"Sophisticated Lady", "Not My Girl", "This Bitter Earth", "Rubies", "Bal de Couture"
New York City Ballet
The David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
September 20, 2012
by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2012 by Mary Cargill
The New York City Ballet's gala was billed as a celebration of the fashion designer Valentino, famous for his use of red. Balanchine's "Rubies" was an obvious choice, but to jazz it up (if it needs extra jazz), there were three different couples. The other ballet all featured Valentino designs and choreography by Peter Martins or Christopher Wheeldon. The evening opened with Martins' "Sophisticated Lady", a trifle that he concocted for Suzanne Farrell's retirement. She wore, as I recall, a black evening dress, but the dress that Valentino designed for Maria Kowroski was a vibrant red, elegant and danceable. It is a cherry souffle of a piece, featuring a single woman in high heels (so much more suited to the Duke Ellington music and point shoes would be). She wanders through a group of men in black tie until she is joined by a new man (Peter Martins in the original, Charles Askegard in the revival, making an unannounced and gracious appearance). They dance, looking elegant, he disappears, the male corps comes back, Askegard reappears, they dance, and it ends. A perfect gala piece, charming, unassuming, and light.
"Not My Girl" is also an older Martins work with redesigned costumes. (The original ones were by Oscar de la Renta.) Robert Fairchild pretended to be Fred Astaire, complete with top hat and tails (dark purple), and Tyler Peck, unfortunately, did not pretend to be Ginger Rogers since she danced on point, a style at odds with the popular music (by Astaire and Van Phillips) and Fairchild's elegant tapping. Peck swished and pranced as musically as she could, hampered by Valentino's unflattering costume, a harlequin-patterned red and purple tent-shaped skirt, which looked as if it had been made from a carpet remnant found in a Las Vegas hotel.
"This Bitter Earth", a preview of a longer work by Christopher Wheeldon, was a more serious work. It, too, was a pas de deux, featuring Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle, with costumes by Valentino, olive green this time. Whelan's costume was especially flattering, with a sleeveless bodice and chiffon skirt and it moved beautifully. The music by Mix Richter and Dinah Washington, from the film "Shutter Island", was not particularly danceable, and Wheeldon's steps (lots of agonized reaching and swooning) ambled on. Whelan, though, looked magnificent, controlled and centered, giving each gesture weight and grace. She looked like the prow of a ship, forging ahead, but unfortunately, she was sailing through a sea of treacle.
"Rubies" was an astringent antidote, though dividing up the roles (each couple got a separate movement) was a bit disconcerting. With the exception of Savannah Lowery as the tall girl, all of the dancers were making their debuts, and one hopes they will get a chance at the real thing. The Rubies-a-thon opened with Erica Pereira and Antonio Carmena, sharing the stage with Lowery. Carmena, a dancer of unaffected charm and warmth, made the most of his brief role in the opening movement. His partner, Erica Pereira, a dancer of wispy spunk, was too self-consciously cute for the astringent choreography, while Lowery, much improved technically, muscled her way through the steps. The second movement, which includes the pas de deux, was danced by Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley. Lovette gave her steps a mysterious, smokey quality, and her off-center deliberation was fascinating. The final movement, when she twists her finger and touches her partner's outstretched hand, eschewed the cuteness that has crept into the gesture, and seemed to sum up an independant woman's decision to made a connection.
It was surprising to realize that Daniel Ulbricht, in the final section, was making his "Rubies" deput, as his controlled brashness and power seem such a natural for the role. He was very good, leading the boys with his amazing jumps, without playing to the audience. His partner, Ashly Isaacs, perhaps because she had so little time to make an impact, seemed to punctuate every movement with a smile. Emily Kikta, a young corps member who has been getting a number of tall-girl roles, seemed a bit tentative, but her lush quality of movement was striking.
Valentino's costumes for the final work, Peter Martins' "Bal de Couture" (to selections of Tchaikovsky) were also striking, though not as dance costumes. Six of the women wore thigh-length confections of black and white, with red shoes and underskirts, and three wore mushroom shaped tutus which refused to budge and often flopped over their heads in most unflattering profiles. It seemed as if they were in a competition for the most unflattering hairstyle (the stylist, Serge Normant, got a mention); it was close, but Ashley Bouder, with her Minnehaha headress, was the winner. Janie Taylor, in light purple chiffon, had the most danceable outfit, though the long bat-wing sleeves were distracting. She swooned and swooped through the Elegie in G, and seemed unrelated to the more formal polonaise and waltz (from "Eugene Onegin") danced by the others. There was a pensive yearning to her movements, which seemed to go on too long; she may have been looking for her soul mate (she could choose between a jacketless Sebastien Marcovici and a more formal Robert Fairchild), but after a while it seemed as if she were searching for choreography to match her incandescent talent.
Photo: Ana Sophia Scheller, Ashley Bouder, and Maria Kowroski in Valentino
Copyright 2012 by Mary Cargill