Monday, February 6, 2012


Christopher Wheeldon’s new ballet, Les Carillons, is one sumptuous curtain raiser, and it raised the curtain on a special evening at the New York City Ballet that was devoted to three of that choreographer’s ballets. Les Carillons proved to be gorgeous to look at, thanks to Mark Zappone’s boldly colored costumes and Jean-Marc Puissant’s vague but pleasing backdrop of a bucolic setting that loomed over the dancers without seeming the least bit ominous.
For this piece, Wheeldon brings the curtain up on New York City Ballet’s top guns: Sara Mearns, Amar Ramasar, Wendy Whelan, Robert Fairchild, Maria Kowroski, Tyler Angle, Ana Sophia Scheller, Daniel Ulbricht, Tiler Peck, and Gonzalo Garcia, as well as an excellent portion of the corps. The music – Georges Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suites Numbers 1 and 2 (think the melody of “We Three Kings” because that’s how it begins) is boldly proclaimed by the NYCB Orchestra, conducted by Andrews Sill.
From the beginning, the choreographer’s assurance made itself known, so we sat back and enjoyed Wheeldon’s intelligent use of music and his tricky little interpolations tossed off during lyrical phrases, such as the women shaking their shoulders as they bent down, or twirling their wrists, or sliding across stage on their toes, or lifting up their legs and bending them.
The piece depicts varying moods and often two or more at the same time, and it moves toward a pensive Wendy Whelan wandering through a festive corps. Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar brought us through a luscious, tempestuous duet that reminded me of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Mearns pushing away and then sinking back to her partner. The ballet’s conclusion was festive and colorful, and yet, because of the differing moods throughout, the effect was one of depth, not superficiality. We had been given plenty to enjoy.
The festive giddiness in the audience was dispelled during Polyphonia by Jennie Somogyi’s injury. Partnered by Gonzalo Garcia, she abruptly seemed to shrink, an awful expression on her face, and then simply stopped dancing and limped offstage, the space she walked seeming to be like a mile for those of us who suffered with her. Garcia kept going for a bit and when he danced off, the stage remained empty while Alan Moverman rather relentlessly pounded on the piano, rendering Ligeti’s transcendent music to rhythmic rubble. The music kept on going like a god indifferent to whatever happened with the humans on stage. The next trio was a duo minus Somogyi, but eventually, Tiler Peck danced in her place. Later news accounts stated that Somogyi had injured her Achilles tendon and would be out the rest of the season.
This early piece of Wheeldon’s tosses off references to Balanchine’s  Violin Concerto and Agon as well as to Apollo and Episodes. Yet Wheeldon’s dancers move deeper into the movement, bringing us inside, an approach that ends up as not being derivative but decidedly individual – a new way of seeing and experiencing the movement and the music. The woman next to me murmured, “This is the choreographer we wanted Martins to be.” I understand what she meant, but Wheeldon isn’t running a company and he quickly dropped the small one he’d been part of. Still, the energy, inventiveness, and swirling energy of his work surpasses the dry “for dancers only” pieces Martins has given us over the years. One could call Martins’ pieces “combinations” – a sad misinterpretation of Balanchine’s whimsical use of the word. Martins rarely has an audience in mind, just the dancers. Wheeldon’s pieces are for an audience, and they are way ahead of being “new combinations.”
We moved on to the New York premiere of Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, which reminded me of Robbins’ Glass Pieces – the legato dancing to a rapid pulse, the corps in shadowy background as counterpoint. The scenery by Jean-Marc Puissant seemed to indicate an apocalyptic train wreck, an odd choice for a tribute to France’s TGV rail system, but it worked, with dancers emerging from the wreckage (or whatever it was) throughout the piece. Wheeldon poured it on with Michael Nyman’s dynamic score conducted by NYCB’s dynamo, Clotilde Otranto. The pas de deux flowed into the corps filling the stage, the dancers leaping with furious energy while the principals confronted each other. (The dancers included the marvelous Ashley Bouder, Joaquin De Luz, Maria Kowroski, Andrew Veyette, and the ubiquitous MVP of the evening, Tiler Peck.) The score and the dance didn’t quite know where to end, but this is a thrilling piece with thrilling dance, and the usually laid back NYCB audience, overcome with affection and gratitude, gave the choreographer a well-deserved standing ovation.
New York City Ballet All Wheeldon Evening. Jan. 28, 2010.

            Les Carillons (World Premiere). Music by Georges Bizet (L’Arlésienne Suites Nos. 1 and 2). Costumes by Mark Zappone. Scenery by Jean-Marc Puissant. Lighting by Mary Louise Geiger. Conducted by Andrews Sill. With Sara Mearns Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, Ana Sophia Scheller, Tiler Peck, Amar Ramasar, Robert Fairchild, Tyler Angle, Daniel Ulbricht, Gonzalo Garcia.

            Polyphonia. Music by György Ligeti. Costumes by Holly Hynes. Lighting by Mark Stanley. Pianists: Cameron Grant, Alan Moverman. With Wendy Whelan, Jared Angle, Jennie Somogyi (replaced by Tiler Peck), Gonzalo Garcia, Sterling Hyltin, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Sara Mearns, Craig Hall. Premiere: Jan. 4, 2001, New York State Theater.

            DVG: Danse à Grande Vitesse (New York City Ballet Premiere). Music by Michael Nyman. Scenery and costumes by Jean-Marc Puissant. Lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Lighting recreated by Jesse Belsky. Conducted by Clotilde Otranto. With Teresa Reichlin, Craig Hall, Ashley Bouder, Joaquin de Luz, Maria Kowroski, Tyler Angle, Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette. Premiere: Nov. 17, 2006, The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden.

            The New York City Ballet season extends to Feb. 26 at the erstwhile New York State Theater in Lincoln Center. For information, go to

Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet, and Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era, concerning the effect of the mining on the native tribes. Her CD, Through the Years, is available on CD Baby.

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