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New York City Ballet: Dancer's Choice, a Benefit Performance

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New York City Ballet
Dancers’ Choice
A Benefit Performance for the Dancers’ Emergency Fund
(NYC Ballet Website)

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children’s Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Fayçal Karoui
Managing Director, Communications, Robert Daniels
Assoc. Director, Communications, Siobhan Burns
Manager, Press Relations, Joe Guttridge
New York State Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 27, 2008

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).
Conductor: Maurice Kaplow

Proceeds from tonight’s program went to support the Dancers’ Emergency Fund, which was founded by Jerome Robbins in 1980, to assist New York City Ballet dancers who have extraordinary need. Robbins used to hold annual benefits for this fund, but over the years, the Company, according to Peter Martins’ comments at the curtain, turned to private City Ballet donors, because the events were not raising suitable funds. Tonight, the tradition of annual benefits was restored, but individual contributions were also accepted, and a Silent Auction expanded the Fund. Jonathan Stafford, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet was assigned by Mr. Martins to organize and plan the details for tonight’s Benefit, and he also chose the works and the performers, with assistance from committees.

One work was choreographed and scored by two City Ballet dancers (Adam Hendrickson and Aaron Severini), with one creating the dance, as the other created the music. A committee of dancers, led by Daniel Ulbricht and Amanda Hankes, assisted Mr. Stafford in the choice of the works, or segments of works, to be presented. Favorite works and some not seen in years were listed and explored. Dancers became involved through “hidden talents”, such as Craig Hall’s t-shirt designs and graphics and Kyle Froman’s souvenir books of his “In the Wings” photo essays. Henry Seth and Ask la Cour created music for a video, which included film clips of the City Ballet dancers as kids in recitals and conversations. Sophie Flack, a corps dancer and artist, donated two paintings to the Silent Auction, and all the City Ballet departments collaborated with Mr. Stafford, including Peter Martins, himself, to ensure the ultimate success of this Benefit for a very worthy cause.


Rubies (excerpt) (1967): Music by Igor Stravinsky (Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra), Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by Peter Harvey, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Piano Solo: Susan Walters, Performed by Ashley Bouder, Daniel Ulbricht, Ellen Bar, and the Company. In one of the most dynamic and dazzling excerpts in the City Ballet repertoire, Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht bounded onto the stage for the finale of Rubies, as abandoned and energized as if they had been warming up to this moment for some time. Both dancers exemplified the unique casting expected for tonight’s Benefit, as this was Mr. Ulbricht’s debut in the demanding role. His persona and physique were perfectly tuned to this Rubies lead, as he was wound up like a top, whirling into the wings. Ms. Bouder had perfected the angular hand gesture within her spins. Ellen Bar had the iconic middle role, a seductress with predatory, but charming attitude. The Company danced with a level of bravura that opened the Benefit with high expectations, all of which were realized in this lengthy program.

Purple (1987): Music by Michael Torke, Choreography by Peter Martins, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Janie Taylor and Craig Hall. Janie Taylor and Craig Hall, usual partners in Afternoon of a Faun, tonight revived their strong chemistry and intriguing imagery. More than romantic, Purple is intense and erotic, with edge and glowing motion. A dark blue backdrop plays against the purple unitards. This ballet should be seen more often.

Square Dance (excerpt) (1957): Music by Arcangelo Corelli, Choreography by George Balanchine, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Andrew Veyette. It’s fascinating to see a familiar work abstracted to one solo dance, and tonight Andrew Veyette sculpted his body against a blue backdrop with exhilarating effect. Mr. Veyette has certainly grown in confidence, balance, and bravura stage presence in the past year, and it was wonderful to see him featured in solo showcase. He became the quintessential Balanchine Principal, classically poised.

Emeralds (excerpt): Music by Gabriel Fauré (from Pélléas et Mélisande), Choreography by George Balanchine, Costume by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Teresa Reichlen. Teresa Reichlen, like Mr. Veyette in the previous work, was given a debut role tonight in the solo from Emeralds, a book-end to the earlier Rubies. (Diamonds was not performed.) Ms. Reichlen was exemplary and refreshing, and it was obvious that she glowed from within, as every familiar turn of Balanchine’s design took on new appeal, with spontaneity and sultry classicism. Ms. Reichlen has hopefully earned more lead solos, such as this, for the 2009 Winter Season.

Interplay (excerpt) (1952): Music by Morton Gould, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Ronald Bates, Piano Solo: Elaine Chelton, Performed by Giovanni Villalobos (Lead), Ashley Laracey, Georgina Pazcoguin, Tiler Peck, Ana Sophia Scheller, Antonio Carmena, Vincent Paradiso, and Christian Tworzyanski in Free Play. Giovanni Villalobos is garnering recognition for charisma and characterization, and his lead in this playful Robbins work would validate that recognition. This is a sassy, sexy, athletic piece, one of Robbins’ lighter works, and, in excerpt, the dancers threw their full energy across the stage. There is clapping, rolling, and leaping about, and Santo Loquasto’s costumes radiated. Georgina Pazcoguin, Tiler Peck, and Vincent Paradiso caught my eye.

Dances at a Gathering (excerpt) (1969): Music by Frédéric Chopin, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Costumes by Joe Eula, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Pianist: Richard Moredock, Performed by Megan Fairchild, Amanda Hankes, Rachel Rutherford, Jared Angle, Tyler Angle, Austin Laurent, and Amar Ramasar. Even excerpted, Dances at a Gathering has weight, dimension, and structure. Chopin’s piano score glistened, in the hands of Richard Moredock, while dancers dashed about, exited upside down, and presented driven dynamics. Amanda Hankes, in mauve, caught my attention with her internalization of the lyrical motif, while Amar Ramasar, in green, exuded ravishing momentum.

Glass Pieces (excerpt) (1983): Music by Philip Glass (Akhnaten excerpt), Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Production Design by Jerome Robbins and Ronald Bates, Costumes by Ben Benson, Lighting by Ronald Bates, Performed by the Corps. Glass Pieces is one of my favorite works in the City Ballet Repertoire, and Akhnaten is the most mesmerizing and magical of its segments. Glass’ music is repetitive and hypnotic, making the listener yearn for yet more. Robbins’ choreography builds in dynamism, as Glass’ score builds in volume and edge. Adrian Danchig-Waring, Vincent Paradiso, and Allen Peiffer, among the male corps, added excitement and muscularity to the museum-worthy imagery. Gwyneth Muller, Georgina Pazcoguin, and Gretchen Smith moved with riveting rhythm in this very rhythmic ballet.

Film (World Premiere): “The Monarch”, about the creation of a new ballet that follows. Adam Hendrickson, a soloist, and Aaron Severini, a corps dancer, collaborated on a new ballet, Flit of Fury, with Mr. Hendrickson designing the dance, and Mr. Severini writing the music. This film consists of a conversation in the City Ballet studio, while rehearsals take place. There was obvious mutual respect and warmth between the two young artists.

Flit of Fury (World Premiere): Music by Aaron Severini, Choreography by Adam Hendrickson, Ms. Smith’s costume by Magda Berliner, Men’s costumes by Adam Hendrickson, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Duo-Pianists: Steven Beck and Stephen Gosling, Performed by Robert Fairchild, Sean Suozzi, Gretchen Smith, Allen Peiffer, and David Prottas. Duo pianists performed at the rear of the stage, backs facing the audience. There was some propeller-like choreography that evoked the Monarch butterfly, and some dramatic conflict between Sean Suozzi and Gretchen Smith, which, in itself, was reminiscent of Balanchine’s In the Night. This is to say that Mr. Hendrickson has watched and internalized the choreographic styles and theatrical nuances of his mentors, including Robbins and Wheeldon. His design called for furious flourishes between Mr. Suozzi and Ms. Smith, with other male dancers (Robert Fairchild, Allen Peiffer, David Prottas) in supporting roles. Mr. Severini’s score was contemporary, thick with resonant echoes, and replete with contrasting moods. The duo pianists were youthful and precise.

Beethoven Romance (1989): Music by Ludwig van Beethoven (Romance in F major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 50 ), Choreography by Peter Martins, Costumes by Heather Watts, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Solo Violinist: Kurt Nikkanen, Performed by Sara Mearns and Stephen Hanna. City Ballet should stage more of Peter Martins’ earlier works, as Beethoven Romance, his second work of the evening, was, I must say, brilliant. Mr. Martins puts so much of himself into City Ballet’s programming, on personal and professional levels, but works such as this and Purple are not often seen in Repertoire. Sara Mearns and Stephen Hanna danced this full, but brief ballet, to Kurt Nikkanen’s solo violin, from Beethoven’s Romance in F major. Ms. Mearns’ tutu was like a jewel, in purple and green, and she danced like a jewel, as well. Ms. Mearns has the skill to add an extension, an extra point of the foot, to enhance the music and tableau, as a phrase ends, and she did so tonight with exquisite poise and passion. Stephen Hanna was obviously inspired, and he partnered Ms. Mearns with extreme care and sophistication.

Union Jack (excerpt) (1976): Music by Hershy Kay (Adapted from Traditional British Music), Music commissioned by New York City Ballet, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery and Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Savannah Lowery and the Company in MacDonald of Sleat. Ms. Lowery is a charming, ingénue dancer, and she led this very percussive excerpt with acute attention to the detailed rhythmic devices. Balanchine used patriotic overtones and many colorful plaids, and Union Jack is a veritable masterpiece. Ms. Lowery led nine female corps dancers in the severe, pulsating choreography, and the audience loved every moment. Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s plaid kilts deserve mention every time.

Stars and Stripes (excerpt) (1958): Music adapted and orchestrated by Hershy Kay after music by John Philip Sousa, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Troy Schumacher and the Company in Third Campaign. Balanchine created five "campaigns" with changing Sousa themes. This ballet was performed for the opening ceremonies for the New York State Theater. (NYCB Notes). The perfect bookend to Balanchine’s Union Jack is Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes, where the brass takes over after the percussion ends. Hershy Kay’s orchestration of Sousa’s marches always adds fireworks to the dance, and Troy Schumacher, in a debut role, brought enthusiastic accolades from the audience, well into the second hour of the evening’s program. Mr. Schumacher is obviously being groomed for the dynamic and aerobic, male roles, and his instantaneous spins and fast footwork, en air, were indicative of a bright future in the Company. Twelve male corps dancers backed him up with soldier-like propulsion.

Mercurial Manoeuvres (excerpt) (2000): Music by Dmitri Shostakovich (Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35), Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Costumes by Carole Divet, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Piano: Cameron Grant, Trumpet: Neal Balm, Performed by Abi Stafford and Tyler Angle. With Cameron Grant on piano and Neal Balm on trumpet (an unusual instrumental solo in City Ballet programs), Abi Stafford and Tyler Angle showcased their finest qualities of youthful spontaneity. Ms. Stafford, in simple white, and Mr. Angle, in simple purple, leap with astounding dexterity and elevation. The Shostakovich score is textured and moody, and Mr. Wheeldon’s choreography shone luminously with these two dancers. I hope to see this work again in its entirety.

Film: When We Were Kids (World Premiere) This film, of dozens of excerpts of the City Ballet dancers in children’s rehearsals, performances, home movies, and even in more recent conversation (Sara Mearns and Christian Tworzyanski), was a highlight of the evening. One could see the delight in the young dancers’ eyes as they were first experiencing their craft. Considering that the program was now into its third hour, this film was well placed before the final dance presentation. In fact, nine principals and soloists, plus dozens of corps dancers, soon took the stage for the final work, and we could see their eyes still shining with delight.

Symphony in C (excerpt) (1948): Music by Georges Bizet, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Tiler Peck, Jason Fowler, Sterling Hyltin, Jared Angle, Rebecca Krohn, Ask la Cour, Megan Fairchild, Antonio Carmena, and the Company in Fourth Movement: Allegro Vivace. As the final work of the program, Symphony in C was fittingly by Balanchine and fittingly cast by a large corps contingent, the future of City Ballet. The fourth Allegro Vivace movement, to Bizet’s buoyant score, brought out Tiler Peck and Jason Fowler in the early lead, followed by Sterling Hyltin, Jared Angle, Rebecca Krohn, Ask la Cour, Megan Fairchild, and Antonio Carmena in the second lead. No ballet quite captures the full energy of the Company as does the iconic Symphony in C, and no performance of this work quite captured, until now, the promise and potential of City Ballet’s youngest dancers.

Kudos to Peter Martins, Maestro Maurice Kaplow, City Ballet Orchestra, Jonathan Stafford, Kyle Froman (Souvenir Photo Booklet), City Ballet Dancers, Solo and Duo Musicians, Composers, Technical-Management Crews, Choreographers, and Press, and kudos to the entire Dancer’s Choice Benefit Staff and Committees, for an extraordinary initiative and entertaining program, the first of many in future years.

Intermission at New York State Theater
Dancer's Choice Awards
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Intermission at New York State Theater
Dancer's Choice Awards
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Jonathan Stafford, Dancers' Choice Organizer
at Leisure at Intermission
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Intermission at New York State Theater
Dancer's Choice Awards
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Intermission at New York State Theater
Dancer's Choice Awards
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Intermission at New York State Theater
Dancer's Choice Awards
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Dancers' Choice Silent Auction
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Dancers' Choice Silent Auction
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Joe Guttridge, New York City Ballet Press
at Leisure at Intermission
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

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