New York City Ballet: Founding Choreographers I


(photos by Paul Kolnik, taken from NYTimes)

Tuesday night I went to see New York City Ballet’s Founding Choreographers I program (I know, I’m very late; it’s been a nasty week of migraines and sanity-destroying upstairs neighbors — more on the latter later).

It was a good, varied program. First on were two short abstract but very musical “leotard ballets” by Balanchine, both set to Stravinsky, that went together nicely (though they were choreographed years apart), Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra. The pieces are mainly abstract and play with geometrical shapes and configurations, and there’s a bit of cute “Egyptian” styling in the flexed hand and feet gestures, and the ballets really give the dancers the chance to show off their musicality, especially the second, fast-paced one. I’m liking Maria Kowroski (in the top picture with Charles Askegard) better and better. She was very charismatic. Even though the ballets were story-less, she was kind of playing a part, and it really drew your attention to her. Askegard was really on too.

Maria Kowroski, by Paul Kolnik

Maria Kowroski, by Paul Kolnik

The second piece, Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering (pictured second, up top) was what I really went for. It was Kathryn Morgan’s debut in the ballet. She was very good, but who really ended up standing out to me was Sara Mearns. She danced her part in a way that really reminded me of ABT’s artiste supreme Julie Kent in Robbins’ similar but shorter, more virtuosic version, Other Dances. Mearns, like Kent, really connected with the music — not just like she was dancing to the music but with it; it, rather than the male dancer, became her partner. I remember in Other Dances when Kent girlishly lifted her shoulders and a big, joyful grin sweetly overcame her face when the onstage pianist first put his fingers to the keys. Sure Angel was there too, but the music is what made her dance, he was secondary. Robbins has I think three (that I know of) of these dancers-interacting-with-musicians dances: this one, Other Dances, and Suite of Dances, danced by a solitary man to/with an onstage cellist.

Sara Means, by Paul Kolnik

Sara Means, by Paul Kolnik

The problem to me with Dances at a Gathering is that there’s so much, it’s just too long, and you lose the quality and the mood that are so prevalent in the other two. Instead of one dancer connecting with a musician, or a duo with each partner connecting in his and her own particular way, here there’s a multitude of dancers, each trying to do that throughout the l-o-n-g dance. Every time I see it, I’m in love with it until about half-way through when it starts to drag. Then there’ll be another section that draws me in, and then another section that drags, then another section that drags, then another that begins to draw me in again where I begin to think, gee if there weren’t all those sections earlier that dragged, this one would be quite engaging, but by this point, I just want the damn thing to end already. And I know I’m not the only one who felt that way. You can feel the whole audience shifting in their seats. You can hear the heavy breathing. Someone needs to seriously edit that ballet!

Anyway, that said, I also really liked Benjamin Millepied. He dashed around the stage as if he were desperately searching for someone or something he’d lost. There was a longing and a quiet urgency to his performance that was really quite poignant.

Benjamin Millepied, by Paul Kolnik

Benjamin Millepied, by Paul Kolnik

(all headshots taken from NYCB site)

See principal Megan Fairchild talk about that ballet (and see excerpts) here.

Last on was Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes, the high-speed, super-energetic ballet danced to John Philip Sousa’s marching band music that today looks kind of goofy in its hyper-patriotism. At first you want to roll your eyes at what seem to be a cheesy series of Rockette-like high kicks and formation changes and almost circus-like high jumps and stage-traversing turning jetes in the soldier section, but then you realize that in 1958, when it premiered, it was still kind of a point at which America was becoming acquainted with ballet, with the movements and with the Petipa structure — the wondrous in sync ensemble work, the pas de deux with the breathtaking lifts, the solos with their athletic jumps for the man, fouettes and fast chaine turns for the woman. As eye-rolling as this ballet may now be, if you look at it with a historical eye it was very original in its celebratory Americanization of the classical.

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