New York City Ballet: Early Music Masters Program

photo by Paul Kolnik, NYCB

photo of Stabat Mater by Paul Kolnik, NYCB

Last night I brought my friend Judy with me to New York City Ballet for their Early Music Masters program. It happened to be a very ballroom-y night: I saw two sets of ballroom dance friends — one a fellow former Pasha student from Dance Times Square, and the other a former fellow West Coast Swing team member from my first studio, DanceSport. Always fun to reconnect and see what everyone’s up to. Actually I often see people I know from the ballroom world at the ballet. So, just a little note to ballet companies: I do really think serious ballroom dancers are a potentially big cross-over audience for ballet.

Anyway, first on the program was Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 set to Mozart and in the style of a courtly dance from his era in which ballerinas are clad in sky blue and yellow tutus and their cavaliers in blousy tops with ornate vests. Honestly I find Mozart rather bland for ballet.

Tchaikovsky and Stravinksy and Prokofiev, and even Beethoven are much more interesting. Mozart’s too syrupy sweet and everything ends up looking boringly cutesy, to me.

Second on was Peter Martins’s Stabat Mater, a piece for three male / female couples set in a Roman courtyard. On the back part of the stage sat a marble gazebo area onto which the dancers could walk, hiding behind or leaning up against the pillars, and a lovely Winged Venus statue framing the back. The women wore light, flowing toga-like dresses with high Empire waistlines. It was set to church choral music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi composed in the early eighteenth century shortly before his death, at 26 and was sung in Latin beautifully by a soprano (Erin Morley) and mezzo-soprano (Jennifer Johnson).

I found myself really pulled into this piece and the somber yet spiritual mood it created. I particularly loved when Yvonne Borree would run up to her partner, Benjamin Millepied and touch him lightly on the shoulders or  around the waist, sending him into a kind of religious fervor as he’d run off lifting his arms and upper body heavenward as if taken by the spirit, in praise. It seemed at first as if she was mourning and distraught, she almost attacked him when she touched, but then she became softer, and eventually it seemed almost to become a girlish game to her, like she grew to love “inspiring” him — or infusing him with the spirit — in this way. It seemed to be a ballet both about grief and salvation and this repeated action seemed to convey that perfectly.

There’s also this crazy but beautiful lift performed by I think either two or all three sets of dancers simultaneously in which the woman wraps her arms around the man’s neck and lifts her knees high to her chest, in a cradle-like position, then leans her chin at her chest, resting her cheek on the man’s clavicle. It looks like she’s a child in his arms, resting peacefully. Then, he takes his arms away, spreading them out, like Christ on the cross. It’s an absolutely beautiful image and it looked particularly beatific on Tyler Angle and Kathryn Morgan with their angelic faces. But I nearly burst out laughing thinking, if that was me, I’d either take the guy’s head off or we’d be on the floor. Definitely.

Last on was Brahms / Handel set to Brahms’s Variation and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, co-choreographed by Twyla Tharp and Jerome Robbins. This was fast-paced and fun with all the quintessential Tharpisms — the dangerous-looking but thrilling group lifts where men throw women wildly into each others’ arms, the running backwards, the fish dives done to the back of the stage instead of facing front (I don’t know why I find these so amusing), the who can jump higher or turn faster dance competition between the men (here, Andrew Veyette and Gonzalo Garcia). The only thing I could really see that was Robbins were the long jazzy strides forward that reminded me of Glass Pieces, although I guess the bravado male competition sequences are Robbins as well (ie: Fancy Free).

Wendy Whelan danced one of the female leads in the Tharp / Robbins.

(photo by David Michalek from NYCB website)

(above with Sebastien Marcovici in After the Rain, photo by Paul Kolnik from here).

My friend Judy seldom goes to the ballet and had no idea who anyone was. But afterward during the curtain calls, she said, “I really really like that one,” pointing to Wendy. “She’s just so, so…” she flailed about wildly unable to come up with the right adjective. I know she’s really striking, I said. And once again, you have a good eye, I told her. Wendy’s like the star of the company. We laughed. My friend is one of those who will be at a gallery full of totally abstract, splotch-of-paint-tossed-at-canvas-type paintings and, knowing nothing of any of the artists or materials used and having no art background whatsoever, will always immediately focus on what happens to be the most expensive one.

Afterward we went to P.J. Clarke’s, across the street from Lincoln Center, which seems to have become my after-ballet hangout, although I don’t know why. All the windows make it freezing in the winter. And the food is rather so-so. Good wine though.

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