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New York City Ballet.

New York State Theater New York, New York April 29-June 29, 2003

The nine-week spring season of New York City Ballet, which ended after seven performances of George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream, somehow seemed a little restrained. Following last year's tenth anniversary of the company's Diamond Project of new choreography, and before next year's celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of Balanchine's birth, this season had the air of pause about it. Yet City Ballet's creative agenda was well to the fore in its spring gala on May 14, which offered the world premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's Carnival of the Animals and a preview of Peter Martins's Guide to Strange Places.

Camille Saint-Saens's suite for two pianos, orchestra, and narrator, Carnaval des Animaux, has tempted many a choreographer, including Andree Howard and John Chesworth, as well as Alexei Ratmansky, who choreographed a version for San Francisco Ballet this season. Yet these brief episodes, suggesting anthropomorphic sketches of the Peter and the Wolf variety, are almost doomed to failure. Wheeldon cleverly dodged this issue by offering a story of a little boy locked overnight in a natural-history museum, where he finds the stuffed animals oddly resemble the people he knows in real life.

WITH A VERY CUTE AND INTELLIGENT NEW NATTATION PROVIDED BY ACTOR JOHN LITHGOW (WHO NOT ONLY WROTE AND RECITED THE TEXT BUT ALSO JOINED THE DANCERS DRESSED AS A LARGE AND CAMPY ELEPHANT, THE BALLET HAS A CHARM THAT CAN EVEN PERSIST OVER MORE THAN ONE OR TWO VIEWINGS. Yet while the dances are clever, and the collaboration with designer Jon Morell is certainly adroit, there isn't much in the way of true dance invention. It was smoothly, even glossily performed, not only by the dryly mischievous Lithgow and a delightful little boy from the School of American Ballet, P.J. Verhoest, but the entire cast, led by Christine Redpath as a Swan Queen seemingly recalling a Maryinsky past, Charles Askegard as a bumptious Lion, and Arch Higgins as an agile, long-armed Baboon.

Guide to Strange Places, which had its official premiere on May 14, is the eighth ballet Martins has created to the music of John Adams who--was himself on hand to conduct this U.S. premiere of the score. The Martins/Adams relationship--it's not, properly speaking, a collaboration, because Martins often works with existing scores--is among the most provocative in contemporary dance. Adams has described this score as a "descent into an imagined, unexpected underworld." Unfortunately, the music, despite its energy and attractive wavelike figurations, eventually seems to fall into monotonous repetition, a pattern which Martins's choreography seemed almost duly-bound to follow. The fine dancing of the high powered cast of ten--led by Darci Kistler and Jock Soto--was both fluent and even impassioned, but the variegated swirls of the choreography appeared oddly obvious, even allowing the perhaps cramping restrictions of the given music.

Wheeldon, the company's official resident choreographer, is happily prolific, and on May 31 offered another world premiere, a striking duet for Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto called Liturgy. It's a strange title, for there seems little of religious observance or ritual to this sinuous, sensuous duet with Whelan and Soto mysteriously inter-twinning to the sparse yet compelling sounds of Arvo Part's fairly familiar Fratres, this version for violin and orchestra. With striking hut not particularly pleasing costumes by Holly Hynes--Whelan in a body stocking resembling an ugly if skimpy bikini--the work is beautifully lit by Mark Stanley. Helped by this lighting, its eddies of emotion with exits and returns clashing with passion, and the structural form and imaginative strength, the choreography leaves a profound impression.
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Title Annotation:Liturgy; Guide to Strange Places; Carnival of the Animals
Author:Barnes, Clive
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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