A Greek Trilogy
"Apollo," "Orpheus," "Agon"

New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
May 24, 2007

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel

If you grew up on New York City Ballet; you know better than to ask its dancers to act. Once upon a time, before all the Blockbuster Full Lengths, it wasn’t even necessary. But no matter what ballet company dancers are in, they still need to project. Major League projection, the kind a dancer such as Ashley Bouder has, is a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.  Sometimes even in the right ones; it doesn’t work for every role. But projection at the most basic level is nothing more than getting what is happening on the stage past the footlights, across the proscenium and to the audience. NYCB presented its famed Greek trilogy on Thursday night with several new dancers in important roles. Some debuts were more successful than others, but projection seems to be in short supply.

The cast of “Apollo” was all veterans. Nilas Martins had problems with projection most of his career; his face isn’t mobile and his gaze outwards seemed to stop at the bridge of his nose. This has gotten better recently, especially in loose roles such as The Pearly King in “Union Jack.” Martins has developed a happy and relaxed presence in that ballet. He’s gotten better in “Apollo” as well; the character comes across. Unfortunately, the dancing is a problem. Martins’ feet don’t point in jumps and he hasn’t had an arabesque for years. He seemed to be using the unsteadiness of Apollo’s youth as a cover for his own unsteadiness. NYCB can field better in this role.

Of the muses Rachel Rutherford danced Calliope as is her wont, quietly but intelligently.  She never goes blank, but she doesn’t always make it up to the fourth ring. Jennie Somogyi can take a stage, but had a little trouble with Polyhymnia’s difficult turns to arabesque. Maria Kowroski, a dancer who’s also overcome a tendency to go blank, kept her Terpsichore very simple, but her body makes the simplest things extravagant.

Martins has been the only Orpheus in the company for some time now. Because he was dancing Apollo, someone else got to dance Orpheus — Ask la Cour. There were other debuts as well. “Orpheus” has needed someone to bring it back from the underworld for some time now, but this cast is not yet able to resuscitate it.  We didn’t get much more than steps from La Cour, one only hopes he will dig deeper and find the stillness and grief at the center of the ballet.  Amar Ramasar’s debut as the Dark Angel wasn’t angelic in a literal sense; he acted like he was the protagonist when his role was that of the messenger. In her debut as the leader of the Bacchantes, Sara Mearns moves ferociously, but she’s another faceless dancer. Wendy Whelan did as much as she could as Eurydice, a role she’s done before, to hold things together.  She understands the grief and desire in the role; the hunger for daylight and just a glimpse of her husband’s face. 

The big debut in “Agon” was Megan LeCrone in the pas de deux. LeCrone looks out of place in classical roles and fascinating in the black and white ballets. She’s wristy, astringent and unorthodox; she’s also a bit veiled and oblique, but she still projects.  Her long flexible body contorts into the incredible shapes of the pas de deux and her downcast glances read as reticence, not blankness.

In the first pas de trois, Andrew Veyette is learning to project but he’s taking the steps and wrestling them to the ground.  The elevation and the attack are exciting, but it’s only the beginning of an interpretation.  I’d still like to see something more and bigger than “more” and “bigger.” Teresa Reichlen in the second pas de trois has developed wit in her fearless attack and it’s become a point of view. Balanchine loathed what one of his ballerinas termed “eyebrow dancing,” but dancers with eloquent, agile bodies and blank, mute faces are now endemic at NYCB.  It’s time to dance from the neck up as well.

Front page photo, of NYCB in "Apollo," by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 5, No. 21
May 28, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Michael Popkin

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