Posted on June 25, 2006
The New York City Ballet did some diamond mining at the New York State Theater (April 25-June 25), when performances featured the sixth Diamond Project, a sporadically offered series of premieres established in 1992 and named after the philanthropist Irene Diamond. Dancegoers, however, tend to regard the balletic “diamonds” as potential theatrical treasures, and they do create excitement. This season, seven choreographers participated and, as I post this notice, not all have staged their works. But let’s take the choreographers thus far one by one.
Eliot Feld (April 29). Asked for a premiere, Feld gave us a whole evening of ballets: two premieres and some older pieces, all so different in tone that it was easy to understand why he keeps both stimulating and exasperating audiences who never know what to expect from him. The premieres were brief solos: Étoile Polaire (Philip Glass), in which the tall young Kaitlyn Gilliland appeared to trace fine-lined designs in space with her long arms and legs, and the prankish Ugha Bugha (John Cage), in which Wu-Kang Chen, a guest from Feld’s own company, bounced about with rattling cans attached to his body. Older works included Intermezzo No. 1, a Romantic “piano-ballet” to Brahms, the enigmatic and melancholy Unanswered Question (Ives), and two brash studies in patterning: Backchat (Paul Lansky), in which men tried to climb a wall, and A Stair Dance (Steve Reich) – yes, that title does contains a pun – in which dancers scampered on a staircase.
Mauro Bigonzetti (May 4) rejuvenated a familiar genre. In Vento was one of those ballets about a contemplative young man whose thoughts dance around him. Here, the sensitive youth was Benjamin Millepied and his thoughts were led by Maria Kowroski and Jason Fowler. Although just what ailed the hero was never quite clear, the choreographic patterns of thought stirred curiosity, and their mysteries were enhanced by Bruno Moretti’s commissioned score, rich in ominous tremolos and insidious melodies.
Peter Martins and Christopher Wheeldon showed premieres on the same night (May 10). Martins set The Red Violin to John Corigliano’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (“The Red Violin”). That subtitle refers to the fact that the score includes music Corigliano composed for the film The Red Violin, an account of a violin’s adventures through history. But Martins’ totally plotless ballet has nothing to do with a violin of any colour. Presumably, he simply liked the title. Yet as a title for this particular work, it’s pointless, and the choreography for a cast of eight is negligible, being little more than a doggedly literal visualisation of the score. Typically, Martins has fast music prompt fast steps and slow music prompt slow ones. And the steps have little significance of their own. This is taking the company’s fabled respect for music to ridiculous extremes. Wheeldon’s Evenfall, to Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, is considerably better. The ballet abounds in crystalline formations for two groups of six women who are joined by six men and two soloists: Miranda Weese and Damian Woetzel. The patterns are often exquisite. Movements also include wing-like arm flutterings recalling both Swan Lake and The Dying Swan, making Weese and Woetzel ghosts of Odette and Siegfried as the choreography separates and reunites them until Woetzel’s Siegfried vanishes forever from Odette. What significance Wheeldon intends this avian fantasy to have remains ambiguous. Yet his romantic choreography is always attractive.
Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux (May 25), Two Birds with the Wings of One had its own lovers’ partings. Sofiane Sylve and Andrew Veyette portrayed lovers who were eventually separated for no discernible reason during the course of much vague choreography. New York City Ballet choreographers who may have some sort of story in mind sometimes appear oddly reluctant to tell it, as if they feared storytelling might be suspect in this choreographic citadel of abstraction. But Balanchine, that master abstractionist, could also tell fine stories when he wished. Bonnefoux chose music by Bright Sheng, the company’s recently appointed composer-in-residence: a song cycle and an orchestral piece; we have yet to hear a commissioned score by him. What we did hear abounded in contrasts, yet could not enhance the pallid choreography.
The company, of course, has also been showing its regular repertoire: 42 ballets this season, performed with varying degrees of excellence. But let me single out one remarkable performance, that of Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer on May 20, danced with a respect for atmosphere and dramatic nuance by a cast that included some of the company’s most experienced and sensitive artists: Darci Kistler, Kyra Nichols, Miranda Weese, Wendy Whelan, Tyler Angle, Charles Askegard, Nikolaj Hübbe, and Nilas Martins. These dancers knew what they were doing, and they made it look beautiful.