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New York City Ballet: Interplay, Call Me Ben (A Ballet Dramedy), Scotch Symphony
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New York City Ballet: Interplay, Call Me Ben (A Ballet Dramedy), Scotch Symphony

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New York City Ballet
(New York City Ballet Website)

Call Me Ben, A Ballet Dramedy
Scotch Symphony

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
June 5, 2010

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Conductor: Fayçal Karoui

Interplay (1952): Music by Morton Gould, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Ronald Bates, Piano Solo: Elaine Chelton, Performed by Ashley Laracey, Tiler Peck, Ana Sophia Scheller, Stephanie Zungre, Joaquin De Luz, Amar Ramasar, Troy Schumacher, Sean Suozzi. The original title for this music was “American Concertette” (1945). Gould's Ballet works generally drew on American subject matter. Gould received a Grammy in 1965 for his recording of music by Charles Ives. Gould was a composer, arranger, and conductor and wrote in many genres. He conducted for New York City Ballet at the 1988 American Music Festival. He orchestrated “Fall River Legend” (Choreographed by the great Agnes de Mille) and “Interplay”. He also composed for Broadway, television and film. (NYCB Notes).

According to Clarke and Crisp (Ballet, an Illustrated History, Universe Books, NY, 1973), Jerome Robbins was an instantaneous hit in the ballet scene, with “Fancy Free”, choreographed in 1944 for American Ballet Theater. Robbins combined academic dance with contemporary movement, offering a new approach to ballet, very American in feeling. In “Interplay”, Robbins combined Jazz and popular dance forms with ballet. (Clarke and Crisp).

There’s always a thick air of excitement on an evening of a World Premiere. Tonight was no different. This first work tonight, a Jerome Robbins masterpiece, warmed the audience for the Premiere to come. Interplay< was youthful, vibrant, with women in ponytails and sleeveless shirts. Amar Ramasar was striking in Part III BYPLAY, partnering Tiler Peck, who was spirited and ravishing. Mr. Ramasar executed some high energy jack-in-the-box jumps during this jazzy, Broadway styled ballet. At one point, one dancer at a time spun around, like teens showing off, and Joaquin De Luz was en air and on fire in Part II HORSEPLAY. Sean Suozzi, one of the most magnetic Soloists, led Part I FREE PLAY, while the full cast returned for Part IV TEAM PLAY. There were feverish fouettés, and sometimes one dancer echoed another’s wild whimsy. Elaine Chelton played Morton Gould’s piano score with aplomb. The audience gave the ensemble a vocal cheer at the curtain.

Call Me Ben, A Ballet Dramedy (World Premiere): Music by Jay Greenberg (Neon Refracted, commissioned by New York City Ballet), Choreography by Melissa Barak, Book by Ellen Bar and Melissa Barak, Scenic Design by Santiago Calatrava, Costumes by Gilles Mendel, Costumes Supervised by Marc Happel, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Roberta Fairchild as Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, Jenifer Ringer as Virginia Hill, Daniel Ulbricht as Meyer Lansky, Tyler Angle as George Raft, and the Company.

Tonight’s World Premiere of Melissa Barak’s Call Me Ben was shockingly disappointing. I love the story of Bugsy Siegel and remember Levinson’s 1991 “Bugsy” with Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, and Harvey Keitel. But, in film, actors speak. In ballet, dancers dance. Ms. Barak’s new ballet had some of City Ballet’s crème de la crème speaking more than dancing, much more. First, this being City Ballet’s Architecture of Dance New Choreography and Music Festival, Santiago Calatrava designed the set. This fanciful set was painted, much like his backdrops for Estancia, and the brightly lit (thanks to Mark Stanley) palm trees, the lush moonlit sky, and placement of the big center table (evoking Kurt Jooss’ 1932 The Green Table) for a mob vote were all brilliantly conceived. Gilles Mendel and Marc Happel designed and created the costumes, that transported the characters to the 1940’s in sophisticated style. Kudos to Santiago Calatrava and Mark Stanley, as well as Gilles Mendel and Marc Happel, before the ballet itself is discussed.

The Koch Theater has recently been restored and upgraded, and one new enhancement is the rising and lowering of the orchestra pit. Another is an improved acoustical system. For the ballet, this should enhance the orchestrations, not wired microphones on principal dancers. Dancers generally aren’t trained in theatrics, like Broadway dancers/actors/singers. When City Ballet dancers sing the final refrains in West Side Story Suite, it’s spine tingling and refreshing. There are some solos, but there’s dance onstage and abundant, orchestral musicality happening. In Call Me Ben, Robert Fairchild as Bugsy pulls off the speaking-dancing role, but Daniel Ulbricht as Meyer Lansky and Jenifer Ringer as Virginia Hill and Tyler Angle as George Raft all sound like silent film stars the week talkies appeared. The result is ludicrous.

The mob meeting around the long table, with dancers leaping off and lifting up chairs was one of the few mesmerizing dance moments on any level, visual or aesthetic. Another dance highpoint was a pas de deux between the ever engaging Robert Fairchild and Jenifer Ringer, as they fell in love under the stars. However, incredibly, when the virtuosic Daniel Ulbricht was wasted as a vaudevillian Lansky in a trench-coat, the air fell out of the theater. Jenifer Ringer was sexy, sultry, and sensual as Virginia Hill, and when she did dance, she lit the stage, especially in a sparkling purple gown. One circle dance, with corps swirling around Las Vegas, captured my imagination for a moment, but then we were back to amateurish repartee.

Swan Lake came to mind, with Odette’s iconic mime scene at the lake, where she explains, in body language, how she was transformed into a swan, her past, her present, and her future fate all wrapped around Von Rotbart’s spell, and even how the lake is filled with her mother’s tears. All this and no “talking”. There are countless examples of story mime to explain ballet plots to the audience, and program notes are always available. City Ballet audiences know how to read. This ballet would have been so much more satisfying with one to two paragraphs of program notes and then all dance. Or how about a song added in if necessary? And, even if all else failed, this is Koch Theater, home of City Opera. There are super-title techniques available for a “libretto or book” to flash on an above-stage screen. So many wasted opportunities to make this work a success.

Considering that this is New York City Ballet Company, I was surprised Ms. Barak’s concoction wasn’t halted early on and replaced with another ballet to the same score. The young artist, Jay Greenberg’s, newly commissioned Neon Refracted was dynamic, fascinating, and ripe with balletic challenge. Unfortunately that challenge was never met.

Scotch Symphony (1952): Music by Felix Mendelssohn (Scotch Symphony: Second, Third, Fourth Movements), Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by Karin von Aroldingen, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Ashley Bouder, Benjamin Millepied, Erica Pereira, Devin Alberda, Andrew Scordato, and the Company.

Deep breaths of joy were palpable as the curtain rose on Balanchine’s gorgeous Scotch Symphony, after the disturbing disaster of the previous Premiere. Scotch Symphony was literally a breath of spring air. Pure dance, refined, and all Balanchine. Karinska’s costumes evoke Scottish highlands, with cinched-tied bodices and stiff tulle tutus. The men are of course in bright kilts. Ashley Bouder, as the Sylph, much like La Sylphide, was perfectly cast, with sharp pointed footwork, rapidly paced, and an endearing, ingénue quality, exuding charm and vivaciousness. Her pink tutu was like a ripe rose. Benjamin Millepied was also cast well, as these soft, romantic roles bring out his impish, wholesome personality. His speed and dramatizations were impressive. Erica Pereira further illuminated the stage, a rising star in the Company, with youthful fervor and ethereal airiness. In the corps, Devin Alberda and Andrew Scordato had lead roles, and they were accomplished and polished. Catching my eye, as usual, were Kaitlyn Gilliland, Gwyneth Muller, and Chase Finlay. Karin von Aroldingen’s painted backdrop brought us right into the Scottish milieu.

Robert Fairchild and the Cast of
Melissa Barak's "Call Me Ben"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Robert Fairchild and Jennifer Ringer
in Melissa Barak's "Call Me Ben"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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