New York City Ballet

'Le Tombeau de Couperin,' 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier,' 'Ballade' and 'Vienna Waltzes'

by Kate Snedeker

June 7, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

On Saturday evening, New York City Ballet celebrated the choreography of George Balanchine, presenting a program of four ballets from the last decade of his life. Le Tombeau de Couperin, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Ballade and Vienna Waltzes were all choreographed in the five years between 1975 to 1980, yet are fascinating in their stunning variety, which include everything from the abstract to the children’s story.

In Le Tombeau de Couperin , one of Balanchine’s “black and white ballets”, the dancers are arranged in two eight-person quadrilles, each mirroring the steps of the other. The choreography walks a delicate line between energy and dignity, with the restraint slipping away as the Ravel’s music progresses from the proper Prelude to the joyous Rigaudon. While the choreography is based on older dances, its seems also to hint at the steps and rhythms of the square dance. When the dancers face each other in two long lines, one couple dancing in the middle, it is eerily reminiscent of the Virginia Reel, a traditional square dance. The experienced cast, especially Dena Abergel, Aesha Ash, Dana Hanson and Stephen Hanna, proceeded through the tricky steps with aplomb, exuding energy without blurring the choreography and finding a perfect balance between being too eager and being too somber. The frequent smiles conveyed a sense of confidence and joy in a job well done without becoming cloying or giddy.

In her first performance of The Steadfast Tin Soldier , Alexandra Ansanelli demonstrated yet again the impressive talents that earned her a recent promotion to principal dancer. Ansanelli and Woetzel, stunning together in Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel , were technically and emotionally breathtaking in the poignant story of doomed love between a paper doll and a tin soldier. Woetzel, who seems re-energized since his return from a long injury layoff, gave one of the best performances of the role in many years. Every movement was perfectly in character, every jump fully rotated with effortless height and spot on landings-a near flawless performance. At thirty-six, Woetzel seems to be entering one of the best periods in his dancing career so far. Her face alive with _expression, and her dancing precise and giddily energetic, Ansanelli was an ideal choice for the role of the paper doll. Delightfully shy in the beginning, she was joyfully love-struck before her exuberance led to tragedy. Ansanelli’s technique was excellent, one especially memorable moment being the rock solid promenade with her flex-footed leg in second. Woetzel was a supportive and emotionally connected partner, his solitary salute in the end made more poignant by the electric performance that proceeded it. Georges Bizet's music and David Mitchell’s set and costumes completed the performance.

One of Balanchine’s last ballets , Ballade is a dreamy interlude with dancers in Ben Benson’s frothy pink and lavender costumes floating across the stage to the strains Gabriel Faure’s Ballade for piano and orchestra. This dream-like atmosphere was a perfect setting for Wendy Whelan’s delicate and musical performance. Exploring every nuance of Faure’s music, Whelan placed every step, every bend of the wrist, every turn of her head placed perfectly in the context of the muisc. It wasn’t just dancing to the music, it was feeling and dancing totally with the music. Balanchine’s choreography doesn’t provide much for the male dancer, but Philip Neal made the best of the role. Never overwhelming, he provided just the right touch in his partnering of Whelan, supporting and adding to her performance. The corps looked elegant and orderly, with neat footwork and delicate port de bras.

Concluding the tour of Balanchine’s later works was a repeat performance of Vienna Waltzes . Replacing Miranda Weese in the Fruhlingsstimmen waltz, Alexandra Ansanelli was again in top form. Appearing slightly tired in the beginning, she seemed re-energized by Peter Boal’s high-leaping and gracious performance. In particular, Ansanelli’s final sequence of sparkling pique turns was wonderfully precise and speedy. In the saucy Explosions Polka, Amanda Edge and Tom Gold could have been more precise in the footwork. However, their dancing was giddy and energetic, the outrageous choreography seeming to be as fun to perform as it was to watch. The grand finale was again breathtaking, a reminder of the enormous impact that Balanchine’s ballets continue to have, even twenty years after his death.

Maurice Kaplow and Richard Moredock conducted, and Mark Stanley provided the lighting (after the original lighting by Ronald Bates in all but Ballade).

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