"Carnival of the Animals," "Jeu de Cartes," "The Four Seasons"
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, NY
October 6, 2013
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2013 by Carol Pardo
Programs once again have names at the New York City Ballet; and this one was "Just for Fun". No leotards, no atonal music, no strain--just sit back and relax. "It isn’t overly complex, just great fun and an easy watch." So says Christopher Wheeldon of his "Carnival of the Animals," last seen at the then New York State Theater nearly eight years ago. Wheeldon’s summary places the work in this program but understates the skill and imagination required to blend music, plot, spoken text, movement, and characters (most of them animals to boot) all held together by a child dancer in the lead.
The premise is simple and familiar: a young boy finds himself locked in the American Museum of Natural History. In his dreams, the people in his daily life are transformed into animals. His piano teacher becomes a lion sporting a vest and mortarboard. The local librarian suddenly jumps like a kangaroo, book still in hand, but ends up as a mermaid (book long gone) surrounded by a court of sea nymphs. Through the good offices of a night watchman, also the narrator, the sleepy boy is safely restored to his parents.
The story is set to Camille Saint-Saëns’ well-known score. John Lithgow’s text provides an armature for the musical miniatures, clarifies the narrative and insinuates a third rhythmic line between the warp and woof of music and movement. Jon Morrell’s costumes are particularly witty; the parents of friends are outfitted as chickens in beautifully cut red and yellow jackets all egg yolks and coxcombs. The colors of the cyclorama (lighting by Natasha Katz) change with each episode and there’s a disco ball at the elephant’s ball (as well as the iconic pose from "Saturday Night Fever").
The dances are varied enough, short enough and resonant enough to leave you wanting more. The chickens are a homage to those in Sir Frederick Ashton’s "La Fille Mal Gardée". At this performance, Amar Ramasar gave a star turn as the baboon that lumbers across the stage on all fours but also dances the frug. Instead of a dying swan, Wheeldon gives us a nostalgic, reminiscing swan. The solo is for a retired ballerina looking back to her dancing days, all arms, back and upper body. Maria Kowroski caught it all, particularly when her head, nestled under her arm in a pose straight out of "Swan Lake," lifted upward and outward in answer to a voice from the distant past. As the protagonist, Maximilian Brooking Landegger, a student at the School of American Ballet, is charming, focused and completely present without being cloying. As the parents whose child has disappeared, Teresa Reichlen and Jonathan Stafford came across as stiff, rather than frozen in their grief.Jack Noseworthy, a Boston-based actor, delivered the text in a rhythm that was just off enough to be jarring. But, as a thirty-five minute long immersion in the power of craft, collaboration and theater, "Carnival of the Animals" is more than just fun.
Jerome Robbins’ "The Four Seasons" is a far dancier and hardier ballet than the Wheeldon, here given a rather subdued performance. Debutants hadn’t quite settled in their roles. Both Adrian Danchig-Waring, new to the ballet, and Andrew Veyette, an old hand, looked uncomfortable in theirs. The cavalier in ‘Summer’ is expected to be both sinuous and sensuous. Danchig-Waring looked ill at ease departing from pure classical plumb. In ‘Fall’ Veyette attacked his big jumps too forcefully but was right at home when turning, if visibly uncomfortable throughout in his little red chiton, like a star quarterback at a frat costume party. The balletalways sends ‘em home happy, but here the pleasure came not from the performances, but from Robbins’ sure sense of structure and theater. "The Four Seasons" is usually more fun.
Most of the fun in "Jeu de Cartes" came, not from Peter Martins’ choreography, but the women’s costumes, white tutus embellished with hearts, diamonds, spades or clubs, with short flirty skirts. Otherwise, Martins just threw steps at Stravinsky’s score, hoping to pummel it into submission. It doesn’t work. Happily both Megan Fairchild, using all her delicacy and skills as a soubrette, and Joaquin De Luz as the virtuoso whiz kid loaded with charm were able to rise above the fray, but fun it was not.