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New York City Ballet - In G Major, In the Night, and Fancy Free

by Robert Abrams
January 16, 2003
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
212.875.5456

New York City Ballet - In G Major, In the Night, and Fancy Free

www.nycballet.org

Review by Robert Abrams
January 16, 2003

The New York City Ballet presented an All-Robbins program tonight. The evening featured "In G Major", "In the Night", and "Fancy Free".

In G Major had composition depth. By this I mean that, when viewed at the level of the stage, the dancers were often arranged so that the featured dancers at any given moment were framed by the dancers farther upstage. The choreography employed a creative melding of formations and lines as the dance progressed from one segment to the next. Given that I was sitting in the third row, which placed my eye level somewhere around the dancer's knees, these lines were often difficult to see, although if you were looking for them, they could be inferred. I strongly suspect that this is a work worth seeing twice: once at stage level, and once from the upper balcony. "In G Major" is undoubtedly like a diamond: beautiful no matter from which angle you behold it.

The work included some slow assisted turns, which were danced very well. In fact, much of the dance was relatively slow, which is sometimes more difficult to do than fast.

In one scene, a group of ballerinas were moving quickly around the stage en pointe. The patter of their ballet feet complimented the music like water rippling over pebbles.

The dancers were often smiling. It is good to know that even disciplined, hard-working ballet dancers can have fun when they dance. They do as good a job as anyone could of projecting that emotion out into a very large, and very well attended, house.

The work had good modulation from scene to scene. While much of the work is slow, some scenes were faster. In one extended passage, the male dancer is perfectly still, becoming a reference point for his partner who dances forward and back in a slot set diagonal to the audience. One section featured a series of trios that showed off pleasing dynamic asymmetries.

There was some very nice partner work. The couple was so well coordinated that it almost could have been a true lead and follow. I suspect I will never write a review of a nightclub where people go for improvisational ballet, but the NYCB dancers had a connection that makes such a nightclub seem almost plausible.

In general, the work was characterized by light, yet grounded, dancing. The style was classical, yet angular. There are those who say that if a dancer's leg or arm is not straight, it can't be beautiful. The NYCB dancers consistently proved tonight that a bent elbow can be both gorgeous and graceful.


Ballet: In G Major
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Dancers: Kyra Nichols, Philip
Neal
Photo by Paul Kolnik

In The Night had many choreographic commonalities with "In G Major". It was also angular and grounded (see Lisa Allen's sketch below to get a sense of how NYCB manages to combine "typical" ballet graceful lines with angularity). This work also drew extensively on partner dance, this time from vintage ballroom. The mood was somber and stately, where "In G Major" had been happy and casual.


Costume sketch by Lisa Allen, loosely based on one of the costumes in Into The Night, drawn over tea, coffee and very thin and very tasty pizza with crayons supplied by Fiorello's, a restaurant across the street from Lincoln Center (212-595-5330). Heavens, loosely based on the lighting design, drawn by Robert Abrams.

The lighting, by Jerome Robbins Foundation award winner Jennifer Tipton, created the endless dark of the night, while giving the dancers a luminance that pops out of the dark background. This superb lighting let the audience clearly see offset pattern making, where one dancer would make a move or strike a pose, and a moment later the partner would follow with an imitation of that move, and back and forth. At one point, the woman was held in a perfectly straight upside down lift, held herself still for a moment, and then continued dancing while upside down. There was a ballet equivalent of a sugar push. There were many long flowing carries and lifts, including one carry in which the man elegantly dragged his woman across the whole stage. I realize that "elegant" and "dragged" sounds like a contradiction in terms, but they pulled it off (pardon the pun). At one point, the ballerina slid under her man's legs in much the same way a woman might slide in Lindy.

All three pairings of man and woman were very convincing. In the first half, each couple danced alone. In the second half, the couples danced on stage together. In one passage, while one couple was dancing in the middle of the stage, another couple would take about two steps on stage, and then immediately circle around and dance off. I thought it was an amusing accent. The last waltz elegantly knit the separate strands together.

If there were to be a sequel to this dance, one might have the couples dance with each other. Towards the end of "In The Night", the couples acknowledged each other, and for a moment I thought they were going to trade partners, but in keeping with the stately tone of the work, they continued to dance with the one who brought them.

"In The Night" is a composition that balances at a mid-point between ballet and vintage social dance, as well as at a mid-point between abstraction and implied story. The composition achieves this balance perfectly.

Fancy Free is the short story of three sailors at liberty looking for a good time and to impress attractive women who know how to dance. When an artist tells a good story, you should be able to see yourself in the action. I certainly could see myself in this story. The closest I come to being a sailor is the summer I spent learning how to sail a fifteen foot Laser, but that is close enough.

Deanna McBrearty as the passer-by in the yellow dress had a face full of emotion, poised stillness and nice leg lines. Since "Fancy Free" looks like it takes place in the 1940s, it is probably technically correct to say she had nice gams. Pascale van Kipnis and Rebecca Krohn also had gams that drove the hardened sailors wild. They used them to dance beautifully. Tom Gold, Arch Higgins and Damian Woetzel danced with exuberant humor.

There were moments when the dancing in "Fancy Free" looked awkward. I am 99% sure that in these moments the dancing was supposed to look awkward. After all, these are sailors at liberty, not dance instructors at liberty. And they are clearly shown to be drinking from one end of the town to the other. The occasional awkwardness made both the dancing and the characters believable.

Most of the time though, the dancing was anything but awkward. There were numerous flying lifts which ended in artful and angular tableaux. One dancer repeatedly leapt into a split in an attempt to impress a girl. The combination of precision, clowning, looseness of movement and soaring music made the dancing compelling. I think it would be fair to compare the style and quality of tonight's presentation to that of Gene Kelly.

The wonderful set, which created both a New York City street and a café/bar, allowed the whole space to be flexibly defined as interior or exterior as needed without having to resort to moving sets. "Fancy Free" bears a striking resemblance in some ways to "Contact". How can you resist a woman in a yellow dress?


Ballet: Fancy Free
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Dancers: Tom Gold, Kipling Houston in his farewell NYCB performance, and Damian Woetzel
Photo by Paul Kolnik

According to a couple sitting next to Lisa and myself, we were sitting in the same seats Jerome Robbins himself used to sit in. This couple have been attending the NYCB for twenty years, so they ought to know. The NYCB has held their interest for twenty years, so rest assured based on more than just my opinion that the NYCB is worth repeat visits. Attend a few times and there is a good chance that their beauty and daring will rub off on you.

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