NEW YORK CITY BALLET OPENING NIGHT GALA: NAMOUNA AND WHY AM I NOT WHERE YOU ARE

All photos by Paul Kolnik. Top two are of Benjamin Millepied’s new Why am I not where you are, and bottom two are from Alexei Ratmansky’s new Namouna: A Grand Divertissement.

Sorry I’m late with this post — I had serious internet problems over the weekend and they’d better not continue today or I may kill someone from Time Warner. Anyway, Thursday night was the opening night of New York City Ballet’s Spring / Summer season, and there were two world premieres: first Millepied’s Why am I not where you are, followed by Ratmansky’s Namouna, A Grand Divertissement.  I thought both were good and entertaining, if nothing earth shattering. And maybe it’s just that I’m getting to the point where I’ve seen so much ballet but it seems that everything is a combination of several other things, which isn’t bad. Millepied’s kept me more engrossed, only because Ratmansky’s was just too long.

Millepied’s reminded me by turns of Balanchine’s La Valse (which everyone seems to have thought), Robbins’s West Side Story, and even Balanchine’s version of Swan Lake, particularly where Siegfried frantically tries to find Odette through the swarm of swans who run around her in circles, frighteningly, creating a kind of hurricane.  It seemed there were also parts of the White Swan pas de deux between Sara Mearns (who danced gorgeously, as always), and her “love interest” Amar Ramasar. There even seemed thematically to be elements of Angelin Preljocaj.

The main character is Sean Suozzi who, wearing all white, seems to be a lost in time, or a human searching for other earthlings and who runs into this lot of ethereal creatures all dressed in colorful Romantic tutus. But instead of being beautifully beguilingly ethereal, they are more frightening, like aliens. There’s a very modern set by architect Santiago Calatrava (who collaborated with many of the choreographers who are premiering ballets this season and to whom the season is devoted — he was toasted by Peter Martins at the beginning of the evening), that to me gave the sense that someone — either Suozzi or the others — were from another place. Music, by Thierry Escaich, is unsettling as well. Suozzi falls for Kathryn Morgan, but in their initial pas de deux Morgan can’t see him. She seems to be blind to him. But he tries. The group of men do a kind of intense West Side Story dance, and eventually, Suozzi manages successfully to fit in, to become one of them, as is made clear by Ramasar’s giving him several articles of colorful clothing (a la La Valse) to don. Afterward, he dances again with Morgan but now it is he who cannot see her. Soon, the others swarm around her, violently plucking pieces of her tutu off. Eventually she’s the one wearing nothing but white undergarments, and she’s left devastated, alone and alienated. It was intense and enthralling and I definitely want to see it again, perhaps with Janie Taylor in the female lead (she withdrew due to injury).

Ratmansky’s reminded me of a cross between Branislava Nijinksa’s Les Biches and his own Concerto DSCH with elements of Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream thrown in. It’s harder to describe than the Millepied because there wasn’t much of a through story, just abstract portions combined with smaller stories that didn’t seem to merge into a larger whole. It’s set to really lovely music by Eduoard Lalo, which in places sounded like Glass’s In the Upper Room. I can’t remember the whole thing but Robert Fairchild is this guy dressed in white sailor garb. At one point, he happens upon some women dressed in 1930s beachy-seeming clothes and wearing hair caps and kind of taunting him with their humorously sexy cigarette smoking. Jenifer Ringer did a fabulous job of playing the main cigarette-bearing “taunter.” She’d puff in his face and he’d look enraptured but confused. Later, a group of people run toward him, carrying a passed-out Ringer and one man bows at Fairchild, as if for forgiveness. The other women haughtily puff on at the front of the stage. Everyone laughed. This cigarette girl part was my favorite. Then, there were some bravura parts for Daniel Ulbricht, dressed in kind of Puck-ish Midsummer Night‘s garb and doing the same high jumping, running through the air leaps as Puck. If I can remember correctly he was accompanied by some cutely impish female elfs, in the form of Abi Stafford and Megan Fairchild. There are sections where a lot of women in long yellow dresses do various port de bras and rather humorous (to me anyway) jumps in place a la Concerto DSCH, and toward the end Wendy Whelan emerges and is this kind of bride for Fairchild. They do a pas de deux filled with lots of classical ballet lifts and then they get married and supposedly live happily ever after.

I liked the Ratmansky and would be happy to see it again if it weren’t so blasted long! It felt like it went on for about an hour and a half! Before seeing it, I recommend taking a walk at intermission to stretch your legs, and go to the bathroom!

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One Response to NEW YORK CITY BALLET OPENING NIGHT GALA: NAMOUNA AND WHY AM I NOT WHERE YOU ARE

  1. jolene123 says:

    Hi Tonya – greetings from the West Coast!

    You know, I had that thought too – maybe I'd seen too much ballet, and everything just seems derivative of each other. But reading through other review (incl NY Times), it sounds like you're not the only one who thought so. I think the problem is with the choreography – the creative stuff still really gets me (Maillot's Romeo and Juliet comes to mind as the last thing that *really* thrilled me, and Wheeldon's Rhapsodie Espagnole). I just think our standards are getting higher!