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New York City Ballet: Jeu de Cartes, The Nightingale and the Rose, Robert Schumann's "Davidsbündlertänze"

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 8, 2007
Lincoln Center
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New York City Ballet
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New York State Theater
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About the Author:


New York City Ballet
(NYC Ballet Website)
Tradition and Innovation

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children's Ballet Master, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Fayçal Karoui
Communications, Managing Director, Robert Daniels
Assoc. Director, Communications, Siobhan Burns
Manager, Press Relations, Joe Guttridge
New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
www.lincolncenter.org


Conductors: Paul Hoskins and Bright Sheng
(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).
Jeu de Cartes (1992): (See February 14, 2007 Review). Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by Peter Martins, Scenery and Costumes by Ian Falconer, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Sterling Hyltin, Jared Angle, Benjamin Millepied, Andrew Veyette, and the Company. Stravinsky composed this score for the first Stravinsky Festival at the Met Opera, organized by Balanchine. Dancers represented the four card suits, and the joker led the dance. (NYCB Notes).

Once again, the lead quartet was exuberant and flawless, especially Sterling Hyltin, with space the target of her arrow-like legs. With the orchestra mastering the edge of Stravinsky's dissonance, Ms. Hyltin, Benjamin Millepied, Jared Angle, and Andrew Veyette showcased expanded technique (since the February 14 performance) and bravura buoyancy. The work flowed with musicality and momentum, giving the audience the anticipated energy that the score invites.

The Nightingale and the Rose (World Premiere): Music by Bright Sheng, Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, Animation by James Buckhouse, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Bright Sheng, Performed by Wendy Whelan as The Nightingale, Tyler Angle as The Student, Sara Mearns as The Professor's Daughter, Seth Orza and Craig Hall as The Red Rose, and the Company as The White Rose, The Yellow Rose, and The Red Rose. (See a Seminar with Bright Sheng and Christopher Wheeldon).

There has been much anticipation about this ballet premiere, with Bright Sheng's new commissioned score for Christopher Wheeldon's new ballet, and the two collaborators had discussed this work at their recent Seminar at State Theater. I had also interviewed Bright Sheng in 2002 on the occasion of Chi-Lin, performed by San Francisco Ballet. Mr. Sheng is a professor, composer, conductor, arranger, and more. He also works with choral groups and choral music. For The Nightingale and the Rose, based on a sad tale by Oscar Wilde, Mr. Sheng used Chinese-infused elements like chimes, plus a tolling bell at the beginning and end of the score, and a sound track of real nightingales. The music was both melodic and atonal, not particularly memorable, but appropriate to the mood and story.

That Oscar Wilde story is one of a student, who seeks the love of an uninterested professor's daughter. A nightingale decides to bring the student a red rose to offer the girl as proof of his affection, and she flies to the rose gardens. She finds yellow and white rose bushes, but no red roses. Then, the nightingale stumbles onto a withered old bush that is too gnarled and dry to produce its blood red roses. However, if only the nightingale literally sings its heart out all night long, pressing itself against the bush's thorns, the nightingale's blood will replenish the veins of the bush, and a red rose will appear. The nightingale is so taken with the passion of the student, that she gives her own life for this romantic cause. The red rose does appear, as the lifeless body of the nightingale shrinks into the thorny twigs, and the student dashes to present it to the object of his desire. She does not like its odor, however, and tosses it and the student to the wind. The student casually takes this rejection, and steps over the nightingale's dead feathers as he moves on.

In anticipation of this ballet, I was assuming a mournful production, as the story is so sad. However, Mr. Wheeldon has literally created his own red rose, as he moves on to a new position as head of his own dance company (Morphoses) next year. Wendy Whelan is the brownish-burgundy nightingale, with bent limbs and a bit of head feathers. Her leotards are sparse, as she personifies the sacrificial bird and its harrowing demise. Wendy Whelan became a nightingale before our eyes. Her pas de deux with Tyler Angle, The Student, as she offers him all that she has for his happiness, is monumental. The pathos and perfection of visual imagery were equal to Mr. Wheeldon's astounding repertoire. Mr. Angle's dance on many levels and moods was fascinating. As The Professor's Daughter, however, Sara Mearns could expand her theatricality, as she is an innately passionate performer, and in a non-passionate role, she seemed more than internalized. The distance between Ms. Mearns and Mr. Angle was too awkward. Or, maybe that was the choreographer's device.

The best choreographic devices were in the groupings of dancers to personify the rose bushes, white, yellow, and red. The white and yellow bushes were created by the female corps, in appropriately petaled costumes, and Mr. Wheeldon certainly succeeded in exemplifying the reaching, rambling, crouching roses on bushes. But, a high point of this work is the red rose and its bush, danced by Seth Orza, Craig Hall, and numerous corps males. Their long brown-black leotards slowly revealed deep red arms and implied blood, an expanded image of which was the device of long red scarves drawn through the bodies, so, as The Nightingale pressed her heart against its "thorns", more and more red was revealed. The males had blackened eyes, like dark spots on bushes, and Martin Pakledinaz' costumes were all brilliantly conceived.

James Buckhouse created animation, such as a moon that smiles or cries, and many floating clouds against the dark sky. This was a surreal feature that complimented Bright Sheng's textured score. Mark Stanley's lighting was always in the moment. Kudos to Christopher Wheeldon, Bright Sheng, and Wendy Whelan.

Robert Schumann's "Davidsbündlertänze" (1980): (See January 24, 2003 Review). Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery and Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Piano: Cameron Grant, Performed by Maria Kowroski, Kyra Nichols, Jenifer Ringer, Jennie Somogyi, Charles Askegard, Nikolaj Hübbe, Nilas Martins, and Philip Neal.

This is one of my favorite City Ballet productions and a delight to see again after over four years. With the silhouette of Robert Schumann in the background, hung white chiffon draperies, and elegant couples in rapture, this 1980, most happy ballet was a striking contrast to the complicated work that preceded it. Cameron Grant joyously kept the Schumann score expansive, yet nuanced, against Rouben Ter-Arutunian's backdrop of ocean, castle, and dreamy imagery. This designer also conceived of pastel finery for the females, which was sensually showcased in Balanchine's generous solos, especially for Kyra Nichols (who has included a repeat of this ballet for her Farewell performance on June 22). Ms. Nichols danced en pointe into the wings at the finale, covering her face with up-stretched hands, a dramatic gesture well received. Maria Kowroski also presented one virtuosic solo, partnered attentively by Philip Neal. Ms. Nichols was partnered by Charles Askegard with elegance and enthusiasm.

Nilas Martins partnered Jennie Somogyi, and Mr. Martins smiled and glided throughout, leading Ms. Somogyi with energy and persuasive romanticism. Nikolaj Hübbe partnered Jenifer Ringer, and these two seasoned pros riveted the imagination. Davidsbündlertänze should be staged much more often. Kudos to George Balanchine.
Wendy Whelan (center) in 'The Nightingale and the Rose' June 8, 2007 at the New York City Ballet

Wendy Whelan (center) in "The Nightingale and the Rose" June 8, 2007 at the New York City Ballet

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle in 'The Nightingale and the Rose' June 8, 2007 at the New York City Ballet

Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle in "The Nightingale and the Rose" June 8, 2007 at the New York City Ballet

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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