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New York City Ballet - Scherzo a la Russe, Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Allegro Brillante, Musagete

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 19, 2004
Lincoln Center
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New York City Ballet - Scherzo a la Russe, Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Allegro Brillante, Musagete

(www.nycb.org)

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children's Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle

Orchestra, Music Director, Andrea Quinn
Manager, Press Relations, Siobhan Burns

New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
New York, NY

Review by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 19, 2004

Scherzo a la Russe (1972): Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Guest Conductor: Carolyn Kuan, Performed by Kaitlyn Gilliland, Tiler Peck, and additional members of the School of American Ballet. Ms. Gilliland and Ms. Peck were featured performers at the recent School of American Ballet Workshop. This is a brief work, all white frocks and ribbons, danced with a Russian motif in two formations, much like the choreography of some of SAB's other presentations. This was a lovely, lilting, and lyrical piece, and the young dancers were all smiles as they frolicked and galloped and curtsied. Kudos to Ms. Kuan on her guest conducting.

Concerto for Two Solo Pianos (1982): (See June 15, 2004 Review). Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by Peter Martins, Costumes by Ben Benson, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Pianists: Cameron Grant and Richard Moredock, Performed by Alexandra Ansanelli, Sebastien Marcovici, Amar Ramasar, and the Company. From a different vantage point tonight, yet with the same performers, this work took on new imagery, as Mr. Ramasar and Mr. Marcovici seemed to appear from stage rear in sudden flashes of tempo and bursts of red or black against the blue backdrop. Ms. Ansanelli was particularly playful, as her every muscle and movement was designed to add interest and intrigue to this driven piece. Ms. Ansanelli has mastered the stark Stravinsky style, with every turn of her knees, feet, and hands. Stravinsky's music, on its own, races and dives through the octaves, and the signature wing-like bending of the trio's shoulders and arms was dramatic and daring. Mr. Grant and Mr. Moredock are an unusual duo, piano partners onstage with a trio of dance partners. The Corps added texture.

Allegro Brillante (1956): Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Richard Moredock, Piano Solo: Nancy McDill, Performed by Kyra Nichols, Jared Angle, and the Company. Kyra Nichols is not often seen these days, and tonight's challenging performance in her pale peach costume was courageous. Ms. Nichols was paired with Jared Angle, a young soloist, and he managed to keep her looking effervescent and energetic, through the continual jumps and tiny fluttering footwork. I think at this point in her career, Ms. Nichols is better served in roles like Pavane, which are physically less demanding but showcase her elegance and ethereal qualities. Perhaps with a more mature and seasoned partner, like Peter Boal, she might not have seemed so strained.

Musagete (Premiere): Music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky, Choreography by Boris Eifman, Scenery and Costumes by Slava Okunev, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Andrea Quinn, Piano: Elaine Chelton, Performed by Robert Tewsley, Alexandra Ansanelli, Maria Kowroski, Wendy Whelan, Stephen Hanna, Nilas Martins, Benjamin Millepied, and the Company.

This ballet, dedicated to George Balanchine, as part of the 2004 Balanchine Centennial, is homage to the Maestro's transformations of Russian ballet from the 19th to the 21st centuries. This is a ballet about Balanchine's world, his personality and achievements, not a dance biography. Mr. Eifman has won numerous international awards, such as The People's Artist of Russia. (NYCB Notes).

Balanchine was no Nijinsky, and I was quite surprised to see the psychological analysis of Balanchine's love life/work life so depicted with curled up depressive states on a black chair, on the floor, and on or against a variety of women who are either rejected by him or who outwardly reject him. Maria Kowroski, Alexandra Ansanelli, and Wendy Whelan, as Balanchine's wives and lovers, are les cremes de la creme, and their dancing, as well as that of Mr. Tewsley, was unquestionably outstanding. In a variety of erotic and exotic pas de deux, Mr. Tewsley breaks out of the "slump" for love and work.

Ms. Whelan, in a tight black beaded leotard and cap, is lifted by her feet into the air in a dramatic moment, so magical, so unreal. Ms. Ansanelli is more the ingenue, in pale purple and sequins. Their dance is loving and warm, but Ms. Ansanelli's character falls ill, paralyzed, and is drawn offstage by long black material, pulled by a figure of death. Ms. Kowroski appears last as a vision beyond Balanchine's reach, with a collapsible ballet barre as a dark barrier between the lovers.

Balanchine's works, like his affairs, were also quoted, with extrapolated choreography of various pieces. Musagete refers to a relationship with muses, and the muses/lovers in this commemorative ballet have apparently been instrumental in the success of his extensive repertoire and achievements. Therefore, we see early on just the legs of dancers in rehearsal, a corps of dancers in black leotards filling the stage, and a scene in white tutus and costumes from Theme and Variations as a finale. Mr. Millepied and Mr. Martins appear in classic and regal splendor, in contrast to the unrequited love scenes and bouts of psychic exhaustion.

The sets by Slava Okunev are larger than life but minimalist in concept. With the depiction of pipe organs on black and gold, later followed by sparkling, massive chandeliers for the final ballet, Mr. Eifman was able to concentrate attention on the simple figure of Tewsley's Balanchine, in casual white shirt and black pants. At times, Mr. Tewsley took on the formation of a figure onstage receiving continued accolades. At other times he took on the formation of a figure in his private space in the depths of despair. Mr. Tewsley deserves specific recognition for his portrayal of George Balanchine, the Founder of NYC Ballet and of the large collection of refined and rarified works presented by this virtuosic Company.

Kudos to Boris Eifman for his courage and concepts, which are in sharp contrast to the other commissioned works for this Balanchine Centennial. Kudos to Robert Tewsley, Wendy Whelan, Alexandra Ansanelli, and Maria Kowroski for their extraordinary performances. Andrea Quinn, Elaine Chelton, and Voices from the Rustavi Choir Orovela (Georgian, like Mr. Balanchine) all provided sumptuous music from scores by Bach, Georgian music, and Tschaikovsky. This was a work to be seen again.

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