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Helgi Tomasson is a longtime principal dancer with the New York City Ballet who, in the past few years, has been making dances for School of American Ballet workshops. This year, he choreographed his first work directly for the parent company: Menufeto, set to Mozart's Divertimento No. 17 in D Major. Given its world premiere in Saratoga last summer, the ballet, with minor additions,enjoyed its New York premiere during N.Y.C.B.'s two weeks of repertory prior to the Nutcracker season. For a work with such a pronounced pastoral tone and modest manners, Menuetto is surprisingly controversial. Either people love it for its intricate phrasing and limpid virtuosity, or they find its choreography unfocused, fussy, without drama or reason for being. It's as if two different ballets were being discussed. to some extent, two different ballets are being perceived. Tomasson has made a pair of ballerina roles--for Kyra Nichols and Maria Calegari--in the manner of the Tharp/Robbins hit Brahms/Handel, where the ballerinas are Calegari and Merrill Ashley. In each work, the ballet is an occasion to compare the styles of two regents without pitting one against the other. In Brahms/Handel, where two different musical sensibilities are involved (the score is Brahms's variations on a Handel theme), the comparison makes sense. In Menuetto, it seems a heavy-handed way to treat such a transparent piece of Mozart, where the first violin is sufficiently singled out as the focus to suggest that one ballerina would do. The character of the Divertimento would also seem to call for a light, sure symmetry; the music has a balance and sweetness that seem utterly foreign to mystery or ambiguity. Yet Tomasson appears to have gone out of his way to develop asymmetrical stage pictures, baroque diagonals and other strategies that are fraught with formal suspense and dynamism. What he has made is, I think, rather lovely, but it is not quite what Mozart has made and the difference is unnerving, like a print in which one color is out of register.

All this said, there are moments in the ballet so beautifully phrased they give me goose bumps. My favorite ones fall in a little trio, danced with particular delicacy by corp members Peter Boal, Carlo Merlo and Katherine Ryan. The music, a minuet, is a songlike affair at first, almost a country song, but it soon becomes the subject of exquisite embroidery in a series of lilting variations. The song is clearly stated and end-stopped after each "verse,) and at first Tomasson gives the trio clear-cut, end-stoppd phrases. The eye has a chance to appreciate the brilliant sharpness of Boal's line, the refinement of Ryan's point work, the feline spring of Merlo's jump. Then, slyly, a dance phrase for Ryan soars over the cadence of the musical phrase. The next time, the men don't finish off quite so squarely either, and soon the dance has become a charming sort of checkers game with the Divertimento, so that you never quite guess where the choreography and the musci will meet up for a rest. Tomasson doesn't exact any psychological tension from his rhythmic patterns, although his musical gifts are such that he could if he chose to. I was among those who liked Menuetto for its ease and liquidity, and I wasn't put off by its lack of drama. Tomasson's limited accomplishment here suggests that with appropriate music he'd at least have a chance to satisfy the rest of the audience as well.
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Title Annotation:New York
Author:Aloff, Mindy
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Jan 12, 1985
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