Wednesday, November 22, 2006

New York City Ballet Smorgasbord

New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
November 21, 2006

Opening Night Benefit Program:
Carousel (A Dance) (Wheeldon/Rodgers)
Slice to Sharp (excerpts) (Elo/Vivaldi)
"Purple" from Ecstatic Orange (Martins/Torke)
Friandises (last movement) (Martins/Rouse)
Walpurgisnacht Ballet (excerpts) (Balanchine/Gounod)
Middle Duet (Ratmansky/Khanon)
N.Y. Export Opus Jazz (first movement) (Robbins/R. Prince)
Stars and Stripes (excerpt) (Balanchine/Sousa)

So let’s dispense with the most important things first: the décor (purple and black, maybe some were gray, cloth streamers strung above the first ring promenaders); and the promenaders’ attire. The décor at the past few galas has been very effective, and very pretty. Whatever the designers’ intentions were, the streamers used to express this season’s color scheme/theme ( Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Purple") unfortunately brought to mind the sophomores’ decorations for the juniors’ homecoming dance in the gym. (Hmm…given the theme, maybe they were successful after all.) The dinner tables were pretty, with huge glass vases filled with stephanotis-type (?) flowers. As for the promenaders themselves, the winter gala-goers are usually pretty subdued, and so were those here. There was a lot of black, with some splatches of scarlet, as observed by John (I just thought it was red), and a few diamond-encrusted tops. Everyone was having a good time: the promenaders and the promenader-watchers who were hanging over the balconies. The conversation was so loud you couldn’t hear the gongs; at the intermission, the man who tells you not to take pictures and to turn your cell phone off had to come out onto the floor of the promenade and tell people to get to their seats. The promenaders promenaded. We ran.

The company looked great. The first piece, the Wheeldon, was a good opener. I had only seen it once before, but this time I appreciated more his skill in moving his groups around the stage, and the movements he gives them to do, which are subtle evocations of the musical’s themes rather than direct quotations. Well, except for the part where the women are carried around so as to invoke carousel ponies; the literalness of that makes me cringe a bit. The ballet is kind of like those little hot dogs; they’re traditional party food and they taste good but you suspect that they might not be that good for you. The soloists were the unknown to me Kathryn Morgan (not on the roster), and Seth Orza. She is an ABT-type dancer, very good for this role. She was passionate in the pas de deux, which has very tricky lifts, whereas Orza was the strong silent type. Jonathan Stafford, elegant as usual, was a soloist along with the also excellent Arch Higgins, Rachel Rutherford, and Rebecca Krohn.

The next three pieces in this smorgasbord included two excerpts from last season, the new Elo, which I saw once, and Martins’s Friandises, which I hadn’t seen; and the Ecstatic Orange excerpt, which I also had not seen before. Slice to Sharp is the kind of pyrotechnical ballet that makes the audience salivate; it’s hard not to, since Elo knows how to exploit their technique and the dancers look so terrific. The excerpts done here included ensemble pieces for Maria Kowroski, Ana Sophia Scheller, Sofiane Sylve, and Wendy Whelan; Joaquin de Luz, Craig Hall, Edwaard Liang, and Amar Ramasar, and a pas de deux for Whelan and Hall. It is a fun piece to watch, but the meaningless hand gestures, for one, become irritating after a while and you start to realize that the ballet doesn’t fill you up for very long, or give you much food for thought, but you still like it. Kind of like Doritos. Friandises was the spicy popcorn shrimp; very well done by the company, with Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht as the soloists; there was much leaping and turning. The "Purple" section from Ecstatic Orange, which was sandwiched between the other two pieces, was well done by Janie Taylor (great to see her back on the stage) and Sébastien Marcovici. This piece looked to me like a gloss on Agon; Martins’s movements can be very keen, as well as slightly bitter, about articulating a relationship between a woman and a man, and this pas de deux contains some fine moments; but I couldn’t figure out the source of the motions and the emotions. As a result it seemed as if the choreography was missing a dimension, some shading. Spinach salad, with a light dressing but no croutons.

In the second half of the program, finally, we had some Balanchine. The Walpurgisnacht was handily done and led by Kyra Nichols, Philip Neal, and Abi Stafford. Roast duck breast with raspberry sauce. This was followed by the American première of the Ratmansky, a pas de deux danced by Kowroski and Albert Evans. This intriguing piece included lighting by Mark Stanley that became an integral, but not a gimmicky, part of the choreography; Kowroski and Evans, at first dancing face to face, seemed to be restricted by the lines created by the window-pane-like reflection on the floor. Ratmansky uses the lighting and the space it created very well; the duet shows hints of swing and tango, while playing on darkness and light, the serious and the comic. Freed from the window panes, the dancers open up and let go. The ending, which came fast and as a surprise, was somewhat marred because the audience applauded too soon, then realized its mistake and stopped and then had to start half-heartedly again when the curtain came down. Light but delicious; stuffed flounder. The Robbins course that followed: strictly way, way overcooked broccoli. The final piece, the pas de deux and finale of Stars and Stripes, is apple pie and honey-baked ham all rolled into one. The cast, led by Ashley Bouder and Damian Woetzel, gave a sharp, crisp performance. In sum, it was a fun evening, with lots of great dancing.


Anonymous John Branch said...

Your culinary comparisons were...tasty. My favorite is "spicy popcorn shrimp" for the Friandises excerpt--that was it all right.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Ellen Thomas said...

Yeah, pretty fluffy. Thanks for the note, John.

3:55 PM  

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