writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

An Evening's Debuts

Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2/Harlequinade
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
January 20, 2004

by Mary Cargill
copyright 2004 by Mary Cargill

Jennie Somogyi made her eagerly awaited debut as the lead ballerina in Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2; she has previously danced gloriously in the second lead. This ballet, so full of the spirit of Petipa, needs a phenomenally accomplished dancer, which of course Somogyi is, as well as an instinctive ballerina, who can make the steps sing her own song. Somogyi does have the rare ability to speak with her body, without imposing a false drama, and it was an extraordinary debut.

The opening cadenza, where the ballerina (who might as well be called Aurora) dances a fast and difficult solo, recalls the beautiful princess at her birthday party, and Somogyi did have the youthful grandeur and grace notes (if not always impeccably secure turns) to bring the role alive with all its youthful joy.

Following the pattern of The Sleeping Beauty, the next movement is a vision scene of concentrated, unfulfilled longing. Her Prince, Charles Askegard, too, understood the meaning behind the steps and caught the mood very well—his sad and lonely bow to the empty stage was a perfect balance between personal and abstract feeling. Somogyi brought her unique dramatic understanding to the scene, with its delicate mystery. To see her rushing through the group of nymphs, reaching out, yet still in another world, was absolutely transporting.

She was back on earth for the triumphant final pas de deux. Somogyi is so centered and her movement seems to come from within her, which gives a three-dimensional, sculptured quality to her dancing. This is illuminated by her apparently instinctive understanding and imagination, and she can create feeling without artificiality and make a character out of steps.

It wouldn’t be The Sleeping Beauty without a Carabosse, and unfortunately, Balanchine himself took that role, removing the tutus and the atmosphere, and substituting flimsy, washed-out dresses, but the glorious bones of the ballet are indestructible and Somogyi could make a dishrag look like a tutu and the work look like Ballet Imperial.

Harlequinade is a more literal reconstruction of a Petipa ballet, though it seems less focused and weaker dramatically than the Tchaikovsky work. For all its hustle bustle, it seems oddly under populated, because most of the large group dances are performed in a vacuum, with no one else on stage. With no one for the dancers to perform for, much of it comes across as padding. (All of the “homage to Petipa” ballets, on the other hand, seem to be saluting the ghosts of earlier ballets, and the stage seems full.) Children certainly turn up in Petipa’s ballets, but they are integrated into the action, used as an accent. Even in the Comedia dell’Arte, hordes and hordes of children would not be wandering around the park alone, and their interminable dances, aimed directly at the audience, gives the work a disjointed, glorified dance recital feel.

However, there are some wonderful parts to the ballet, not the least of which is the dancy, lilting score by Ricardo Drigo. No, it is not great music, but it provides a wonderful floor. The bouncy music for Les Scaramouches has some of the most delicious choreography around, especially when performed by the creamy and joyful Carla Korbes.

Nikolaj Hübbe and Yvonne Borree both made their debuts, and both brought a real sense of character and sweetness to their parts. Hübbe is not the powerhouse of old, but he has a wonderful understanding of the little details that make the part come alive and the intelligence to realize that comedy comes from trying to be real, not from trying to be funny. The beautiful Italian lilt to the serenade rippled through his body, up through his arms and out to Columbine.

Borree, too, underplayed the cuteness of the first pas de deux, and the kisses (which can become lip smackingly tiresome) were delicate and genuinely sweet. Her final act solo was lovely, with a sense of dancing on a moonbeam. Unfortunately, the fast turns of the coda got the better of her, but the role suits her very well.

Pierrette, with its charm and its fast footwork, could have been made for Megan Fairchild, and she is simply delightful. Her technique is astounding, but, for me, her stage presence is even more impressive; she never stepped out of character, every move and every glace was directed at someone on stage, so she drew the audience into the action and kept their attention without coyness or extra flounces. Her Pierrot, Joaquin de Luz, as the sleepy, muddle-headed servant, was also as rounded a character as the ballet allows, and he kept the floppy, sad-eyed persona throughout, though he did let rip during his solo with some dynamic jumps.

On the pure dance level, Ashley Bouder, as the lead Alouette, had a perfect role for her powerful jump and beautifully placed upper body. “Boy, that girl can dance” a man muttered behind me during her first, fleeing appearance, and boy, is he right.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 3
January 23, 2004

Copyright © 2004 by Mary Cargill



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on January 11, 2004