Sunday, May 10, 2009

it's a good thing

Dance Review New York City Ballet
Balanchine Sandwich, Electronica Filling
Thematic or not, there is a certain art to designing mixed repertory programs. Some sort of arc, or juxtaposition, should be present to indicate that intelligent life is guiding the choices. Or give us such crashingly good ballets that it doesn’t matter if there is any rhyme or reason to their being lumped together. We viewers aren’t difficult. All we want, to riff on a Frank O’Hara line, is boundless art.
Tuesday night’s New York City Ballet program at the David H. Koch Theater did not quite achieve boundlessness. The middle work, Angelin Preljocaj’s “Stravaganza,” was the chief culprit here, though the ratio of dance (95 minutes) to intermission (40 minutes) didn’t help matters. Vivaldi meets electronica, classical phrases vie with sharply angled gestures, and dancers from two worlds confront one another.
Mark Stanley’s lighting is dark without being dramatic, Herve-Pierre’s old-world costumes make the men look like Pilgrims, and Mr. Preljocaj’s ideas aren’t nearly so strange as they should be. It’s the ballet equivalent of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, and not one of his good ones.
What interest there was came primarily from the dancers’ strong performances. Benjamin Millepied and Tiler Peck elevated an earthy, violence-tinged duet through their shared intensity. Tyler Angle’s clarity and intelligence of intent made phrases seem more legible than they were.
“La Stravaganza” (1997) is a product of the Diamond Project, City Ballet’s continuing effort to add new blood to its repertory. On Tuesday it was sandwiched between two Balanchine classics, “The Four Temperaments” (1946) and “Chaconne” (1976). It is unkind to compare Mr. Preljocaj’s ballet to either of these works. Yet both, despite showing him up, prove why new commissions are vital: a company cannot live on museum pieces alone, no matter their quality.
With their grand finales, like ornate frames, and their sweeping sense of order — although wonderfully complicated and undermined in “The Four Temperaments,” a modernist tour de force set to a terrifically severe Hindemith score — both works feel of another age.
The ideas in them still captivate: the female dancers slinking about “Temperaments” like a minimalist Greek chorus not particularly interested in commenting on anything other than their own angular designs; the kaleidoscopic ripples of movement to start “Chaconne,” on a stage full of women with wild, unbound hair. And there are performances of heft and authority in both: Jared Angle’s calm ownership of the Sanguinic variation anchors “Temperaments,” while the sensual play of wits between Wendy Whelan and Philip Neal, and their nuanced attention to the crystalline Gluck score, illuminate their central duet in “Chaconne.”
But neither of these works feels rooted in the particulars of life in the early 21st century, the life lived by these dancers and their audiences. For all their mysteries and great value, they are known entities, and the dancers treat them as such, only fitfully taking full ownership.
One could say, with good reason, that this is a fault of the company, not the ballets — but it’s not entirely. Time plays a role too. To end with an actual quotation, this one by Clement Greenberg: “Where there is novelty there is hope.” All indications are that Balanchine, a man who created more than 400 works, knew this well.
New York City Ballet performs through June 21 at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center; (212) 870-5570,

No comments: