- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

NEW YORK — In a flurry of flashbulbs and paparazzi and with onlookers gawking at guests from behind barriers, the New York City Ballet soared through its sold-out spring gala Wednesday night at the New York State Theatre. The event raised close to $2 million.

There were three world premieres and two company premieres. The latter proved to be more arresting, either by coincidence or simply because they were better ballets.

The evening was bookended by two of the world premieres: Artistic director Peter Martins’ mysterious “Tala Gaisma” opened the evening, and resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s exuberant “An American in Paris” concluded it.

Sandwiched between were three pas de deux created by company members.

The standout among them was “Distant Cries,” a work by company soloist Edwaard Liang danced by two of the company’s most sublime artists, Wendy Whelan and Peter Boal. “Distant Cries” was created for Mr. Boal’s small eponymous company a couple of months ago.

He and Miss Whelan’s performance brought a touch of magic to Mr. Liang’s tender movement. The choreographer has a feeling for simplicity and a way of creating emotional overtones in his work that is rare at a time when many novice choreographers seem fixated on creating a big splash.

His work also benefited from its placement on the program, coming on the heels of three works that used modern music, much of it invigorating but also strident. By contrast, the quiet grace of Tomaso Albinoni’s measured pace was a refreshing change.

The other ballet that impressed with its originality, Benjamin Millepied’s “Double Aria,” was named after its score, a virtuoso violin solo by Daniel Ott played on stage with fierce intensity by Timothy Fain.

The search for inventive movement and the ability to develop it in an interesting way were hallmarks of “Double Aria” and make Mr. Millepied a talent to watch. Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour — newly promoted to soloist — gave it a vibrant performance.

The third pas de deux, “Broken Promise,” by principal dancer Albert Evans, showed a feeling for creating long, sustained lines — danced by Ashley Bouder and Stephen Hanna and set to a score for clarinet quartet by Juilliard student Mathew Fuerst.

Mr. Martins’ “Tala Gaisma,” (“Distant Light”) named for its score, by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, was an extended work for a cast of four, the same configuration — a man and three women — as in George Balanchine’s iconic latter version of “Apollo.”

The similarity is more than coincidental.

Its major male role was created for veteran dancer Jock Soto, a strong presence at the company since he arrived 21/2 decades ago. Due to an injury to Mr. Soto, Jared Angle stepped into the role with its authoritative partnering in an impressive performance. His muses, three of the company’s most glorious ballerinas — Darci Kistler, Sofiane Sylve and Miranda Weese — performed elegant solos and danced ensemble in passages that recalled central moments in Mr. Balanchine’s “Apollo,” as when, sitting on the floor, they raise one leg to touch Apollo’s outstretched hand. Or when they appear to be horses and Apollo is the chariot rider. Whether this was intended as some sort of hommage to Balanchine is not clear.

The tone is very different from the supremely classical aura that surrounds Mr. Balanchine’s work. The music keens and wails, shimmers and turns harsh.

Dance pioneer Doris Humphrey once said, “All dances are too long,” and the same charge could be leveled against Mr. Martins’ piece. However, despite several climaxes that taper off and then build up again, the choreographer maintains an intensity of focus that these four fine dancers make palpable.

“An American in Paris” closed the program with a bang, albeit a fairly conventional one. George Gershwin’s music is beloved by some, considered overplayed and raucous by others. Most of the pleasure of the ballet is its look — shifting backdrops and scrims designed by Adrianne Lobel that suggest an imaginary Paris.

Unlike Mr. Wheeldon’s exploration of the score for “Carousel” — one of his most inspired works — he offers few fresh insights in this genial work.

But alone among the evening’s choreographers, he tackled not only solos and duets, but also the challenge of creating group movement — an area where he excels.

This “American” was fast and zippy, but the dances for the principals didn’t range beyond generic romantic pas de deux.

Damian Woetzel had the right breezy air for the title role, Jennifer Ringer showed elfin charm, and Carla Korbes was a spirited gamin in a ballet that closed the program in high spirits.

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