evolved through expansive curving

shapes that emphasized their elegant lines and formed Busby Berkeley-style dilating

clusters. They barked like dogs and glared at the audience, teasing out puzzled


Some of the dance references were oddly blunt, like

Loie Fuller’s extended flowing wings and Isadora Duncan’s toga gown

and unpinned hair. Malandain combined these with obtuse biblical references,

like a clear beach ball, purportedly the apple in Eden. Embellished black unisex

tanks were transformed with bell skirts, long skirts, stiff tutus; later, the

dancers changed into nude leotards, pointing to modern dance’s body consciousness.

But when mixed in with duets between Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and company,

the effect veered toward bizarre pageantry. At least Malandain deployed humor

throughout, which helped prevent Création from becoming parody.

The technically exceptional dancers have been trained

to give 110 percent all the time. Even standing still, they were daring us somehow.

But the choreography featured little fluid phrasing between one struck pose

after another, making it a chain of exclamations rather than a meaningful sentence.

And Malandain showed remarkably little invention with entrances and exits, instead

relying on a flex-footed walk time and again, as dictated by the music. If only

the choreography showed as much risk taking as the choice of subject matter.


Preview: Atlanta Ballet

Violette Verdy is in love—with “the tenderness in the European

character,” she says, “tenderness about life, food, children, and

the arts.” Verdy’s neoclassical piece, Inoui Rossini (“inoui”

means “beyond expectations”), set to the composer’s evocative

music, draws upon this culture. “So much of my career has centered on

teaching,” the former NYCB principal dancer says. “I find my choreography

seems naturally to be about educating dancers in what a disciplined body can

suggest, and audiences in how ballet transforms the body into an articulate

instrument. The Atlanta company dancers can do extraordinary things. I had to

show off their talents.” May 5–6, Ferst Center for the Performing

Arts, Atlanta;

—Colleen M. Payton

Preview: “Return to PHL”

Rennie Harris and Roko Kawai

The careers of Rennie Harris and Roko Kawai have diverged in interesting ways

since they helped found Philadelphia’s short-lived world dance and music

ensemble, Splinter Group, in the early 1990s. Since then, Harris has excelled

in bringing hip hop dance to the concert stage, while Kawai has dismantled classical

Japanese forms. On this shared program, PrinceScareKrow’s Road to the

Emerald City continues Harris’ solo excursion into private self/public

image. Kawai’s Tebura/Migaru (“empty hands/light in body”)

combines the formalism of Japanese dance and the spontaneity of postmodern devices.

She describes it as “honoring, testing, and humoring the body that dances

both within and without kimono.” May 12–13, Painted Bride, Philadelphia;

—Brenda Dixon Gottschild

Preview: Kansas City Ballet

The power of solo dancing forms the centerpiece for Kansas City Ballet’s

“Six Solos of Consequence II” program. Included in this group of

20th-century classic and contemporary works (the first series four years ago

received critical praise) are Mary Wigman’s Hexentanz (Witchdance); solos

from Balanchine’s Song of the Nightingale and Mozartiana; an unnamed Isadora

Duncan solo; Percussion 4 from Bob Fosse’s Broadway show Dancin’;

and Claire Porter’s comic piece Lost in the Modern. Rounding out the program

are Todd Bolender’s Voyager, set to Bernstein, and The Catherine Wheel

Suite, Twyla Tharp’s fast, furious reply to David Byrne’s heady

rock score. May 11–14, Lyric Theatre, Kansas City, MO;

—Joseph Carman