Tradition and Innovation

"Mozartiana," "In Vento," and "Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
January 17, 2007

by Mary Cargill
copyright 2007, Mary Cargill

The marketing department called this program “Tradition and Innovation”, presumably figuring that Balanchine’s great ballets were the tradition, and Mauro Bigonzetti's latest Diamond Project, "In Vento," was innovative. But after the two-week immersion in "The Sleeping Beauty," Balanchine’s ballets look like innovations based on the infinitely rich Petipa masterpiece, especially the yearning, mysterious vision scene with the man eternally seeking perfection, and Bigonzetti’s new work looks like an old European hat.

Wendy Whelan and Nikolaj Hübbe were the leads in "Mozartiana." The opening Preghiera suits Whelan’s intense, shimmering serenity (not to mention her incandescent bourrées) and she gave it the rapt simplicity of Schubert’s “An die Musik”. Unfortunately, one of the four supporting girls grinned through Preghiera, an irritating and mood-destroying intrusion from what is usually a well-rehearsed group. Whelan doesn’t have the playfulness that its originator, Suzanne Farrell gave her solos, and the off-center, flexed foot moments seemed a bit deliberate, but Whelan can give any movement a sense of caressing the music.

She was magnificently matched by Hübbe, who is the gold standard of performing at City Ballet nowadays. His focus and awareness of his partner made the pas de deux seem like a private conversation between two of the most wonderful people in the world, a conversation that it was an honor to understand. He doesn’t, at the stage, have all the lightness that his predecessor, Ib Andersen, gave the dancing, but he has perhaps even more elegance and never sacrificed form for an extra inch of so of elevation, making his dancing look effortless.

Daniel Ulbricht, in the Gigue, also made the choreography look effortless, and he danced with a playful elegance, toning down his usual extroverted persona to act as a master of ceremonies to his wonderful cohorts in this always intriguing examination of the ideal.

Bigonzetti’s "In Vento," on the other hand, looked like so many other contemporary ballets, from its bare-chested men and black underwear, no tights look for the women, to the butt-wagging, crotch-shot choreography. The few, inept quotations from Balanchine certainly do not justify the fulsome dedication, which claims Balanchine as “my master and master of all my masters”. Balanchine, like Petipa, gives the audience an alternative universe, a separate world, which dancers like Whelan and Hübbe create and inhabit, even without a “story” to guide the audience. (Man looks for perfection and sometimes he finds it, if only for a moment, is the subtext of most Balanchine, and what could be more moving or dramatic?) Bigonzetti’s "In Vento" has none of this magic. The dancers just stare balefully at the audience and this glum self-consciousness is as far away from the world of Balanchine as a striptease is from a lullaby. Benjamin Millepied, Maria Kowroski, and Edwaard Liang were the energetically sullen leads in this acrobatic, self-indulgent trifle.

Real Balanchine restored order. "Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2," even without the scenery and the classical tutus of its original production as "Ballet Imperial," remains one of Balanchine’s most potent distillations of "The Sleeping Beauty." Sofiane Sylve made an impressive debut with the gracious Charles Askegard. Sylve is a technical marvel, combining a thrilling technique with a feminine allure. The magnificently difficult opening sequence (surely a bow to the Rose Adagio) was ravishing. As yet, she doesn’t project the smoky quality that can make the mini-vision scene so mysterious; she is so substantial that she can’t seem to vanish, so the plaintive moment where her prince bows to the empty stage didn’t resonate as much as it can, but the dancing itself was triumphant and magnificent.

Volume 5, No. 4
January 22, 2007

copyright ©2007 Mary Cargill

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