Monday, October 4, 2010

Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plain: Autumn in New York Now Features The New York City Ballet


After NYCB shuts down and leaves the city in June, drought used to set in until after The Nutcracker had ended its run in January for ballet fans. No more. NYCB instituted a welcome mini-season this autumn. I went with a friend on Sept. 28, and here’s a rundown of the program.

Estancia. I was visiting Yosemite when this piece by Christopher Wheeldon premiered last spring, but I did read the reviews and wondered how awful was this piece going to be when I eventually got around to seeing it. Well, guess what, I liked it, as did the friend who was with me. I’m not going to say it’s a masterpiece, but it is well done. I’m also not going to say there’s a great story here, but it’s definitely something different for NYCB. It’s an old fashioned tale, almost hackneyed (you might have seen this as an episode on "The Big Valley" or "Bonanza" and it could have passed as a country cousin of Oklahoma without Poor Jud), but even so, it is interesting. (I never saw Barbara Stanwyck whirl around the ranch on pointe.) It also works with the gorgeous scenery that was not the dark dark angsty stuff NYCB’s new pieces surrounded themselves with last season. It had a place and a time and took a certain pleasure in its simplicity. I’m sure somebody minded the dancers being horses; my thought was, why not? (Don’t choreographers refer to their dancers as horses sometime? It was fun, like play.) My real only quibble is that the easygoing singer, Thomas Meglioranza, appeared in the beginning and the middle; given the cyclical nature of the piece timewise, it would have seemed fitting for the him to have sung something at the end. Tiler Peck was the energetic country girl, Tyler Angle the greenhorn, and Andrew Veyette had the fun of being the Wild Horse. It’s not Swan Lake, although the explanation in the program was a little pretentious (the company’s program notes are all kind of getting that way. I think they’re trying to impress us. I remember with nostalgia Lincoln Kirstein’s abrupt, six syllable notes). Just relax and enjoy it, people!

Danses Concertantes. This was made for the ballet event I wish I’d gone to: the Stravinsky Festival in June 1972. At the time, George Balanchine said, “I wanted, with the new dancers I was working with, to do something different…Writers think with words; I think with bodies, and the ballets I work on necessarily have a great deal to do with the here and now.” Balanchine had previously set Danses Concertantes in 1941 for the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo at City Center. It’s a colorful, witty production, with lots of dancers, featuring Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar as the golden couple. The whimsical setting suggests a happy Orpheus and a prominent lyre, the company’s symbol. I think I even saw a bit of shuffling tap in there, but it’s all ballet. How’d he do that?

Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette skipped going fully bravado to take some time to enjoy themselves in this delightful miniature that Balanchine set in 1960. They seemed overcautious to me (not that I blame them!). I remember gasping throughout when watching this; this left me all smiles, but with most of my oxygen.

Barber Violin Concerto. This is one of Peter Martins’ most exquisite ballets, done in 1988, back in the day. I haven’t seen this in years, but as soon as the music started (the violinist was the superb Arturo Delmoni) I remembered it almost “verbatim,” so I must have seen a lot of it, back in the day. It is a romantic, witty, gorgeous piece to watch and to listen to. It’s almost sad to see because there is a beauty of dancing relationships in the piece that one sees rarely in Martins’ later works (those seem to pull back from the audience and put up a wall). I could recognize some signature moves from Balanchine pieces, such as Chaconne, but they flew into different directions. Barber Violin Concerto is tempestuous, goes like the wind, and yet it can be reflective as well, while happy in its dancing, and the dancers (Megan Fairchild, Jared Angle, Sara Mearns, and Charles Askegard) were all wonderful. Even its predictable mix of classical and modern styles didn’t make me groan because the approach was still so fresh. I hope they keep this one around.

By the way, at this performance, not one dancer came out to speak to us. That’s the latest thing at NYCB, you know, dancers coming out and talking before the performance. Sometimes you learn things such as that the lead dancers are engaged, which really brings you into the piece, I guess. I don’t know if they’ve already decided against the practice or if they just are running out of dancers willing to face the public and not dance. I was outside the NYCB theater (I refuse to say its new name) at the end of a performance last Sunday, and I heard a few not very kind remarks about whomever the speaker was at that matinee (and they couldn’t hear him in the fourth ring). It seems a little silly since these practices are marketing ploys that both distract from the performance and, if they are aimed at bringing people into the theater, um, the audience is already there.

I have to say that every time I have heard NYCB dancers speak, they have been articulate and charming – and there’s been none of the hems and haws and ums and “likes” and “you knows.” (When I was handing people my manuscript of my book to read, they said that dancers wouldn’t sound so intelligent, but I disagree.) Still, I’m not sure the practice is all that useful on a daily basis, but, que sera sera. Just don’t forget the dancing part.

Estancia: Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon; Music by Albert Ginastera. Libretto and Synopsis by Valeria Luisilli after Albert Ginastera; Premiere: May 29, 2010. Danses Concertantes: Choreography by George Balanchine; Music: Danses Concertantes for Chamber Orchestra (1941-1942) by Igor Stravinsky; Premiere: September 10, 1972, Stravinsky Festival, New York State Theater. Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux: Choreography by George Balanchine; Music: Excerpt from Swan Lake, Op. 20, Act III (1877) by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky; Premiere: March 29, 1960, New York City Ballet, City Center of Music and Dance. Barber Violin Concerto: Choreography by Peter Martins; Music: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 (1941) by Samuel Barber; Premiere: May 12, 1988, New York City Ballet, American Music Festival, New York State Theater.

New York City Ballet performances run through Oct. 10 at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Performances of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker begin Nov. 26 and run through Jan. 2, followed by a full repertory season from Jan. 18 through Feb. 27. For tickets and information, go to

Writer/singer Mary Sheeran’s novel, Who Have the Power, an exploration of cultural conflict, feminism, and Native American history set on the American frontier, was published in 2006 ( Her next novel, Quest of the Sleeping Princess, which unfolds during a gala performance of the New York City Ballet, will be published later this month. She has sung through several operas, cabarets, and song recitals in New York, including several performances of Songs From the Balanchine Repertory.

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