Benjamin Millepied’s “Plainspoken”

Last Thursday was NYCB’s Fall gala, during which they presented the New York City premiere of Benjamin Millepied’s Plainspoken (photo at left, of Teresa Reichlen and Sebastien Marcovici, by Paul Kolnik; the ballet originally premiered in Wyoming this August), along with Robbins’ fabulous homage to Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, I’m Old Fashioned, and Balanchine’s Tarantella and Western Symphony.

The evening began with the orchestra pit rising and the always lively Faycal Karoui leading the orchestra in a rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture. I love that movable orchestra pit – best thing, in my opinion, about the recent renovations to the Koch Theater.

I was hoping there would be introductions and short speeches, including one by Sarah Jessica Parker, who served as honorary chair for the after-performance party. But no such luck – I guess because it wasn’t the beginning of the season, like galas usually are. I didn’t even get to see Parker come down the red carpet, there were so many paparazzi blocking my view. I certainly heard her though – or, rather, the paparazzi, as they screamed her name like she was the Messiah. I didn’t recognize anyone else. Lots of good-looking people perfectly coiffed and dressed in black tie but no one I recognized. I didn’t see Natalie Portman, though I heard she was there. I never recognize famous people, though. I’m really bad that way.

Anyway, I’m Old Fashioned was, as always, enjoyable, albeit too long. No dance-maker needed an editor more than Jerome Robbins in my opinion- and Tyler Angle stood out to me in his solos and duets with Maria Kowroski. But my favorite part of the evening was the second half of the post-intermission, when Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbrich just nailed Balanchine’s super fast-paced bravura-heavy duet, Tarantella (Ulbrich smacked the tambourine so hard one of the little metal things came flying off) and then Sara Mearns just astounded me in the last section of Western Symphony. How in the world does she stand on pointe, on her own unsupported by a male dancer, and lift her other leg in the air into a perfect split, into practically a six o’clock penchee? How how how? She and Charles Askegard really put on a show as tart-y saloon dancer and cowboy. She is really just unbelievable.

Okay, so onto Plainspoken. Well, sometimes I like Millepied, and sometimes the work just falls a bit flat to me. I didn’t much care for this one, though I’ve liked his last several ballets for ABT and NYCB. This was very abstract, no story that I could find, and I’m just not a fan of purely abstract ballets that I can’t find any story in whatsoever. It was a ballet for four couples: Sterling Hyltin and Tyler Angle, Teresa Reichlen and Amar Ramasar, Jennie Somogyi and Sebastien Marcovici, and Janie Taylor and Jared Angle (the last were generally my and my friend’s favorite pair – I think because Janie always brings something dark to her roles, there’s always something beneath the surface with her even if you can’t put your finger on what it is). The couples sometimes changed partners though, and there would be different-sized groupings.

The music was by Pulitzer prize-winning composer David Lang – it was a commissioned score – but to me the music here wasn’t nearly as rich as, for example, that used by Morphoses recently. This was mainly strings and piano and each section seemed emotionally the same. There didn’t seem to be a lot of contrast between the movements or a build-up toward the end. The sections were each differently lit – by a different color and a background curtain that would rise and lower to reveal more or less light than the section before. But the set was nothing very dramatic and the different colors didn’t, for me at least, evoke a different mood.

Movement-wise, there seemed to be a swimming theme. At various points the dancers would sit on the floor and make motions evocative of swimming – sweeping arms through the air, paddling legs – backward, then forward, then all dancers lying on their backs with their feet in the air like a synchronized swim team. At other points, the women would be carried somewhat Chaconne-like across the stage. I remember a slide characterizing Janie’s section, and she made it seem as if she was being taken by the men who slid her, against her will, across the floor.

I also have in my notes that the movement toward the beginning, in the first section, was a combination of robotic and more casual walks, kind of like the ensemble walking across the back of the stage in the second part of Robbins’s Glass Pieces. This kind of movement was interspersed with the swimming-like motions. In later sections, dancers seemed to run in place.

Oh, and during Janie’s section, there was a point where the men all picked her up and hoisted her high above them, like in MacMillan’s Manon or the Balanchine ballet where the woman is carried around the whole time by a group of men and the lone man on the floor keeps reaching up for her (sorry, can never remember the name of that ballet). My friend loved this part, and I did as well, but couldn’t really figure out how it played into the rest of that section.

In general, my first impressions of this ballet were: some interesting movement reminiscent of other ballets that didn’t seem to add up to much and didn’t really make me feel anything.

At the end, Millepied, Lang and the costume designer (Karen Young) and lighting designer (Penny Jacobus) took the stage for a bow. The applause seemed more polite than hearty (in contrast to the crazy applause Wheeldon always gets!), but that could just be me projecting my own thoughts onto everyone else.

What about you guys? I saw some mentions on Facebook of people liking it. Who else saw it and what did you think?

6 Comments

  1. Millepied is overrated and yes, flat. I wish I felt this way only sometimes :-)

  2. The balanchine ballet with the girl hoisted above the air without touching the ground is called ‘The Unanswered Question’

  3. Tonya, love your comments about DWTS, and I noticed you have a link to get David Sedaris on the show. I thought I would share this with you. An acquaintance read some of my work one time, and made the comment: “You could be the gay David Sedaris!” Wouldn’t that be a double negative and in fact make me straight?

    Jeff

    • Haha, that’s really funny, Jeff! The gay David Sedaris! Well, unfortunately he didn’t win the Galley Cat contest, so now they’re petitioning the show to have another author on – Claire Cook. I wanted Sedaris! Oh well… I’m glad you like my comments about DWTS :)

Comments are closed