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Seasons, Standings Shift At City Ballet.

NEW YORK CITY BALLET NEW YORK STATE THEATER JANUARY 2-FEBRUARY 24, 2002

New York City Ballet's 2002 winter season proved distinctive for several reasons. Conductor Andrea Quinn began her term as music director and drew precise playing and lively performances from an orchestra not noted for providing either. Unfortunately, its excellent concertmaster and first violinist, Guillermo Figueroa, may be leaving, so the season became one long audition of violin soloists. Playing ranged from very good (guest artist Kurt Nikkanen in Balanchine's Duo Concertant) to execrable (assistant concertmaster Nicolas Danielson, who provided a raw underpinning for excellent performances by Damian Woetzel and Jenifer Ringer and by Peter Boal and Wendy Whelan in Robbins's Opus 19/The Dreamer).

Four new works entered the repertoire, none of which had been premiered in the New York State Theater. Corps member Melissa Barak's Telemann Overture Suite in E-Minor was created for last year's School of American Ballet spring workshop, not surprisingly in the house style of neoclassicism. What was surprising was how it looked right at home in the bigger theater without extensive changes. Once past the opening section with all those waving arms, Telemann provided pleasantly varied, well-planned chores for soloists Amanda Edge and Carrie Lee Riggins and a corps of twelve. Flutist Paul Dunkel and conductor Richard Moredock kept musical standards taut.

Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins supplied the other novelties. Hallelujah Junction, created last year for the Royal Danish Ballet and initially danced here by guest artists Gitte Lindstrom and Andrew Bowman of RDB, was another of his relentless endurance tests set to a contemporary composition--in this case a dreary score for two pianos by John Adams. The energy level soared when Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici moved into the leads; daredevil Benjamin Millepied and an indefatigable corps of eight were on duty every performance, bursting with relentless virtuosity.

THE OTHER TWO MARTINS ballets were commissioned by and premiered at the Verdi Festival in Parma, Italy, which NYCB visited on tour last September. Both pieces d'occasion used music Verdi never intended for dance, and it was obvious. (The exotic Ballibili that he wrote for Paris Opera performances of Otello would have been a more intriguing choice.) Quartet for Strings, done to Verdi's only string quartet, was a repetitious exercise in canonic sequence for a quintet of under-challenged dancers. Viva Verdi used an arrangement of excerpts from La Traviata guaranteed to set an opera lover's teeth on edge. Another ballet for five, it was worth revisiting only because Abi Stafford, Ashley Bouder, and Lindy Mandradjieff swapped corps parts at every performance. Ironically, considering his failures with Verdi, Martins's recent successes have been with vocal works. Last season's ultraromantic Morgen, daringly set to Richard Strauss lieder, returned with its ardor intact, despite less-than-stellar singing by soprano Jessica Jones.

Resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's cleverly detailed picture of life backstage, Variations Serieuses, came back with a genuine conclusion. Last year it didn't end, it just stopped--after much delightful fun and games, however. The story ends as the mousy little corps girl (Alexandra Ansanelli), who is unwinding in her dressing room after displacing the imperious but injured ballerina (Maria Kowroski), sees her big solo being surreptitiously danced on the deserted stage by--another mousy little corps girl. Yes, it recalls Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1950 Oscar-winner All About Eve. And how many ballerinas have dressing tables in the wings? And while we're at it, why don't the steps we see being rehearsed reappear in the ballet-within-a-ballet? Oh, well--not even The Red Shoes made sense all the time. Wheeldon remains that rare choreographer whose work one anticipates.

Injuries or illnesses took a stellar toll this season. Miranda Weese, Robert La Fosse, Arch Higgins, Jared Angle, and Carla Korbes were out all season. (Kyra Nichols was on maternity leave.) Darci Kistler, Nikolaj Hubbe, and Monique Meunier cancelled often. Fortunately Kistler, flawlessly attended by Jock Soto, did perform the Adagio from Symphony in C with a sustained grandeur that stunned audiences into silence; the grave authority that the Froman twins, Kurt and Kyle, brought to their demi duties was impressive as well.

Standards were generally high all season, although Divertimento No. 15 and Raymonda Variations were notable casualties. Along with those dancers previously mentioned, Jennie Somogyi, Helene Alexopoulos, Philip Neal, Charles Askegard, James Fayette, Tom Gold, Stephen Hanna, Jason Fowler, and RaChel Rutherford earned praise and gratitude. How many of the touring companies that regularly visit New York City could dance more than forty such demanding works at their level for eight weeks? A raft of promotions would seem in order but only Abi Stafford has been moved up, to soloist in midseason, at press time. She seems destined to fill any need for small-scale grandeur caused by Margaret Tracey's retirement.

Judging by the choice roles he has assigned them, Martins is expecting great things from fledgling corps members Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht. Bouder's verve, precision, and hauteur in the title role of Firebird transformed that blowsy Marc Chagall art exhibit that poses as a production into something recognizably mythic. Ulbricht's innate musicality, refined power, and sunny personality scored triumphs in Mozartiana, The Four Seasons, and Fancy Free. Their corps days are clearly numbered.
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Title Annotation:Telemann Overture Suite in E-Minor; Hallelujah Junction; Ballibili; Variations Serieuses
Author:Green, Harris
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:864
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