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Richard Penberthy
Performance Reviews
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New York City Ballet

New York City Ballet - Balanchine and Wheeldon Ballets

by Richard Penberthy
January 28, 2006
Lincoln Center
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New York, NY 10023

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New York City Ballet - Balanchine and Wheeldon Ballets

presented at
The New York State Theatre
Lincoln Center
New York, NY


Richard Penberthy
January 28, 2006

The New York City Ballet's Saturday, January 28, program included Concerto Barocco, choreographed by George Balanchine in 1941, and Klavier, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and which just premiered last week, on January 24, 2006. The third, N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, was a 1958 dance from Jerry Robbins and much of it is reminiscent of West Side Story, which he had just choreographed a year earlier.

It is the first two dances that demonstrate different approaches to choreographing - to hearing - music and which bring a thoughtful audience very different experiences.

Concerto Barocco is performed to Johann Sebastian Bach's Double Violin Cocerto in D Minor (brilliantly played by Arturo Delmoni and Kurt Nikkanen under the baton of Maurice Kaplow on Saturday). The dance brings us Balanchine in his most kinetic mode. There is no time for those beautiful, odd-angled poses that were such a mid-Century innovation.

The Concerto begins with a canon based on Vivaldi's Double Violin Concerto and it is in constant motion, in "imitative counterpoint". If you think 'fugue', that's the idea, it is braided music, one strand over the next. Yvonne Boree, Rachel Rutherford, and Albert Evans introduce the theme, and each repetition is visually represented by in various configurations by eight more dancers.

The choreography brings a very literal interpretation of the music. The music moves the dancers - note for step, and as the music increases in complexity, so does the dancing. In an effective but unlikely element, dancers entrain themselves behind Albert Evans and Ms. Boree, and then are led by them in dispersing as the music moves on. This reading of the music might be called (if it were a text) exegesis - the exposition of a text. The Concerto is indeed Baroque - very ordered and beautiful and, though ornamented, strict. Mr. Balanchine's exposition - his explanation of the canon, if you will - is exquisite.

Klavier, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, is danced to the Adagio Sostenuto from Hammerklavier Piana Sonata in B-flat Major (Opus 106), by Ludwig von Beethoven. Cameron Grant was the fine pianist on Saturday. This is quite different music, Romantic music, later and less strict, and this movement reads as rather sad. Here Mr. Wheeldon seems to find his inspiration within, rather than from, the music, the choreography is not dependent on a rigid beat-by-beat interpretation. For instance, as the ten dancers slowly stride away from the audience when the dance begins, they one by one abruptly turn, arms in the air as the music continues. But, they don't wait for a new chord to turn - they face the audience abruptly, and between the beats.

Rhythm has become an unusual word to use in dance notes, but it is a word that comes to mind when describing how Mr. Wheeldon finds his music in the musical score. A note on rhythm: The people of the Georgia Sea Islands are famous for clapping the rhythms they hear. There are recordings from the 1960s of a group of these slave descendants who lived isolated lives off the Georgia coast. In performance, once a beat is established, each participant finds a voice - a rhythm voice - within that beat. They go beyond syncopation, using triplets and duplets, irregular pauses which vary and overlap the beat, single claps that in their next iteration become rapid-fire tattoos. They are complex and fascinating.

Mr. Wheeldon's choreography is both dark and imaginative. This adagio has inspired him to find music between the lines, as it were. The result is an expansive dance, not a narrow performance. One welcome result is that some dancers who haven't yet found their best selves in other ballets have found them here. Sebastien Marcovici, for instance, owns - absolutely takes over - a strong and fast, yet romantic, role he is given here.

Perhaps it is the type, the period, of music that fosters or encourages a choreographer make his choice. Baroque music, its strict order, certainly has given us a beautiful dance as Balanchine expounds on the music in Concerto Barocco. And, it is Romantic music, with its greater freedom, that has given Christopher Wheeldon permission to instill, to read, his music into the music.

New York City Ballet's Wendy Whelan and Sébastien Marcovici in Klavier
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet's Melissa Barak, Sean Suozzi and Andrew Veyette in Klavier
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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