New York City Ballet

'Thou Swell,' 'Ballade,' and 'Western Symphony'

by Kate Snedeker

June 20, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

On Friday night, the New York City Ballet continued a run of excellent Spring Season performances with a program that spanned the breadth of the company’s large repertory. Included were Peter Martins’ Thou Swell, one of the newest additions to the repertory, George Balanchine’s classic Ballade and his salute to the American West, Western Symphony. Each ballet was given a wonderful performance by corps and solo dancers alike.

Wendy Whelan and Robert Tewsley led a polished corps through Balanchine’s flowing choreography in Ballade. Exquisitely supple and fluid, Whelan drew out every nuance in the dreamy choreography, matching the detail of the steps beautifully to the details in Faure’s music. Each position was held for just the right period of time, so that individual steps melded into a flowing performance without being blurred or rushed. Whelan’s performance was complemented by Robert Tewsley’s equally elegant dancing and deeply attentive partnering. It was a delight to see Tewsley on stage, as he has been waylaid by injuries for much of his tenure at the New York City Ballet. His performance revealed a wonderfully flexible back and nicely finished quality in his dancing, though his landings remain rather heavy. Swirling in Ben Benson’s pink and lavender dresses, the corps was appropriately delicate.

Thou Swell, an energetic combination of ballroom dancing and ballet set to Richard Rodgers show tunes, was a dramatic change of pace. With an offstage orchestra, and an onstage trio, two live singers, Debbie Gravitte and Jonathan Dokuchitz, and sixteen dancers, the ballet is a whirlwind of dance and musical action. Dancing to “Isn’t it Romantic,” Darci Kistler and Jock Soto were elegant and moving, demonstrating the fluid partnership that has developed over two decades of experience together. With their long legs kicking high, Charles Askegard and Maria Kowroski added a cool air of sophistication to their duos while still appearing to enjoy every moment onstage. Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette, were more youthful, with a spunkiness and verve in their high-spirited dancing. However, it was Janie Taylor who gave the most sensational performance, sizzling in her duets with a seemingly reinvigorated Nilas Martins. A devilish smile on her face, she swooped and soared, reveling in the energetic, zesty choreography. The waitresses and waiters were delightfully precise in their brief sections. Robin Wagner’s set, with a mirrored ceiling and tiled floor, and Jules Lumsden’s stylish dresses and tuxes gave a realistic 1930s feel to the ballet. Paul Gemignani conducted the off stage orchestra.

Continuing the high spirited feeling was an outstanding performance of Balanchine’s Western Symphony. With John Boyt’s faux western town stretched out behind them, Jennie Somogyi and Nilas Martins were a good natured couple, Martins refreshing as the awshucks cowboy trying to impress the girl. Somogyi exuded a brash confidence, blazing though the choreography without forgetting the details of the characterization. In the Adagio, Alexandra Ansanelli and Albert Evans were a match made in ballet comedy heaven. Dressed in Karinska’s black, sequined cowboy outfit, Evans was sentimentally comic as the flashy but gentle cowboy. As the object of his affections, Ansanelli was utterly delightful and droll, making the most out of each step in Balanchine’s tongue in cheek choreography. She soared confidently though the “tunnel” of corps ladies into Evans arms in the challenging “leaps of faith.” Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard brought the ballet to an end with a Rondo full of dizzyingly fast spins and high kicks. Askegard’s long legs seemed to get in his way on the bent kneed spins, but otherwise his pirouettes were excellent, matching Kowroski in speed and tightness. The corps, stellar in all three movements, combined with all the soloists (and the “phantom” lead couple from the defunct third movement) for a fantastic solo, the curtain dropping on a series of impressive, synchronized fouettes.

All three ballets were lit by Mark Stanley, with Richard Moredock and Maurice Kaplow conducting Ballade and Western Symphony, respectively

Another perspective by Mary Ellen Hunt

Midway through Peter Martins’s "Thou Swell," which the New York City Ballet performed on their rep program last Friday night at the New York State Theatre, you realize that, unfortunately, you are only midway through.

Created last fall for the opening gala and set to sixteen songs by Richard Rodgers (arranged by Glen Kelly with the effect of an awards show medley), Martins’s loosely linked sketches of four couples romancing at a swanky nightclub fills the eye, but meanders dramatically and choreographically.

Although the dancers execute the steps precisely, attacking even difficult lifts without hesitation, the phrases come in fits and starts, often lapsing into posed coyness, vamping, or plain old high kicks, rather than developing into full-blown statements. Nevertheless, Martins cleverly provides swishing long dresses designed by Julius Lumsden and elaborate sets and mirrors created by Robin Wagner, all of which distract the viewer from the thinness of his choreography.

Indeed, there’s a lot onstage -- almost too much -- what with the classy set, two jazz singers (Debbie Gravitte and Jonathan Dokuchitz), sixteen dancers and a jazz combo, complete with upright bass, drums and baby grand.

In "This Can’t Be Love" Janie Taylor and Nilas Martins managed to cover the abbreviated space with abandon, as did Darci Kistler and Jock Soto in a beautifully phrased "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered." Even so, the dancers brought themselves up short in a step or narrowly missed hitting the set more than once, leaving the impression that there was so much stuff onstage, there was no room left for the dancing.

To judge from the applause, though, "Thou Swell" is already crowd-pleaser.

Also on the program was George Balanchine’s "Ballade," led by Wendy Whelan and Robert Tewsley, as well as a crisply rendered "Western Symphony," which featured particularly witty performances by Alexandra Ansanelli and Albert Evans in the Adagio movement.

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