New York City Ballet

'Carousel (A Dance) ,' 'Piano Pieces,' 'Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet' and 'A Steadfast Tin Soldier'

by Kate Snedeker

June 12, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

With just a few weeks left, the current season has been one of great success and renewed energy for the New York City Ballet. No dancers have better exemplified this resurgence than Damian Woetzel and Alexandra Ansanelli. Woetzel, who returned in May from a nearly three-month injury layoff, has been dancing with a newfound joy and enthusiasm, his technique at a stunning level. Ansanelli, recently promoted to principal dancer, has also come to the forefront, imbuing every role with a youthful joy and displaying her sparkling technique.

On Thursday night, Ansanelli and Woetzel combined for a powerful performance of Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance). This ballet has benefited greatly from Wheeldon’s continual adjustments in set and choreography, demonstrating one great advantage of the presence of a resident choreographer. The most obvious change is the elimination of the Ferris wheel image in the beginning. In a more moving opening, the dancers now appear behind a scrim, slowly illuminated by the strings of multicolored lights.

From their first encounter on the dimly lit stage, the connection between Ansanelli and Woetzel was obvious, and soared to a stunning emotional peak in the dramatic central pas de deux. Both dancers’ total investment in their roles and Ansanelli’s complete trust in Woetzel combined for a feeling of thrilling emotional abandonment. The soaring lifts and skimming dips were in perfect harmony with the ebbs and flows of Richard Rodger’s poignant music. Rachel Rutherford, Pascale van Kipnis, Arch Higgins and Seth Orza, in the demi-soloist roles were much improved and the corps soared in Wheeldon’s challenging and intricately timed chorus line-esque choreography, making it vibrant and moving.

Ansanelli also appeared in Jerome Robbins’ Piano Pieces , a collection of balletic vignettes set to solo piano compositions by Tschaikovsky. To a dancer, the work was performed with a sparkling freshness and affectionate attention to detail. As the central male soloist, Benjamin Millepied tied the various sections together with his festive, high flying and crisp dancing. It was a performance that went beyond technique, with his perfectly suited facial expressions adding a new dimension and sense of character to the role.

Seth Orza and Stephen Hanna stepped up from the corps to partner principals Jennie Somogyi and Maria Kowroski in two of the pas de deux segments. Both duets were wonderfully danced, with a nunexpected tenderness underlying the technically impressive performance from Orza and Somogyi. Hanna was nicely attentive in his partnering of the very tall Kowroski. Sebastian Marcovici and Alexandra Ansanelli were youthfully elegant in the Troika, with Marcovici powerful and precise in his brief solo. Ansanelli and Somogyi were both outstanding in their respective solos, Somogyi setting not a single foot out of place in her whipping turns and Ansanelli gently energetic in the Barcarolle. The whole corps, especially Megan Fairchild and Lindy Mandradjieff in the delightful pas de trois with Millepied were excellent: Faye Arthurs, Alina Dronova, Glenn Keenan, Sarah Ricard, Antonio Carmena, Adam Hendrickson, Kyle Froman, Craig Hall, Jonathan Stafford and Sean Suozzi. Ben Benson’s costumes -- pastels for the soloists and red edged white for the corps -- were appropriate and attractive.

Woetzel returned in the attention grabbing Rondo alla Zingarese section from Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. The ballet, comprised of four very different movements to Arnold Schoenberg’s orchestration of a Brahms piano quartet, requires a cohesion of very different balletic styles. Jennie Somogyi, caringly partnered by Philip Neal, captured the right mix of delicacy and power in the Allegro, with Dena Abergel in a excellent debut as the female demi-soloist. Building upon their previous performance in the Intermezzo, James Fayette and Jenifer Ringer delivered a passionate and soaring performance, their deep emotional connection bringing out new meaning and depth in the roles. Ringer was also impressive in the unusual turns in second position
In the Andante, Janie Taylor was solid in the pas de deux with Benjamin Millepied, her extended, multi-positioned balance appearing especially secure, and Carrie Lee Riggins was crisp as the central demi-soloist. However, the section again belonged to Millepied and his spectacular solo. In one of the most emotionally powerful parts of Brahms’ score, Andrea Quinn set a dauntingly fast tempo for Millepied. Unphased, Millepied soared through the air, each step clearly accented, and every landing easily secure. It was a complete performance, with accomplished technical skill, emotion and musicality. Bravo!

Kyra Nichols and Damian Woetzel brought the ballet to a festive conclusion, their Rondo alla Zingarese danced with a flair perfected over years of experience. A little shaky in some of the quicker turns, Nichols, the most senior dancer in the company, more than compensated with a solid presence and knowing attention to all the details in the choreography. Woetzel, however, gave a commanding performance that simply demanded all the attention -- dancing with a joy and gusto and putting on a display of bravura skill that simply stole the show. One couldn’t help but to share in his obvious and total enthusiasm. When the two company veterans were center stage, it was touching to see the very young corps watching with such rapt attentiveness, observing up close a performance that sets a standard for what they can hope to achieve in their ballet careers. The wonderful costumes were by Karinska, her loving attention to detail ever apparent.

The evening also included a debut by Amanda Edge in Balanchine’s A Steadfast Tin Soldier, set to Bizet’s charming score. Edge’s performance was nicely detailed, if a bit restrained. Appearing very focused on executing the tricky, stiff legged steps, which were done with just the right stiffness, Edge didn’t seem to fully develop the character of the doll. Yet it was a wonderful debut, and with more experience, the details that create the journey from innocent, tentative love to full out giddy, joyous love should find their way into her performance. Tom Gold was a crisp, energetic tin soldier, but Edge’s greater height on pointe made it difficult for him to provide proper support in the promenades.

Lighting for all ballets was by Mark Stanley except for Piano Pieces which was lit by Ronald Bates.

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