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Robert Abrams
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New York City Ballet - La Stravaganza

by Robert Abrams
February 3, 2009
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

Featured Dance Company:

New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet (office)
New York State Theater
20 Lincoln Center
New York, NY 10023

My wife and I have a newborn baby, so I haven't been out to see a dance performance in a while. My wife and I got a night to ourselves on February 3, so we went to the New York City Ballet. We braved the cold and the snow to get to the State Theatre, but it was worth it.

Of the five ballets offered that evening, the one that really struck me was La Stravaganza. Overall, it was pleasantly weird. It wouldn't be out of place at Cedar Lake, but for NYCB La Stravaganza was a stretch, which is a good thing. Classical ballets such as those choreographed by Balanchine are always good, but NYCB needs more than the now classics to survive. NYCB took a risk with La Stravaganza, and they pulled it off successfully.

At the beginning of the ballet, a group of inter-connected dancers moved together like a living, moving mangrove swamp. The costumes and set were very simple and abstract, but there was bird song in the background, so a forest was what came to my mind. Something large, with wildly interconnected roots and branches. One woman slowly explored the structure created by the other dancers. The movements were very fluid.

The dancers broke apart. The movement changed to structured order. The choreography played with varying degrees of order and chaos.

Then the Pilgrims arrived. This new group of dancers were wearing what looked like some kind of period costumes, and the white collar over dark shirts worn by the men suggested Pilgrims. These new arrivals were accompanied by mechanized noises, as well as more playing with relative order in the movements. I particularly liked the variably permeable boundaries between the two groups.

Each group influenced the other. Finally one "nature" woman and one "civilized" man formed a union.

The dance returned to the forest scene (we need forests), but the woman was now not as willing to explore.

This theory of the dance has a 75% confidence level. Regardless, there was definite artistry of movement. La Stravaganza is worth a second look.

Deborah Jowitt argued in the program notes that the first group of dancers are a "group of modern-day friends" and that the second group are "escapees from a Flemish painting". She may be right about the second group, but I am less convinced regarding the first group since her theory a) would have been stronger if the first group had been wearing modern day street clothes rather than neutral dancewear, and b) does not account for the nature sounds that accompany the first group.

On the other hand, Ms. Jowitt also argued that "Dance is very good at instigating mysteries that we don't need to solve", even while offering her own solution. Taken together, this is an epistemology (ways of knowing) I can agree with. La Stravaganza is an example of a dance that is amenable to appreciation both as an abstraction and as something to be interpreted. La Stravaganza is sufficiently complex that every audience member can have the pleasure of finding coherence within the work (an act of interpretation), and the additional pleasure of arguing about it afterwards.

(As an aside, part of La Stravaganza could have been taking place on Mars, given the way the red backdrop was lit, but this theory has no more than a 35% probability of being valid, and also suffers from the problem that the bulk of the ballet would make no sense if the Mars theory were true. What is plausible is the idea that if someone wanted to create a new ballet about life on Mars, they could reuse the set from La Stravaganza.)

La Stravaganza was preceded by Flower Festival in Genzano, Pas de Deux. Due to the inclement weather we arrived in the middle of this ballet, so I can't comment except to say that I enjoyed what I saw.

La Stravaganza was followed by After the Rain. It was very pretty. Other than that, I am exercising my critic's prerogative to enjoy it without analysis.

Lifecasting employed brilliant use of lighting by Mark Stanley. Sometimes the detail of the dancers' bodies were revealed, and at other times strong forms were created from those bodies. The set consisted of 17 theatre lights suspended from the heavens like a cluster of ripe grapes.

The final ballet of the night was "Theme and Variations". This ballet was performed with glittery classical virtuosity and a satisfyingly big finish.

According to the program notes, the program was a tribute to Nureyev, with the selected ballets drawn from Russia, England and France: the three countries most closely associated with his career.

Flower Festival in Genzano, Pas de Deux
Music by Edvard Helsted
Choreography by August Bournonville
Costumes by Ben Benson
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Dancers: Abi Stafford, Gonzalo Garcia

La Stravaganza
Music by Antonio Vivaldi, Evelyn Ficarra, Serge Morand, Robert Normandeau, Ake Parmerud
Choreography by Angelin Preljocaj
Scenery by Maya Schweizer and supervised by Mark Stanley
Costumes by Herve-Pierre and supervised by Holly Hines
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Dancers: Brittany Pollack, Rachel Rutherford, Gretchen Smith, Tyler Angle, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Amar Ramasar, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Amanda Hankes, Sarah-Rose Williams, Robert Fairchild, Craig Hall, Sean Suozzi

After the Rain
Music by Arvo Pärt
Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon
Costumes by Holly Hines
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Dancers: Wendy Whelan, Sébastien Marcovici
Violin performed live by Jean Ingraham
Piano performed live by Alan Moverman

Music by Ryoji Ikeda and Steve Reich
Choreography by Douglas Lee
Costumes by Ines Ades
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Dancers: Ashley Bouder, Maria Kowroski, Sterling Hyltin, Kaitlyn Gillibrand, Georgina Pazcoguin, Robert Fairchild, Amar Ramasar, Craig Hall, Antonio Carmena, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Christian Tworzyanski

Theme and Variations
Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky from Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3
Choreography by George Balanchine
Scenery and Costumes by Nicolas Benois
Original lighting by Ronald Bates
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Dancers: Tiler Peck, Joaquin De Luz, Faye Arthurs, Amanda Hankes, Ashley Laracey, Gwyneth Muller, Austin Larent, Vincent Paradiso, Allen Peiffer, Christian Tworzyanski, Katie Bergstrom, Saskia Beskow, Maya Collins, Sophie Flack, Lauren King, Ellen Ostrom, Brittany Pollack, Mary Elizabeth Sell, Devin Alberda, Daniel Applebaum, Anthony Huxley, Ralph Ippolito, Matthew Renko, Andrew Scordato, Max van der Sterre, Giovanni Villalobos
New York City Ballet performs La Stravaganza

New York City Ballet performs La Stravaganza

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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