of a Dancer
Son”/”After the Rain”/”Who Cares?”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, New York
January 6, 2005
© 2005 by Nancy Dalva
Wheeldon’s new dance called “After the Rain” begins
with an arresting figure that tells us about its deeper meaning, just
as the decor and the title tell us about its surface. As Arvo Pärt’s
score gently chimes, to the right of the stage three couples stand, one
behind the other, wearing Holy Hynes’s grey-scale leotards and tights.
In Mark Stanley’s clear and somber ambient light, the women begin
to swing their legs forward, and back, like the clappers of bells. Then
they pitch their torsos forward and their kneeling male partners enfold
them, so that each couple is bent around itself, like gears in a clock,
with the women’s legs ticking the hour. Around they go, and backwards,
as if telling the time, and untelling it.
How like that ineluctable duet in “Emeralds,” the first movement
of Balanchine’s “Jewels,” where the ballerina’s
uplifted leg moves towards twelve o’clock. Balanchine’s ballet
seems to whisper, “Time is fleet. Let us love.” Wheeldon’s
ballet seems to say, “Time is inexorable. Let us dance.” And
so three well matched couples—Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, Sofiane
Sylve and Edwaard Liang, Maria Jowroski and Ask la Cour—do, with
fervor and vigor. Dancing for the sake of it.
All this is prelude. It is not yet after the rain, it is during. Then
the light shifts, the music changes, and out step Jock Soto and Wendy
Whelan, he in soft white trousers, she in a wisp of a pale pink leotard,
and soft slippers, her hair tumbling loose over her shoulders. She is
light as thistledown, and he is the wind, her perfect partner, wafting
her about ingeniously, at times playfully—a touch of a foot deftly
nudging her—and, over all, with the utmost tenderness and romance.
In the beginning, they seem to be the couple of the first half, but Whelan
soon transforms into metaphor, dancing herself into an apotheosis of ballet
itself–not the muse, but the very art. He looks away, she woos him
Wheeldon’s dance has resonance. He is in that noonday phase of life
when, if all goes well, there is abundance, but here he deftly imagines
dusk. At the conclusion of “After the Rain,” the danseur lies
prone, with the ballerina lightly draped across him. He is at rest. Later
this year, Jock Soto is scheduled to retire. As much as anything else
in a stalwart career notable for excellent partnering, this last leave
taking role becomes him.
I happened to see the program with the new Wheeldon work from a seat favored
by Jerome Robbins, and so I found myself watching the opening ballet,
Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son,” from the former vantage
point of a man who once danced the role himself. Thus it occurred to me
that Wheeldon, too, was occupying a spot once belonging to Robbins, but
on the evening’s program, as a foil for the Balanchine. There’s
always a certain amount of talk about Wheeldon being the new this or that—the
new Martins, the new MacMillan, the new Ashton, all of which is a tribute
to his versatility, but he really functions very well as the new Robbins—a
kinder, gentler Robbins, to be sure, and there’s nothing wrong with
Dancing the Prodigal was Damian Woetzel, to my eye—and to my heart—an
ideal practitioner of the role. The entire ballet is of course fabulous,
it always was, but I have to say my relationship to it has changed. So
it is with great works of art–they are immutable, though with performance
one of course sees versions of them, not the same thing time after time,
as with a painting. But we are not immutable. And so I watched the Prodigal
be rude to his father and run off with his friends for an evening of drinking
and music, only to fall in with a crowd of troglodytes, and meet the girlfriend
from hell. Maria Kowrowski is a particularly upsetting Siren, being ingenue
of countenance, but equipped with the legs of a sorceress. From the moment
the addled Prodigal strokes her soft hand, you just know the poor sweet
bunny is toast, but it’s still a horrid sight when she wraps a steely
limb around his hapless torso and nails him to her lethal crotch. Then
she sets sail as a figurehead on her own ship, and leaves him to his poor
parents. Did you ever wonder why you never see the Prodigal’s mother?
I can tell you. She’s inside the house, lying down in a darkened
room. He’s given her a migraine.
“Who Cares?” is such a familiar oddity. Even when it was new,
in 1970, it was at least 40 years old in tone and subject—the songs
in the George Gershwin score date from 1922 to 1930. Nostalgia heaped
on nostalgia, the opening segment, with its cheesy-looking pastel costumes,
looks touchingly “colorized,” or touchingly faded, and the
backdrop depressingly wrinkled. (This is not to mention what orchestrator
Hershey Key does to the songs, which is something similar.) And what about
the man we love—all of us girls—here played by Nilas Martins.
No matinee idol he, nor quite a lounge lizard, he’s a Mr. Good Ship
Lollipop of a ladies man, and if I needed a date for a wedding, I think
I’d take him. He only has eyes for his partners, they always look
pretty, and he never steals the show. As for the girls, they were the
adorable Alexandra Ansanelli, the perfect Miranda Weese, and the glamourpuss
Janie Taylor. Talk about sirens! The latter's a real lollapolooza.
First: "After the Rain": Maria Kowroski and Ask
La Cour, photo by Paul Kolnik.
Second: "After the Rain": Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto.
Photo: Paul Kolnik.
January 31, 2005
©2005 by Nancy Dalva
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Kathrine Sorley Walker
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