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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
Lincoln Center
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

New York City Ballet - Serenade, Le Tombeau de Couperin, Pavane, Thou Swell

by Robert Abrams
January 26, 2003
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

New York City Ballet - Serenade, Le Tombeau de Couperin, Pavane, Thou Swell


Review by Robert Abrams
January 26, 2003

This afternoon's performance started with Serenade. This work, with choreography by George Balanchine, inspired the woman sitting behind me to exclaim, "Aren't they gorgeous?!" when the dancers took the stage. This ballet has a classic style and was danced by seventeen classically beautiful ballerinas, plus one guy (in the opening sequence - more dancers joined the stage later). The costumes, by Karinska, were long, ankle-length translucent skirts which allowed the audience to see the dancers straight leg lines while also amplifying the dancers' movements. The ethereal blue lighting by Ronald Bates and Mark Stanley complemented the ethereal grace of the dancers.

This was a work where movement and grace is presented for its own sake. The dancers often danced in unison, with the exception of one dancer. In this way, a setting was created to show off individual dancers in turn. The pairings were done very well too. At one point, the perfect illusion was created of a ballerina spinning en pointe without support like an impossibly beautiful weathervane. In reality, of course, she was being ably assisted by her partner who was hidden behind her. There was also a spinning foursome, like a carousel, and at one point, a ballerina led her man with full body contact and one hand over his eyes. The woman behind me said it best when she exclaimed near the end of the work, "That's beautiful."

The dancers at this matinee were Kyra Nichols, Jennie Somogyi, Sofiane Sylve, James Fayette, Philip Neal, Aesha Ash, Amanda Edge, Deanna McBrearty, Elizabeth Walker, Dena Abergel, Faye Arthurs, Saskia Beskow, Ellen Bar, Mary Helen Bowers, Martine Ciccone, Alina Dronova, Pauline Golbin, Dana Hanson, Glenn Keenan, Eva Natanya, Sarah Ricard, Jamie Wolf, Seth Orza, Andrew Robertson, Henry Seth, and Jonathan Stafford. Serenade was originally premiered in 1935, and by the New York City Ballet in 1948.

Le Tombeau de Couperin was presented in the second act. The lighting by Ronald Bates and Mark Stanley was sharp, where the lighting for Serenade had been gauzy. The costumes were starkly black and white. They contrasted with the courtly quadrille inspired patterns showcased in this ballet. Seeing this ballet was a good way to get a sense of how Vintage dances were an intermediary in the evolution from courtly ballet to modern ballroom partner dance. Some of the patterns in Tombeau could easily have been traditional social patterns (many Vintage dances are sequence dances done in groups similar to square dancing), and some of the patterns were balletic riffs on such social patterns. The ballet came to an end with an energetic flourish.

The dancers were Saskia Beskow, Stephen Hanna, Amanda Edge, Andrew Robertson, Pauline Golbin, Darius Crenshaw, Amanda Hankes, Craig Hall, Dena Abergel, Kyle Froman, Aesha Ash, Jason Fowler, Mary Helen Bowers, Henry Seth, Deanna McBrearty and Christopher Boehmer. This work was originally presented in 1975. Choreography was by George Balanchine, with music by Ravel. Hugo Fiorato conducted.

The second presentation in act two was Pavane with music by Ravel, choreography by George Balanchine and lighting by Ronald Bates and Mark Stanley. Hugo Fiorato conducted.

This work was originally performed in 1975. Kyra Nichols danced solo. She danced like a water spirit or like a bird AND the wind behind it as it flies. It was a short, but poignant, work. I would love to see it paired with Satyric Festival Song, the work by Martha Graham.

Act III was a performance of Thou Swell, choreographed by Peter Martins and originally presented earlier in 2003. The curtain rose and the woman behind me immediately let out a sigh and exclaimed, "What a beautiful setting!" The set by Robin Wagner consists of a swanky nightclub over which hangs a very large mirror, which simultaneously makes the stage look twice as large and lets the audience get two views of the dancing. The work also is notable because it breaks a fifth wall of dance performance: it includes live singing, at this performance by Debbie Gravitte and Jonathan Dokuchitz, and a live on stage trio of Nick Archer on piano, John Beal on bass, and Paul Pizzuti on drums. Paul Gemignani conducted. The costumes by Julius Lumsden and executed by Barbara Matera Ltd. were bold and elegant. It should be noted that the men danced without jackets. While this would be frowned upon in some private clubs, it is proper from a ballroom perspective. A jacket with a normal cut doesn't look right when dancing in closed frame because the shoulders of the jacket tend to bunch up. One can get specially cut jackets where this does not happen, but they are not that common these days except in tail suits made for competitive dancesport. Also, the style in American Smooth these days is to dance with a tuxedo vest but no jacket.

In the first passage, the ladies danced in heels. The dancers had nice frames. For most of the work, though, the ladies danced in ballet slippers, and partly as a result, the dancing was largely a balletic interpretation of ballroom rhythms - mostly American Smooth. In "Getting to Know You" the dancers demonstrated good use of rhythm en pointe. The Viennese Waltz sequence looked most like the dance itself. In "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" sequence, the dancer demonstrated a very impressive, nearly vertical develope. There were also several nicely done grapevines, and very elegant deep dips. As if this wasn't enough evidence of the NYCB dancers' talents, one dancer even took a turn at the piano.

There were a couple of latin sections, but here the dance was choreographed in opposition to the music, rather than challenging the rhythm directly. It was a workable choice, and I am hardly one to complain about this since I do sometimes dance American Tango to Hustle which to the right song is a way of dancing with the character of but against the rhythm of the music, but I think the NYCB is capable of attempting the challenge to create a balletic interpretation of latin rhythms.

The dancing in Thou Swell, by Yvonne Borree, Nilas Martins, Darci Kistler, Jock Soto, Maria Kowroski, Charles Askegard, Rachel Rutherford and James Fayette, ably supported by Alina Dronova, Jessica Flynn, Glenn Keenan, Geneviève Labean, Adrian Dachig-Waring, Austin Laurent, Allen Peiffer and Christian Tworzyanski, inspired the friend who invited me to see the matinee to want to take ballroom lessons herself. I am sure there were others similarly inspired. As such, Thou Swell is more than just a gem of a dance: it is a service to the dance community because it can help the audience realize themselves as dancers, which often makes a person a more devoted viewer of dance as well.

Yvonne Borree and Nilas Martins perform "Thou Swell"
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

(See also earlier reviews of Thou Swell and Pavane.)

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