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New York City Ballet: Walpurgisnacht Ballet, Why am I not where you, Fancy Free

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New York City Ballet
(New York City Ballet Website)

Walpurgisnacht Ballet
Why am I not where you are
Fancy Free

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief: Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress: Rosemary Dunleavy
Assistant to the Ballet Master in Chief: Sean Lavery
Guest Teacher: Merrill Ashley
Children’s Ballet Master: Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director: Fayçal Karoui
Chairman of the Board: John L. Vogelstein
Managing Dir. Communications and Special Projects: Robert Daniels
Manager, Media Relations: Katharina Plumb
Assoc., Communications and Special Projects, Caitlin Gillette
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 22, 2010

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Walpurgisnacht Ballet, from Gounod’s “Faust” (1980): Music by Charles François Gounod, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Performed by Wendy Whelan, Charles Askegard, Ana Sophia Scheller, and the Company. This is a Balanchine choreographed scene from the last act of the opera "Faust" on the eve of May Day, a dance of wandering souls, joyful revelry. (NYCB Notes).

A deep mauve background and dark pink tutus warm this ballet, with its swelling musical momentum and its spritely solos. Wendy Whelan and Charles Askegard appear in white, classical Karinska costumes’s, and their elegant pas de deux was combined with Ms. Whelan’s solo, to be followed by that of Ana Sophia Scheller. Figures of four corps dancers on each side of the leads made this iconic Balanchine work both predictably symmetrical and unpredictably dramatic. Hair comes down, Ms. Whelan leaps onto Mr. Askegard’s shoulders, and Ms. Scheller and the corps hold arms up, while on bent knees below. What seemed destined for familiar fashion, was, instead, sumptuously stirring. Ms. Whelan mastered this genre with aplomb, and, among the corps, Gwyneth Muller and Georgina Pazcoguin caught my eye.

Why am I not where you are (2010): Music by Thierry Escaich (commissioned by New York City Ballet), Choreography by Benjamin Millepied, Scenic Design by Santiago Calatrava, Costumes by Marc Happel, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Performed by Kathryn Morgan, Sara Mearns, Sean Suozzi, Amar Ramasar, and the Company.

City Ballet’s Architecture of Dance Festival 2010 continued (for me, this was a first viewing) with Benjamin Millepied’s Why am I not where you are. Yes, written just like that, no capitals or punctuation, a hint of the unconventional ballet to come. Tonight was also my first viewing of a Santiago Calatrava commissioned stage set (There will be five new sets designed by this renowned architect, for five of seven newly commissioned ballets, four of which are set to newly commissioned scores.) The amorphous plot involves a pursuit by a heroic romantic, Sean Suozzi, of the lovely ingénue, Kathryn Morgan, with interference from a malevolent, but elegant thug, Amar Ramasar, and his fellow-antagonist, a sexy vamp, Sara Mearns (all perfectly cast).

Yet, the operative word is “amorphous”, and audience members could be heard whispering questions to one another. This was no La Sonnambula, which was last performed with some of the same cast, and which has Balanchine’s clear dramatic development. Nor was it as theatrically exciting as Balanchine’s La Valse, whose long tutus seem to be models for tonight’s costuming by Marc Happel. However, I admit I enjoyed this ballet for its pure color, choreography, entertainment, and, mostly, Mr. Calatrava’s wide stage set. He was invited by Peter Martins (as we learn on multiple viewings of an in-house film about the Architecture of Dance background, meetings, and rehearsals) to design for ballet something akin to his bridges, museums, and sculptures around the globe. His set for Mr. Millepied’s work is outstanding, looking like a round bridge, with thin, steel spokes that glisten and glide. Dancers enter from the rear, dance through a central opening, and leap with shifting shades of steel as backdrop.

Female dancers wear long, black-grey tutus with red off-shoulder tops, while the men are in blues, purples, coats, and vests. Some of the men’s costuming was as fanciful as “Alice in Wonderland”. In fact, the dark humor was too. At one point, Mr. Suozzi is attired in an extra vest then jacket, while Ms. Morgan is slightly undressed, in attack mode, shifting between all white and red-black. Mark Stanley’s lighting adds depth to the drama, but the attempt at vague plot lines undermines the fluidity of the choreography. Mr. Millepied would have been better served with a plotless ballet or a clear plot and related program notes. Thierry Escaich’s commissioned score includes exciting crescendos and windy motifs. The most memorable choreographic image was dancers holding hands, four at a time, very Balanchine, but the central action was more Robbins’ The Cage. I do look forward to a second viewing. Kudos to Maestro Karoui.

Fancy Free (1944): Music by Leonard Bernstein, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Scenery by Oliver Smith, Costumes by Kermit Love, Lighting by Ronald Bates, Conductor: Andrews Sill, Performed by Tyler Angle, Joaquin De Luz, and Amar Ramasar as the Sailors, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Georgina Pazcoguin, and Tiler Peck as the Passers-by, and David Prottas as the Bartender.

There’s no amorphous plot here! Fancy Free is a ballet I could see monthly, maybe even weekly, and never, ever tire of its adorable three Sailors, its sassy three Passers-by, and its memorable Bernstein score. Many decades after this ballet was created, it’s still current, relevant, and oh, so entertaining. The audience was visibly relaxed, smiling, and leaning forward, as each Sailor danced his solo, to impress and snag one of two available Passers-by. Joaquin De Luz, the middle Sailor, had the high-kicking, high-jumping, fast twirling role, leaping onto the bar, gulping beer, and going at his solo again. Amar Ramasar had the third Sailor rhumba routine, swiveling his hips, even as he turned his back to the audience. They loved it. Mr. Ramasar has the role mastered pat, and his street sense in playing toss-the-wad-of-gum game was hip. Tyler Angle, as the first Sailor, was ebullient and dynamic, as he hopped over chairs, with a broad smile and proud gestures. The crème de la crème was cast for all three Passers-by, with Tiler Peck, Georgina Pazcoguin, and Kaitlyn Gilliland in full girlish-vamp mode.

New York City Ballet in
Benjamin Millepied's
"Why am I not where you are"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet in
Benjamin Millepied's
"Why am I not where you are"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at