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Four Choreographic Voices at City Ballet

by Richard Penberthy
May 19, 2007
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
212.875.5456
Four Voices: Carousel (A Dance), Middle Duet, Moves, La Sonnambula
Conductor: Maurice Kaplow
The four choreographic voices presented Saturday at the New York State Theater included Christopher Wheeldon, with Carousel (A Dance); Alexei Ratmansky, with Middle Duet, first performed at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in 1998, with a NYCB premiere last fall; Jerome Robbins with Moves, which he choreographed in 1959 for his own Jerome Robbins' Ballets which premiered the work in Spoleto; and of course, George Ballanchine's own voice with La Sonnambula, first performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1946.

This was a marvelous evening of dance. Carousel, the opening ballet, would be rich but also will seem somewhat glib to an audience familiar with the plot of the eponymous musical. Still, the Richard Rogers themes are part of the cultural memory of the city and are, of course, terrifically danceable. The carousel – both cage and stage for Seth Orza (the ballet version of Billy Bigelow) – is represented by a circle of dancers. Kathryn Morgan, is best thought of as simply the girl (clearly the musical's plot – yes, it involves pregnancy, crime, Billy's suicide, heaven, return to earth for a day, recognition of his daughter at 15, and so on is far too involved to be represented faithfully). In this incarnation, the dance can be read to represent unrequited love. In any case, it is a beautiful dance. Beside Ms. Morgan and Mr. Orza, the two other principal couples dance strongly, Amanda Hankes with Craig Hall, and Ashley Larecey partnered by Jonathan Stafford.

Middle Duet, from Alexei Ratmansky, (music from Yuri Khanon) followed. The duet, danced by Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans, takes place at center stage between a white angel at extreme stage left and a black angel at stage right, almost offstage. The duet is entirely engaging, humane, with a vocabulary that ranges from love and support to possessiveness and struggle. At times, facing him, Ms. Kowroski seems to be struggling to pull away, like Prometheus struggling against the rock. There are moments of sagging, away from and into each other. The marvel of this is not just the dancing, but the lighting. The dancers are lighted directly from above, very strongly, so that their shadow is a dark entity of its own, between and beneath them. It repeatedly takes the form of a drawn bow, pointed into Mr. Evans's chest – his arms slightly bent at the elbows, supporting her arms straight out to the side. They stand – the set is nothing but dark stage and bright light – in the light cast through an arched window, and the mullions form a Russian cross. As the struggle – or their life – ends in collapse, the black angel swoops to claim them, but he is stared down, faced off by the white angel, and another duet – Ramar Amasar and Rebecca Krohn – begins in the light.

Moves, A Ballet in Silence, is billed as a dance that removes the guidance – the imposition of structure, or the clues to how to feel – that music gives an audience. What was unexpected was that it seemed to propel the dancers into more care, higher energy, better form, in their dancing. The beat and rhythm come solely from the dancers' breathing and footfall. They are in rehearsal clothes of various (not unplanned) colors. This is a ballet in five movements, and each of them was remarkable. Especially fine was the Part 2, Dance for Men - everyone in perfect form, perfect battements, and hearing those beats, countable and in sync is most impressive. Part 4, Pas de Deux, with five women and six men was also exquisite – the dancing as well as the choreography. The ballet aches with meaningful placement, more perhaps than gesture – the odd man out: the fifth wheel; dancers in frieze, but with some facing, some looking in opposite directions, some facing the side of a partner. Thought-provoking and beautiful.

The final voice of the evening was George Balanchine's in his La Sonnambula, danced to various themes from Bellini operas. Wendy Whelan as the sleepwalker is the image, the performance, the vapor that remains of this ballet once all the other very fine dancing is over. She is the wisp of sadness and loneliness that inhabits the entire theater, led and spun by and obedient to her candle, and through it the poet, danced by Nikolaj Hubbe. Her intensity is almost unwatchable, yet to not watch would be impossible. And, when her poet is stabbed and the body presented to her, she – this impossibly slender dancer – carries his body, in the substantially muscled, definitely not wisp-like Mr. Hubbe offstage. Astonishingly affecting, beautifully danced.
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