PASHMINA LIFTS AND LITTLE DOGS WHO STEAL SHOWS: ALEXEY MIROSHNICHENKO'S "THE LADY WITH THE LITTLE DOG"

Last night at New York City Ballet was the world premiere of a new ballet by Alexey Miroschnichenko, The Lady with the Little Dog (photo above, of Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette, by Paul Kolnik). The ballet is based on the short story by Anton Chekhov of the same name (which I haven’t read but now wish I had). Miroshnichenko made the ballet in honor of the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth and he dedicated it to Maya Plisetskaya in honor of her 85th birthday.

I really liked the ballet — really enjoyed the whole evening. Though I didn’t know the story, The Lady with the Little Dog was very Chekhovian, very full of angst-ridden characters (danced by Hyltin and Veyette), along to a score by Rodion Shchedrin that went along well with the drama.

It began with Sterling Hyltin dressed in a gorgeous deep purple dress with a plush velvety top and romantic tutu, walking a little dog on its leash across stage. Veyette was in the back, bespectacled, and wearing a white suit, looking like a 19th Century Russian businessman. (The splendid costumes were by Tatiana Noginova). There were also several male dancers dressed in grey bodysuits writhing around onstage. I originally thought they were a kind of chorus that would echo or foretell the action of the “play” but then they had some very dog-like movements – holding their hands up, bent at the wrists, kind of like dog paws, lying on the ground and playfully kicking their feet in the air, rolling over. But the program called them “angels.” It soon became clear that their function was to control the events — get the lady and the gentleman to meet, sleep together, then tear them apart — perhaps one of them died? — then bring them in the end together again as they walked along a path toward heavenly light.

Anyway, back to the beginning: well, as Sterling walked that little dog across the stage (I’m not good with dog breeds, but he was small and fluffy, with straight shaggy hair), he kind of initially stole the show. He kept looking out at the audience, into the darkness, but he looked intrigued, not scared. Then, Sterling would lift her leg and he’d turn and look at her like she was a bit off her nut. Then a grey guy came up and wiggled around and the dog would take a step back, then try to go around him, but the leash preventing him from getting too far. It was too much. Finally, Sterling stopped, frozen in time, and a grey man took the leash and led the dog offstage. Right before he went into the wings, he took another inquisitive look out at the audience. There were several giggles. It was too cute and I was reminded of Melanie LaPatin once saying no performer ever wants to follow an act involving children or animals.

Anyway, fortunately the dog didn’t return (although I secretly kept wanting him to). It took a few seconds for the audience to calm down and re-focus, but eventually we did. They grey people set up what looked like a long rubber mat which separated Sterling and Andrew. Each principal danced separately, then with the grey men, then the grey men eventually brought them toward each other and they danced together. The only odd thing to me was the background set (along with that rubber mat; set designs were by Philipp Dontsov). The back wall looked very abstract, which seemed kind of out of place in a period drama, although maybe it was meant to universalize the emotion. It looked to me like the middle of an airplane, with slanted airplane-like windows lining the back wall. As the action unfolded, the windows got smaller and smaller until they eventually disappeared.

Anyway, in the second movement, Hyltin and Veyette danced this really gorgeous MacMillan-esque pas de deux with lots of beautiful sweeping overhead pashmina-esque lifts — which of course I’m always a sucker for! So that was my favorite part. Then, the grey men returned and helped the two principals out of their clothing, and they danced a rather beautiful sex scene in skin-toned underwear. I have to say, as I was watching I couldn’t help but think of a similar scene from Pascal Rioult’s Views of the Fleeting World, which was so slow and serpentine and tantalizing, yet beatific. This wasn’t the same; it was a little more frantic and angst-ridden, which I guess is more Chekhovian (I will have to the read that story).

Then, the grey people direct them to get back into their clothes, and soon we see Veyette doing a kind of mad dance, eventually running across the stage and disappearing into the wings, Hyltin running after him, but unable to catch him. Then she does a rather sorrowful solo.

Eventually Veyette returns, they dance together again. But this time it’s a more mature love, not as Romeo and Juliet balcony scene as the first. Eventually, they take off their clothes again, the mat is laid vertically across stage, running front the front of the stage to the back, and the two hold hands and walk together down the path, toward the back of the stage, toward a bright, golden light. The end. I wasn’t sure if Veyette died and they were coming together again in the afterlife, or if they just had a fight and this final scene represented them kind of going off into the sunset.

Of course Miroshnichenko came out for a bow during the curtain calls — and unbelievably, though the vast majority of the audience applauded, there were a few audible boos. It’s like some people were getting opera confused with the ballet. I mean, seriously, this wasn’t a new, iconoclastic production of Tosca; it was a brand new ballet…

Anyway, I liked it and would like to see it again.

The other two ballets of the night were Balanchine’s Agon, an abstract black and white leotard ballet set to Stravinsky’s unsettling score. The choreography was really brilliant, very original, and there were lots of pretzel-shapes in the duets (the main one danced by the hyper flexible Wendy Whelan, with Albert Evans), and it made me realize where Christopher Wheeldon gets his inspiration from :)

The evening ended with Cortege Hongrois, basically Balanchine’s wonderful one-act version of Raymonda, which I’ve been going on about after seeing ABT II perform part of it at the Guggenheim recently. Sean Suozzi danced what I’m now calling the Irlan Silva part — the virile, folksy Hungarian lead — along with Rebecca Krohn. I haven’t noticed Suozzi much before this season, but he is really standing out to me. He danced the lead in this, one of the duets in Agon, and he did a lot of dancing in Who Cares? last week. He is really good! And Maria Kowroski and Jonathan Stafford danced the balletic leads and made me badly want to see Diamonds” again.

5 Comments

  1. Yeah, the dog totally distracted people. Cute, but we're there to watch the dancing, right?

  2. It sounds fascinating, but, just from reading your review, it looks a lot like there are a ton of gimmicks in “The Lady”. The dog, and the gray men are an interesting idea, an unseen force of fate/destiny, but not sure how that would translate in real life. It's almost like these elements overshadow the choreography (which sounds amazing, btw).

    I'm curious about the boos. Why? I'm not sure I understand. People didn't like the choreography? It was too abstract/angular? That would be odd, since Agon followed. Too literary? Too dramatic?

    The ambiguous endings (and the inability to figure out what's going on) bothers me too. Just a pet peeve. Wonderful writeup though!! Intriguing.

  3. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Hi you guys. Thanks Jolene :) I really don't get it about the boos. I mean, maybe people may not have been that entertained or found it all that compelling, but I wouldn't think it would have offended anyone… Anyway, here are a couple of reviews — the Macaulay in the Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/arts/dance/22…) and Apollinaire Scher's review (http://www.artsjournal.com/foot/2010/01/a_call_…) which I thought were interesting. And I don't disagree with them — I kept thinking throughout how difficult that would be to choreograph to someone like Chekhov — I mean, how do you get into characters' heads with the depth of Chekhov — but then choreographers have made brilliant dances to Shakespeare. Apollinaire had some interesting suggestions for making the ballet better.

  4. Interesting…! Here's another review I found that I liked: http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_10/feb10/e

  5. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    That is a great review — I really like Eric Taub. He can be very funny — in person too! He's right about it being an internet f– whatever he called it, where audiences make up their own stories. I didn't get the story at all — I saw two lovers who went through a rough period, then ended up together in the light — like in the afterlife. I did not get the whole thing of Andrew Veyette's character being a womanizing misogynist or anything like that. Maybe Andrew's too sweet :)

    Here's another review from DanceViewTimes: http://www.danceviewtimes.com/2010/01/russian-d… This one is fairly positive toward the Miroshnichenko but damning of the NYCB's rendition of the two Balanchines performed the same night.

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