Le Tombeau de Couperin; Duo Concertant; The Seven Deadly Sins; Vienna Waltzes
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York
Saturday, May 14, 2011
by Tom Phillips
Copyright 2011 by Tom Phillips
The most sumptuous of New York City Ballet's productions -- Vienna Waltzes -- has been looking a bit run-down in recent years. It didn't need new sets or costumes -- these are as magnificent as ever. What it needed was a whole new cast, and that's what it got on Saturday. No fewer than seven of the company's younger dancers made their debuts in the main roles, with results that ranged from promising to thrilling.
Vienna Waltzes is suffused with romance, from the dusky woods of the opening to the gleaming ballroom of the finale.
Teresa Reichlen made her debut in the first scene, on the arm of Tyler Angle, who has grown into NYCB’s most elegant cavalier. Reichlen made the most of it, her long limbs swooping freely through the gentle turns and low lifts of this waltz in the woods. But the best part was the chemistry between the two – intimate but refined, Angle playing the courtly young officer hovering over his reserved but radiant date.
Still, the most romantic waltz of the evening was danced by Sara Mearns, alone with a mirror, in the climactic role of the mysterious single woman at the ball. Suzanne Farrell, who created the role in 1977, danced it as if intoxicated, distressed by some unreachable memory. Mearns looks more in control but just as deeply moved, by desires that lie beyond the reach of even the most ardent cavalier. Sebastien Marcovici seemed to understand as he moved in to partner her, supporting but never intruding on her reverie.
Ashley Bouder and Gonzalo Garcia were new in the “Fruhlingstimmen,” the only section danced by the ballerina on pointe. Bouder’s speed and articulation are perfect for the sprightly leaps and turns of this spring song, but her affectations make even her best dancing look insincere. If she could only stop exaggerating her facial expressions, and dance in the music rather than on and around it, this could be exquisite to watch.
Sinewy Sean Suozzi was unrecognizable in his ridiculous costume and wig for the “Explosions-Polka,” but he seemed to enjoy clowning with Ana Sofia Scheller. Jonathan Stafford was the new cavalier in the “Gold und Silber” waltz, the most soap–operatic of the segments, but he looked a little too young and callow to be of much interest to Jenifer Ringer’s sophisticated widow. Their waltz seemed more of a harmless flirtation than the start of something big. Still, all four couples shone as they joined in the climactic ballroom scene, rising to the occasion along with the corps and the orchestra, which milked every melodramatic gasp and cascade in Richard Strauss’s ravishing “Rosenkavalier.”
Following up on the company’s opening week of Balanchine Black & White, the program began with a pair of modest Balanchine masterworks from the 70’s, Tombeau de Couperin and Duo Concertant. In the moody, intimate Duo, young Chase Finlay seemed a bit cowed by his high-energy partner Sterling Hyltin –- but even more by the onstage attack of violinist Arturo Delmoni, who played Stravinsky’s dissonant double-stops like a battlefield piper. This is a ballet where the dancers have to actually stand and listen to the music before they move; Finlay looked more like he was just nervously awaiting his turn.
Tombeau de Couperin is a profound interpenetration of frolic and reverence; a hoedown in mourning attire, a celebration of young life and a memorial to those who died in the midst of it. (For a full review of this underrated masterwork, you’re invited to read my review from last week, “Abstraction and Redemption.”) At Saturday’s performance I focused on the right quadrille, where Lauren King stood out as one who could simultaneously contain and express her joy.
In between the modesty of Tombeau and Duo, and the luxury of Vienna Waltzes, we saw NYCB’s new version of The Seven Deadly Sins, choreographed by Lynn Taylor–Corbett. This is not so much a ballet as a theater piece, a moral lesson in mime and song, with Wendy Whelan dancing and Patti LuPone singing the two sides of the heroine. It’s a remake of what must have been an excoriatingly bitter and funny collaboration among Balanchine, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, dating back to Paris in 1933. In Balanchine's 1958 New York revival, Lotte Lenya sang and Allegra Kent danced the two sides of poor Anna, the young girl sent out by her family to make their fortune, by any means necessary. I never saw that piece, but I did see Lenya in Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera, and will never forget her songs of experience, ballads of desire in hopeless circumstances, humanity singing in its chains. That’s clearly what Brecht and Weill had in mind as they send Anna out into the world, a sentimental Anna (Whelan) who yearns for abundant life, hounded at every turn by a cynical Anna (LuPone) who condemns her desires as distractions from the work of money-grubbing. Thus Anna is condemned for “pride” because she doesn’t want to strip for a girlie show, for “lust” because she sleeps with a man she loves rather than one who’s paying for it, for “gluttony” because she wants to feed herself rather than starve and become a supermodel, for “envy” because she wants a baby.
Brecht’s Marxist irony isn’t subtle – it’s propaganda, in your face, and it works only in a ruthless, knowing performance that allows no escape from the brutal facts of life. Here, the moral lesson is fuddled. Whelan comes off as clueless and hapless rather than truly pathetic, and LuPone seems just brusque and matter-of-fact rather than knowingly evil. Maybe the fault is in our times, when Marxist protest is barely a memory, and materialistic Tiger Moms are the norm. Somehow I had the feeling that many in the David H. Koch Theater audience identified less with Anna than with her family, whose dream – realized at the end – is a McMansion on the Mississippi. Hey, why not?
Copyright 2011 by Tom Phillips
Photographs of Sara Mearns (top),Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle by Paul Kolnik