New York City Ballet

'Le Tombeau de Couperin,' 'Tarantella,' 'Liturgy,' 'In the Night' and 'Symphonic Dances'

by Kate Snedeker

May 31, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

At the halfway point of the 2003 Spring Season, New York City Ballet offered up an inspired night of dancing that included the premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy, sparkling young talent in Balanchine’s Tarantella and moving performances by NYCB veterans in Robbin’s evocative In the Night.

George Balanchine’s Le Tombeau de Couperin ,an exploration of Maurice Ravel’s music, with dances to the Prelude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon, highlights the corps de ballet. There are no principals or soloists, just two eight-dancer quadrilles who mirror and echo each other’s movements. With no solos, the focus is on the patterns formed by the groups and the intricate steps. The ballet was well danced, especially in the final Rigaudon , with proper attention placed on the spacing between and within the quadrilles and the details of the steps. Of special note was the nuanced dancing of Kyle Froman, Henry Seth, Jonathan Stafford and Dana Hanson.

A sharp contrast after the fairly sedate opening, Tarantella, with rousing music by Louis Gottschalk, showcased the bravura talents of Daniel Ulbricht and Megan Fairchild. Ulbricht and Fairchild, who replaced Alexandra Ansanelli and Benjamin Millepied, possess a youthful impishness and energy just perfect for Tarantella’s playful antics. A bit restrained in her debut during the winter season, Fairchild appeared much more comfortable in the quick, precise choreography, moving with more assured speed and incorporating the tricky tambourine taps seamlessly into her dancing. Simply sensational, Ulbricht soared high into the air in the jumps, his feet scissoring crisply in the beats and his facial expressions catching the mood of the ballet perfectly. His ménage of grand jetes en circle was blazingly fast, finished with an ultra-cheeky swagger off stage. Already outstanding in the ballet, it will be even more fun to see Ulbricht and Fairchild as they continue to explore all the facets of Tarantella . Karinska’s brightly colored costumes completed the performance.

The centerpiece of the evening was the premiere of Liturgy, the latest ballet by resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. A pas de deux for Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, Liturgy is set to “Fratres”, a work for violin, strings and percussion by Estonian composer Arvo Part. “Fratres”, with Colin Jacobsen as the violin soloist, is delicate, with a hymn-like quality and sometimes purposely disharmonic. A perfect score for Wheeldon’s contemplative pas de deux, “Fratres” provided emotion without overwhelming the simple setting.

Mark Stanley’s dim lighting provided the only set for the ballet, performed with a plain backdrop and simple costumes by Holly Hynes. Attired in a dark red unitard (Soto) and grey leotard with deeply curved side cutouts (Whelan) appeared out of darkness. Mostly comprised of partnering, with little solo work or jumps, the ballet was an intriguing exploration of movement, as the name implies, a rite of some kind. In a choreographic sequence seen several times, both dancers lifted their arms up into a graceful high fifth position, then without pausing dropped their arms down as their hands moved up as if to cup their chins. It was unusual and gave the impression of prayer or meditation.

In a pas de deux filled with innovative and tricky partnering, Wheeldon chose wisely in selecting Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto. Soto, a solid and strong partner, and Whelan, a highly musical and flexible dancer were stunning in the deliberate and striking choreography. In a particularly moving lift, Whelan, one leg between Soto’s knees, was supported in a horizontal position, both their arms stretching freely out. Other lifts also capitalized on the wonderfully assured partnering, Whelan often stretched out in unique positions. Both dancers were powerfully committed in their dancing, adding to the overall impact of the ballet.

The piece ended with the dancers standing, repeating the previously mentioned port de bras sequence in silence as darkness slowly enveloped them. Unique in choreography and the use of a composer new to the New York City Ballet repertory, Liturgy is a fascinating and moving piece that demands to be seen again to explore all its facets.

Jerome Robbin’s In the Night returned to the repertory, also marking the return of Jenifer Ringer from a recent injury. In Anthony Dowell’s deeply colored, frothy dresses and elegant jackets, three couples, representing three different glimpses into love, dance against a backdrop of twinkling stars (by Jennifer Tipton). As the slow dancing first couple, perhaps representing the delicacy of young love, Rachel Rutherford and Arch Higgins perfectly matched the ebb and flow of the music with their slow, arching, curving lifts, . Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard were cool and elegant in the middle section, using their longs limbs to accent the sweeping choreography. A more distant couple, they represented a more mature, perhaps even fading love. The highlight of the ballet was Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette in the turbulent final pas deux. A couple off the stage, Ringer and Fayette have a wonderful, electric chemistry together, which added poignancy and passion to the fiery relationship of the third couple. There was an electric tension in the air and powerful connection between Fayette and Ringer that seemed to bring them together in the end. This was real love, with all its ups and downs, and peace in the end.

Peter Martin’s Symphonic Dances, powered by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s triumphant score and Santo Loquasto’s vividly colored costumes, provided an upbeat ending to the evening. With Janie Taylor and Sebastian Marcovici as the lead couple, the ballet was given a newly powerful and energetic feel. Taylor’s central woman was cool and driven, with long sweeping moves and a dancing full controlled abandon. It was clear why Marcovici’s man was so infatuated, but yet unable to control this woman. Marcovici led a quartet of impressive men, including Ask la Cour, Jonathan Stafford, Seth Orza and Sean Suozzi, in Martin’s high flying choreography.

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