New York City
the Animals' and 'Guide to Strange Places'
May 14-15, 2003 --
New York State Theater, New York
the New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon
has contributed a wide variety of ballets to the company’s repertory.
At the 2003 Spring Gala, Wheeldon unveiled his latest ballet, Carnival
of the Animals , a delightful adventure through the animal kingdom,
as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Oliver, the boy, is locked in
the Museum of Natural History and during the night, all the people he
knows come to life as various animals.
Based loosely on a story Wheeldon wrote while at the Royal Ballet School,
the ballet is accompanied by narration written and performed by the actor
John Lithgow. Lithgow’s rhyming prose combines the innocence of a child’s
view of the world, with an adult perceptions and sophistication. Jon Morrell’s
scenery is wisely simple, leaving the focus on the dancers and his delightful
costumes, which subtly mix the human and the animal so that neither are
lost. These are not humans dressed as animals, but humans with very animal
Wheeldon’s genius is apparent in both his casting and the choreography.
He clearly knows the dancers well, matching the natural qualities and
talents of each dancer to their role, human and animal. The choreography
is a wonderful mix of classic dance, character dance and some fun romps,
and using the natural humor and pathos of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of
the Animals .
P.J. Verhoest, a student from the School of American Ballet, is a red-headed
and impish Oliver, excellent in a role than involves dancing and interaction
with the various characters. Charles Askegard, as the school teacher,
turned lion was notable for an impressive and dignified series of turns
in second. His pupils, Oliver’s schoolmates, become weasels & rats,
their fussy parents strutting hens and cockerel, played by the tallest
members of the corps. Ask LaCour and Jason Fowler were notable as two
of the cockerels.
The two elderly sisters
in the park, danced with deadpan humor by Pascale van Kipnis and Rachel
Rutherford, are reincarnated as turtles. With umbrellas as their shells,
brightly colored bloomers peeking out, they dance the world’s slowest
can can on their rolling benches.
Lithgow appears as the plump school nurse turned elephant. Clad in an
enormous ball gown, she is escorted, supported and partnered in her waltz
by a quartet of pink and white-tuxedoed nice, danced with mock seriousness
by Antonio Carmena, Daniel Ulbricht, Kyle Froman and Adam Hendrickson.
school wrestling team appears as jackasses, complete with huge ears, their
choreography a series of stylized wrestling moves. Oliver’s piano teacher
becomes a long-armed baboon (Arch Higgins), the nervous librarian, a kangaroo.
In her dreams the librarian, danced by Yvonne Borree, becomes mermaid,
complete with chorus line of fish (the backdrop of course, the famous
Kyra Nichols, as Oliver’s worried mother, is a cuckoo, fretting about
her missing son. She is comforted by James Fayette as the father. In the
final scene, Christine Redpath, a NYCB ballet mistress, is elegant and
touching as Oliver’s Aunt who has always dreamt of dancing Odile/Odette.
To the strains of the Dying Swan, she dances her swan solo, her white
gloved arms becoming the swan’s wings. Redpath, with her natural elegance
and fluid arms, made the solo memorable and poignant
In the end, Oliver is reunited with his parents and a joyous finale ensues.
Sophisticated yet simple, this is one of the best new ballets to enter
at NYCB in recent years. A deft mix of storytelling, dance and theatre,
it leaves one eager for Wheeldon’s next treat.
Natasha Katz lit the ballet, and Andrea Quinn conducted.
Peter Martins’ new ballet, Guide to Strange Places, which previewed
during the gala officially premiered the following night. Set to the John
Adams composition of the same name, Guide to Strange Places
is Martins ninth ballet to music by Adams, and part of a month long celebration
of Mr. Adams’ music at Lincoln Center. The preview, conducted by the composer,
also marked the United States premiere of the score.
Julius Lumsden’s grey, hazy backdrop contrasts and blends with Catherine
Barinas’ striking costumes. The men, Sebastian Marcovici, Benjamin Millepied,
Nilas Martins, Philip Neal and Jock Soto wear grey unitards, a slightly
lighter shade at the ankles and chest, the women are clad in brightly
hued dresses, the tops of their tights dyed to match the dresses. Both
men and women appear and disappear through blacked out doorways in the
Martins’ edgy choreography is swirling and powerful, pulsing to Adam’s
driving score. In the beginning, the men raise their partners into twisting
lifts, soaring and dropping with the ebbs and flows of the music. For
both men and women, the working leg often in attitude derriere. The central
section of the ballet is a series of pas de deuxs, with each couple dancing
a a brief solo, the backdrop hue changing to match the woman’s dress.
Jennie Somogyi was often sideways in Nilas Martins’ whether being rolled,
spun or lifted., Benjamin Millepied & Alexandra Ansanelli and Janie
Taylor & Sebastian Marcovici were given more vibrant, and youthful
choreography, which they danced with elegant energy . Philip Neal and
Miranda Weese were sleek and sophisticated as the fourth couple.
In an extended, sensual
pas de deux, Jock Soto began by lifting up the sides of Darci Kistler’s
long skirts, tying them around her neck. Having freed her from her previous
existence, they engaged in a tangled, passionate pas de deux, Soto poised
over Kistler’s prone body, limbs intertwined, which concluded with the
release of her skirts.
In the end, all five couple lined up on stage, hand to hand, the line
changing to Adam’s dissonant brass chords. Danced with more precision
and tightness on Thursday, Guide to Strange Places has moments
of interest, but is ultimately limited by John Adam’s music. Driving and
often atonal and dissonant, the music becomes increasingly difficult on
the ear and seems to elicit little emotion in the cast. Though the ballet
is powerfully danced, with fully involved performances by all the dancers,
for it to really succeed, the music needs to be as pleasing as the dancing.
Thursday’s performance also included Hallelujah Junction and
Symphony in Three Movements.
Mark Stanley lit the ballet.
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