Reviews & Previews
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 www.houstonballet.org.
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
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 www.nycballet.com.
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,
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.
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 www.balletwest.org.
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; www.atlantaballet.com.
—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; www.kcballet.org.