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New York City Ballet - Double Feature (World Premiere)
Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Asst. to the Ballet Master in Chief, Sean Lavery
Orchestra, Music Director, Andrea Quinn
Managing Director, Marketing, Robert Daniels
Manager, Press Relations, Siobhan Burns
New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
Review by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
(See Other NYC Ballet Reviews)
Roberta E. Zlokower
January 23, 2004
The Blue Necklace: Music by Irving Berlin, Choreography by Susan Stroman, Libretto by Susan Stroman and Glen Kelly, Music Arrangements by Glen Kelly, Orchestrations by Doug Besterman, Scenery by Robin Wagner, Costumes by William Ivey Long, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Maria Kowroski, Jason Fowler, Kyra Nichols, Ashley Bouder, Megan Fairchild, Damian Woetzel, Tara Sorine, Isabella Tobias, students from School of American Ballet, and the Company.
Irving Berlin Songs: Alexander's Ragtime Band, Always, What'll I do?, How About Me?, Slumming on Park Avenue, Let Yourself Go, Everybody's Doin' It Now, All Alone, The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing, Mandy, Steppin' Out With My Baby, You're Easy To Dance With, No Strings, How Deep Is The Ocean?.
To celebrate George Balanchine's pioneering work on Broadway, NYC Ballet has put together a brilliant, in-house creative team of Robin Wagner (scenery), William Ivey Long (costumes), and Mark Stanley (lighting) with the addition of choreographer, Susan Stroman, who has won five Tony awards (See Reviews of Contact) and who also wrote the libretto for Double Feature with music arranger, Glen Kelly. Double Feature is Ms. Stroman's first full-length ballet.
For Blue Necklace, Irving Berlin's music (listed above) was orchestrated by Doug Besterman and was conducted at the World Premiere by NYC Ballet's Music Director, Andrea Quinn. This is a tale of a mother's love, greed, jealousy, and morality. In order to facilitate the theme of the story, a silent screen of words and cues is prominently displayed at the rear of the stage, so that the ballet audience can follow the dance with theatrical enhancements. This is not the on-screen libretto of the opera, with literal translations of French or Italian, but campy, poignant phrases that seamlessly intertwine with dramatic dance and generous gestures.
With a quasi-Cinderella reference, two women of little means have given birth to daughters, who are soon left on the steps of the local church, which has been designed with German Expressionist angles. Dorothy Brooks, danced by Maria Kowroski, who is the mother of the first infant, named Mabel, is distraught at abandoning her baby and returned to find an empty stoop, because Mr. Griffith (Jason Fowler), father of the second infant, Florence, sees a note with Ms. Brooks' life savings in the baby basket and takes both infants home to Mrs. Griffith (Kyra Nichols). Both girls are raised by the Griffiths, with obvious preference to their birth daughter, Florence, and overt hostility to the "adopted" daughter, Mabel, whose only souvenir from her real mother is the blue necklace that she obsessively wears round her neck.
Meanwhile, Dorothy Brooks becomes a famous film and dance star and searches for her daughter, as she dances round the globe with Billy Randolph (Damian Woetzel). In Cinderella fashion, Mrs. Griffith tries to trick Dorothy Brooks into thinking that Florence is her heiress and real daughter, by switching the blue necklace to Florence's neck, but Florence (Megan Fairchild) can barely dance and has little of Ms. Brooks' physical characteristics. By chance, the real heiress, Mabel (Ashley Bouder) publicly demands the return of her blue necklace, and mother and daughter are enchantingly and emotionally reunited.
Susan Stroman and the NYC Ballet team have put together a superb ballet that satisfies on every level - memorable music, exquisite choreography, colorful and engaging sets, evocative lighting, and a unique score that ties the Irving Berlin lyrics to the actual progression of the story, such as the theme of Always played for the mother/daughter scenes. The sentimentality is just right, not too soapy, not too sappy, but heartfelt melodrama that appeals to an audience of multiple ages. This was a clever plan, as in the future, non-ballet buffs can enjoy these two ballet works with the assistance of the written cues and the obvious gestures.
The very talented Kyra Nichols, as the evil and conniving Mrs. Griffith, is effortlessly effective, and I could not help but think of her past performances in the sorrowful and maternal Pavane (See January 19, 2003 Review), as she cradles an imaginary prince in her flowing robe and presents such a contrasting persona. Maria Kowroski, as the starlet and mother, dances with poise and passion, depending on the ever-changing thematic moods. Damian Woetzel, as Billy Randolph, seems perfectly cast and challenged, as his virtuosic techniques were so well displayed as he tries to partner the "non-dancer", Florence, and the bravura dancers, Dorothy Brooks and her daughter, Mabel. Ashley Bouder, a member of NYC Ballet Corps, as the older Mabel, has aerial abilities that are fast generating much conversation in ballet circles. Jason Fowler, as Mr. Griffith, made the most of a lesser role, and his theatricality, in cradling the two infants and in representing the overpowered husband, was remarkable. Megan Fairchild, as the tiny, but older and annoying Florence, exhibited just the right touch of malevolence. Tara Sorine and Isabella Tobias, of School of American Ballet (See SAB Tour), as the young Mabel and Florence, were spunky, sassy, and scintillating. Kudos to Susan Stroman and NYC Ballet.
Ashley Bouder and Damian Woetzel in Double Feature: The Blue Necklace (New York City Ballet - Choreography by Susan Stroman)
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik
Makin' Whoopee: Music by Walter Donaldson, Choreography by Susan Stroman, Libretto by Susan Stroman and Glen Kelly, Based on the play Seven Chances by Roi Cooper Megrue, Music Arrangements by Glen Kelly, Orchestrations by Doug Besterman and Danny Troob, Scenery by Robin Wagner, Costumes by William Ivey Long, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Tom Gold, Alexandra Ansanelli, Albert Evans, Seth Orza, Arch Higgins, students from School of American Ballet, and the Company, including Saskia Beskow (Danskin Spokesperson).
Walter Donaldson Songs: Makin' Whoopee!, My Baby Just Cares For Me, Borneo, Reaching For Someone, My Buddy, My Blue Heaven, The Daughter Of Rosie O'Grady, He's The Last Word, You, Romance, Love Me Or Leave Me, Yes Sir! That's My Baby, Carolina In the Morning.
For Makin' Whoopee, Susan Stroman and team have assembled some of the most upbeat and "dance-delicious" songs in Broadway history. Again, we are treated to the silent film screen, with the libretto of comical cues, and Tom Gold performs the role of Jimmy Shannon, who, along with his two business partners (perhaps lawyers), have created some legal problems of their own and must find several million dollars, immediately, or go to jail. Jimmy has long courted Anne Windsor (Alexandra Ansanelli) for his bride, but the answer has always been "no".
As it happens in campy melodramas, Jimmy's uncle dies, and the will requires that he marry by 7 PM on his birthday (which is, of course, that very day), or he forfeits his inherited windfall. Jimmy's friends are ecstatic, and they dance up a storm. When Anne again refuses Jimmy's pleas, the three partners go hunting for a bride - in Central Park, on the street corners, and all over town. After several failed efforts, they advertise in the local news (which is miraculously published on the spot), and the entire Corps of brides in luscious white textured bridal gowns converge on the church in time to wed the soon to be very rich Jimmy. In this Corps are both male dancers in drag and their female counterparts. These scenes, inside and outside the church, of brides chasing the helpless heir, are among the most hilarious in ballet history. The ending and lucky bride will remain a surprise. There's even a little trained dog in this dervish of dancers.
Tom Gold and Alexandra Ansanelli are a well-matched couple, and their theatrical techniques and energy level were exceptionally high throughout. Mr. Gold has always been a human jack-in-the-box, bouncing through the air with boundless verve. Ms. Ansanelli possesses equal virtuosity, and their combined charisma could fill the stage and beyond. I remember the Broadway show, Makin' Whoopee, and Mr. Gold's silent hand clapping at the delight of conquered love was right on target. Albert Evans, Seth Orza, and Arch Higgins provided the humor and dynamism necessary to carry this athletic adventure of dance and music to the level of success that brought the audience to its feet, at the very first curtain. Kudos to Susan Stroman and NYC Ballet for Double Feature, and I hope this full-length work finds itself included in future NYC Ballet Seasons.
Tom Gold and Ensemble in Double Feature: Makin' Whoopee (New York City Ballet - Choreography by Susan Stroman)
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik
Albert Evans, Seth Orza and Tom Gold in Double Feature: Makin' Whoopee (New York City Ballet - Choreography by Susan Stroman)
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik