When Miami City Ballet were here at City Center earlier this year, one dancer in particular astounded me: Alex Wong. Now I've learned that Alex has been promoted. Please join me in congratulating this incredible dancer.
Today I attended another Jock Soto partnering class at SAB, this time with my friend James. Now I had a chance to look again at some of the dancers I noticed last time. Some of them made a very fine impression although I do not want to single people out at the student level as it may discourage others. Is a mention on my blog really of any consequence? Some people tell me that it is, which is very gratifying.
The combinations again seemed extremely complex to me and Jock kept telling the young dancers he was making things hard for them on purpose - to challenge them. Some rose to the challenge more capably than others but Jock was again very good at corrections, humoring rather than belittling the students.
He seems to use the same girls for demonstrating each time and I was thinking how exciting it must be to spend part of your school-day being partnered by one of the greatest dancers of our time.
One of my favorite singers, mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer (above), and one of my favorite dancers, Philip Neal, share a birthday today. My worlds of opera and ballet rarely intersect it seems, but Lucy and Philip did share the stage a couple of seasons back when Lucy sang Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne for a revival of the Peter Martins ballet of the same title while Philip danced a leading role.
Below, in a Kyle Froman photograph: Philip with his partner-in-perfection Kyra Nichols.
Thursday February 26, 2009 - Music-lovers could attend the current New York City Ballet programme entitled 21st Century Movement and have a fine time even if they were not particularly interested in dance. The way the progamme has been devised, we have a pleasing mixture of Vivaldi (above) with a dash of Biber; then John Adams, Britten and Shostakovich all very well-played by the ballet's musicians under the direction of Faycal Karoui. And in the Adams, the two pianists actually take the stage, seated at their grands in softly-lit spaces above the dance floor.
New York City Ballet has a long history of making music visible and with dancers like these, it's something to behold. In Jorma Elo's SLICE TO SHARP the music of Biber and Vivaldi gives a Baroque resonance to some very contemporary movement. And in an astonishing performance tonight, Joaquin de Luz set off a chain reaction which reverberated thru the entire evening. He was on fire, dancing with such precision and such a daring sense of bravado. Ana Sophia Scheller matched him in brilliance and fearlessness of approach and the entire cast seemed to be giving an extra bit of dazzle in response to Joaquin's generous, perfect performance.
I've often hoped to see SLICE re-capture the thrill of its premiere and tonight came very, very close. Craig Hall, dancing first with Teresa Reichlen and then with Wendy Whelan, was a powerful force and the two women are brilliantly set off by his astute partnering. Both these women and Maria Kowroski were at their most compelling, floushing in the tricky steps and the sense of risk. Ask LaCour's spacious style looks great here, especially in his duet passage with Maria K. In yet another performance to bolster his impressive credentials this season, Robert Fairchild's intensity and his complete command of Elo's vivid gestural style made his performance outstanding.
The duo-piano John Adams score used by Peter Martins for HALLELUJAH JUNCTION is played with pulsating energy by Cameron Grant and Richard Moredock; the composer's subtle relentlessness carries thru even under the adagio. Fresh casting of the leading roles made this a must-see performance. Sterling Hyltin danced with elegant pliancy and just a touch of sexy. Her flashing swirls of turns around the stage had a shimmering velocity. Gonzalo Garcia has one of his best roles at NYCB to date here (along with his OPUS 19/THE DREAMER)...Gonzalo looked "to die for" and he danced with smoothness and strength and partnered Sterling with assurance. Daniel Ulbricht thrived on the complicated combinatons and zooming airborne feats of the man in black, his energizing spirit winning the audience's delighted cheers. Again the eight young dancers who perform a series of fast-paced duets gave the ballet an extra dimension, reminding us how lucky we are to have a corps that includes names like Pereira, King, Zungre, Pollock, Schumacher, Applebaum, Peiffer and Prottas. Bravi tutti!
Benjamin Britten's SIMPLE SYMPHONY has inspired choreographer Melissa Barak to create a ballet of the same title that is perfectly magical. Juxtaposed against the darkly luminous Adams/Martins ballet, Melissa offers a bevy of ballerinas in fanciful tutus and three cavaliers who set a classic tone. Sara Mearns, Jared Angle, Ana Sophia Scheller, Tiler Peck, Sean Suozzi and Tyler Angle makes Melissa's imaginative response to the music look sumptuous - especially in the triple adagio - while the very attractive sextette of corps girls weave patterns which remind more than one viewer of Balanchine's LA SOURCE. This ballet reveals more nuances with each viewing and is one of the most purely enjoyable offerings at NYCB in recent seasons.
Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto #1 gave Christopher Wheeldon the framework for his engagingly patterned MERCURIAL MANOEUVRES and here again dancers we hadn't previously seen in this ballet took the stage. Tiler Peck, who has had such glorious and wide-ranging successes this season added more lustre to her credentials with her impressive debut here, and Adrian Danchig-Waring's exceptional physique and his blend of poetry and athleticism was something to behold. Joaquin de Luz polished off his evening with yet another dazzling tour de force. Kathryn Morgan, Erica Pereira and the corps keep Wheeldon's ballet looking really fresh.
UPDATE: This just in: Edwaard and his new ballet were accorded a standing ovation.
Following on the success of his AGE OF INNOCENCE for the Joffrey, Edwaard Liang's latest creation is premiering on February 26th at the Opera House in Novosibirsk, Russia. Entitled IMMORTAL BELOVED and set to the music of Philip Glass, the new ballet has earned Edwaard his first huge 'banner' on the facade of the theatre. Horosho! Prekrasno!
So much has happened for Edwaard since I interviewed him on my blog in October 2007.
Shelby Elsbree, a young dancer who I had the pleasure of meeting while she has been at SAB, has made a grand jetee clear across the Atlantic. At the expressed invitation of Nikolaj Hubbe, Shelby joins the Royal Danish Ballet.
Kyle Froman has generously provided the above photo of Shelby.
Earlier this month I watched Shelby taking Jock Soto's partnering class at SAB; she had just received the summons from Copenhagen and was in a swirl of planning and packing yet she looked cool and calm in class. Shelby is an expressive dancer with a very distinctive presence; it was easy to see why Nikolaj would want to grab her for Royal Danish before anyone else beat him to it.
Please join me in wishing bonne chance to a young ballerina on her grand adventure.
In the past couple of seasons it seems to me that audience behavior at the ballet and the opera has really become increasingly annoying. Last night the man behind me was clearly very ill; his coughing was so frequent and seemingly un-stifled. Anyone can experience a momentary tickle in the throat, but this person must surely have known before taking his seat that he was going to be coughing constantly. Thus it was not only the noise but also the thoughtless spreading of germs that posed a problem. I have stayed home from events when I have a cough; it's the right thing to do.
Of course cellphones are the major bane of enjoying performances these days. The polite announcements requesting phones be turned off don't seem to be making an impact.
Talking to one's neighbor, even in whispers, is very distracting. Candy wrappers can break the spell of the music in an instant...and the instant is invariably prolonged into agony. Then there are:
the taking of photographs
the eating or drinking of smuggled-in goodies
humming or beating time to the music
flipping thru the Playbill
rummaging thru your purse
wearing too much perfume or cologne
Although these transgressions are maddening in any theatrical setting (even the cinema) it is perhaps the ballet that suffers most as it is such a 'silent' art form. So I was thinking it might be a good idea for Kristin Sloan, NYC Ballet's Director of New Media, to create a very short 'ballet etiquette' film to be shown at the start of every performance. The dancers could be involved and it could be lightly humourous in tone though basically serious in its message.
A few years ago one of the big cinema chains had a contest to see who could develop the best minute-long "movie manners' film clip. Over the weeks leading up to the awarding of the winner's trophy, several of the best entries were shown just before the previews commenced. They were genuinely amusing and did actually seem to have some impact; perhaps when people saw how silly and self-centered they appeared it made them think...just a little.
My favorite moment in these films by far was the shot of a soprano in the helmet and breast-plates of Brunnhilde, singing away grandly to her father Wotan when a cellphone goes off. The culprit answers, and at that moment Brunnhilde hurls her spear into the House, shattering the annoying device. The audience erupts in a wild ovation.
Tuesday February 24, 2009 - This was my one look at the recently-revived Balanchine SWAN LAKE for the Winter season. In the Spring I will see it more often when it's on programmes more to my liking.
Read about the Balanchine setting of SWAN LAKEhere, and of his plan (shortly before his death) to have black swans in the traditionally 'all-white' lakeside scene. If I'm not mistaken, there were a few black swans among the corps the last time the Balanchine SWAN setting was performed, but now they are all black (except Odette, of course) and the effect is rather funereal, accenting the darker passages of the music. The costumes are beautifully executed, by the way.
Maria Kowroski was an elegant, cool Odette with passion simmering just below the surface. Her extension and line of course are fascinating and the subtle inflections of the neck and wrists suggest the swan motif without overdoing it. In a wonderful performance, Philip Neal was a noble partner and danced his solo with clean, precise technique and a gorgeously poetic climax. Above: Maria and Philip in DIAMONDS, a Paul Kolnik photo. It was gratifying to hear the enthusiastic audience response that these two dancers evoked.
Leading the Valse Bluette, Savannah Lowery danced with a nice amplitude while her sister swan Rebecca Krohn in the Pas de Neuf gave a performance that made some of the regulars think we have a very fine future Odette here. She has really stood out this season, notably in the Waltz in TCHAIKOVSKY SUITE #3.
THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER is a pretty trifle, danced tonight with great charm by Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht. In Sean Lavery's touchingly poetic setting of the ROMEO & JULIET balcony scene, Yvonne Borree and Tyler Angle were nothing short of superb both in their dancing and in creating an atmosphere of romantic wonderment underlined with a very subtle touch of foreboding.
I decided to give SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE a try; I saw it once years ago at the Pillow danced by Merrill Ashley. In the Prologue before the rise of the curtain, Adam Hendrickson and Vincent Paradiso gave such appealing portrayals of the great danseur and his hired mobster that I thought I might actually enjoy the ballet. As Adam danced vibrantly back and forth in front of the footlights in a tongue-in-cheek variation, Vincent took his box seat and removed his fedora with which he covered the gun. Nice set-up for the little drama to be played out.
But then the curtain rose on the garish set and corny costumes, the orchestra struck up the dated score, the dancers began pouring their energies into the lacklustre choreography. I decided it was time to leave.
My evening was seriously compromised by an especially unfortunate series of distractions from audience members: a horrible cougher right behind me, a candy wrapper from hell, and a sustained cell-phone obbligato during the sublime Kowroski/Neal adagio. I could have made good use of Vincent's revolver.
When I was working at Tower, some of my colleagues accused me of being a 'size queen'; not anatomically but vocally. They assumed, because I loved Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Fiorenza Cossotto and several other big-voiced divas, that I was only interested in volume. That doesn't explain my interest in such lighter-voiced singers as Reri Grist and Patricia Brooks. But it is true that the visceral thrill of being pinned to your seat by the sheer amplitude of a powerful voice is one of the most satisfying aspects of going to the opera. Dame Gwyneth Jones had the biggest voice I ever heard. Some people of course can never forgive Dame Gwyneth for her wobble, and it did bother me when I heard her on recordings - it bothered me a lot. But then I heard her at the Met and I found that the wobble came and went and that it didn't affect my enjoyment of her performances. Aside from the sheer volume, it was a warm and stupendously feminine sound.
She was always one of the most striking women to grace the opera stage; her silver hair and her extraordinary complexion and most of all her violet-blue eyes gave her a unique appearance.
I came across some magazine photos of Dame Gwyneth that I'd saved and decided to share them. Top to bottom: Senta, Brunnhilde, three Turandots (Dame Eva Turner, Dame Gwyneth & Ghena Dimitrova), Isolde, Elektra.