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NYC Ballet: Discipline and delusion
The New York City Ballet danced two different programs here Wednesday and Thursday evening that made it look like a company with a split personality.
The first night, its stunning performance of “The Four Temperaments” displayed the verve and discipline that make the company the wonder of the dance world. On the second, it offered a program so frothy as to make its claim to greatness seem delusional. Both programs, with a promising third yet to be reviewed, are being danced this weekend to conclude the company’s too-short visit.
Under Peter Martins’ direction, the group usually has stayed remarkably focused on the truths it learned when George Balanchine was molding it into an innovative and responsive instrument. The company moves with a style that is thrilling to see — with a purity of line, swiftness of attack and fierce commitment to the rigor of Mr. Balanchine’s choreography that is like an act of faith.
That spirit illuminated “The Four Temperaments,” matching the inspired choreography that begins with three brief but brilliant themes, each sharply articulated by a different couple. Images from those duets, once seen, remain engraved in memory: a woman poised on point with bent leg, being turned by a man like a corkscrew; an exit where a man, leaning backward, walks holding a woman with her legs cantilevered out from his body at a precarious angle.
Framed by the hip-jutting, whippet-sleek corps, the solos that followed were performed impressively by Alexandra Ansanelli, Charles Askegard, Albert Evans, Teresa Reichlen and especially Peter Boal, who brings profound understanding and a touch of nobility to everything he dances.
A unique pleasure this year of “Four Temperaments” and, indeed, of the whole week is having the NYCB orchestra in the pit. Under its music director, Andrea Quinn, and its other conductors as well, the orchestra performs a grand repertoire with great sensitivity.
The rest of the program began with Mr. Balanchine’s entrancing “Theme and Variations” to music of Tchaikovsky, one of his grandest evocations of classical ballet style, danced low-key with a polished performance by Miranda Weese and a less assured one by Benjamin Millepied.
It finished with Jerome Robbins’ charming tribute to Fred Astaire, “I’m Old Fashioned.” It begins with giant images of the debonair Mr. Astaire dancing with Rita Hayworth, swirling across a ballroom, bumping into each other as they make a chipper exit through glass doors. Then the NYCB crew enters, looking like small insects after the much-larger-than-life stars.
The choreography is a reminder of why Mr. Robbins was such a Broadway success: It is personal, funny, romantic and supremely theatrical, using moments from the film, like the little exit bump, to spin out an ensemble number with a bump as its motif. Carla Korbes, Jenifer Ringer, Rachel Rutherford, Stephen Hanna and Arch Higgins were all fine, with Philip Neal adding a welcome dash of personality to the antics.
At the conclusion, the larger-than-life stars are back swirling across their ballroom while the assembled NYCB dancers swoop and swirl at their feet in their own patterns, to marvelously dizzying effect like a boat heaving in heavy seas. A delicious bonbon.
Bonbons accounted for two of the numbers on the second program, with Mr. Robbins called on this time to be the meat and potatoes of the evening. That was too heavy a load for his “Glass Pieces” (to music of Philip Glass). An exhilarating aerobic workout, it features dancers striding across the stage like hurried pedestrians or, in the second section, a line of women moving in silhouette forming a fascinating, quiet backdrop for a haunting, slow-motion duet by Wendy Whelan and Mr. Neal. At the conclusion, Mr. Glass’ beat heated up and Mr. Robbins matched it with high-energy, nonstop running patterns mostly for the men in the company.
This was followed by two desserts: Mr. Martins’ “Thou Swell,” a nightclub act with the women in striking art-deco outfits, and Mr. Balanchine’s patriotic bauble, “Stars and Stripes.”
“Thou Swell” had a nightclub set with a large mirror in the background, two singers raucously miked, and an onstage band, poorly coordinated with the orchestra in the pit, all playing some of Richard Rodgers’ most enchanting songs, mostly with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. The choreography was full of routine lifts but perked up by the time it came to “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” danced with flair by Mr. Askegard and Faye Arthurs, making an impressive debut in her role. The rest of the stylish dancers were Darci Kistler, Jock Soto, Jenifer Ringer, James Fayette, Yvonne Borree, and Nilas Martins.
“Stars and Stripes” is another intended crowd pleaser, but at least it has some wit in the familiar phalanx of dancers that mark the first three sections. The fourth section is a technical tour de force — a gambit Mr. Balanchine seldom used but could pull off with the best of them when he chose. Damian Woetzel and Ashley Bouder rose to the occasion and gave a performance with dazzling feats and plenty of pizazz.
By Tom Fitton
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