New York City Ballet’s First “See the Music” Program

Friday night, my friends Hsien and Alyssa came with me to see the first program in NYCB’s “See the Music” series. First, we met for drinks on the promenade, which, as I mentioned, they’d opened an hour before showtime for the first week of this fall season. We watched members of the orchestra play some soft jazz music, which some patrons were dancing to. I know Hsien from my ballroom dancing days and we had to laugh because some of that music sounded straight out of Blackpool! (Blackpool’s one of the only – perhaps THE only – ballroom dance competition with live music.) (Above are a couple of my pictures of the promenade, about an hour before the performance, with people beginning to gather. My iPhone seems to take better photos outside…)

The two ballets performed were Ratmansky’s Namouna: A Grand Divertissement, which premiered last season, and Jerome Robbins’ The Four Seasons, which served for the first week of this first fall season as a tribute to fall.

Before the performance, Peter Martins came out and introduced the new series, explaining that it was inspired by Balanchine’s highly musical approach to dance, his belief that dance is music made visual, summarized by his words, “see the music, hear the dance.” Then the newly movable orchestra pit rose (as I knew it would!), and up came conductor Faycal Karoui with his crew, to explain a few things about Eduaord Lalo’s Namouna score. No one could give these talks but Karoui. He is hilarious, such a character!

Photo of Karoui by Paul Kolnik, taken from The Faster Times.

Karoui joked, in his thick French accent, that the music is very French, because of its … charm of course. Okay, then he became serious. The Lalo score is too long, of course, to talk about all of it, but Karoui focused on a few sections. One of the sections, he explained is characterized by its transparency of orchestration, meaning the harmonies don’t always¬† behave the way you expect them to; they are a surprise. He talked about how the beginning of the score had a nautical theme, and it opened with a sound like waves, but more German waves than French, he said, as the opening crescendo sounded more like Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. He talked about the conversation between the harps and the strings, how Lalo plays with flexibility inside the tempos by following a quick tempo with a slower one, and he showed how Ratmansky had the dancers visualize part of that tempo by having the corps women at one point use cymbals onstage. After Karoui did a little dance himself while clapping the cymbals, he and Martins had the audience clap where the cymbals should be played to get us to internalize that rhythm a bit.

Karoui spoke at length about one of my favorite scenes in the ballet, where a group of smokers (led by Jenifer Ringer) really kind of tantalize the poor male lead, blowing smoke right into his yearning little face. It’s called “The Cigarette Waltz” believe it or not, and Karoui showed how the music really teases and tantalizes you into desperately wanting a cigarette, just like Ringer and her friends tantalize the poor sailor into wanting one of them. “Oooh, I really want one now,” Karoui cried after the orchestra demonstrated part of that waltz.

I liked Namouna much much better on seeing it a second time. I wrote about it earlier here (also, read Marina Harss’s fabulously detailed and in-depth description in Faster Times). It seemed less long this time, and each of the the parts seemed entertaining and compelling, each having its own theme and it own little storyline, however abstract the whole was. Maybe it was because of Karoui’s brief humorous explanations of the music, or maybe it’s just Ratmansky, because I always feel this way with his work – that nothing strikes me that much on first viewing, but that the more I see each ballet of his, the more I see in it, and the more entrancing I begin to find it.

That ballet was all the same, except this time Tyler Angle took over for Robert Fairchild as the main sailor guy. I’m told Robert is out for the moment with an injury. I loved Robert, but I really liked Tyler as well. Robert is so boyishly charming like Jose Carreno, and his dancing is more sharp and precise, hitting every count with spectacular flair and pizzaz, whereas Tyler’s more Romantic with his expression, with stretching port de bras and longing lunges, and he really draws out the music. They are such different dancers and it’s always nice to see another’s interpretation.

The next “See the Music” program will be this Sunday’s matinee.

One Comment

  1. I love the play between music and movement. When I watch dance, if the music isn’t great, then I have such trouble getting into the dance at all.

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