Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Sunday, October 19, 2014
The program that Wendy chose displayed her shrewdness and intelligence. It carefully highlighted what she could still do -- in particular, use her remarkable body as a sculptural instrument to carve positions in the air. In La Sonnambula her tiny, wispy frame still looked as ghostly as ever, her large eyes spooky and soulless. Robert Fairchild, Sara Mearns, and Daniel Ulbricht, all stars in their own right, tacitly toned down their usual high-energy performances so the spotlight was on Wendy.
The second chunk of the programming was perhaps the best. Excerpts from Dances at a Gathering that ended with that always crowdpleasing move of the peach girl (Wendy) being thrown and twisted in the air (and Zachary Catazaro making a great catch). The adagio from Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH was maybe THE highlight of the evening. Tyler Angle partnered Wendy as if she were a goddess, and the choreography showed off the tender, lyrical side of Wendy's dancing that was often forgotten when she was in her prime, as people considered her to be that kickass B&W ballet queen who could contort her body into any shape she wanted. And finally, there was the inevitable After the Rain pas de deux with Craig Hall. For 10 minutes, the audience was pindrop silent as Arvo Pärt's beautiful scored played in the background and Wendy and Craig carved themselves into the by-now very familiar shapes of Wheeldon's signature work.
Now, here's the thing. After the Rain has become such a Wendy calling card that the NYCB has programmed this piece to death since its premiere. Is it a great piece of choreography? Well, as my friend pointed out during intermission ... not exactly? It's effective, and the acrobatic poses are striking, but Wendy made it into a repertory staple. I can't picture other ballerinas being able to move through those poses with such slow control, and displaying such strength even as she fell into Craig Hall's chest repeatedly. One wonderful thing about Wendy: she could make pieces better than they actually were just by being her.
In between the works in the second part of the program there were two brief films of Wendy. Both showed her earthy fun sense of humor. They also showed beautiful clips of her earlier days. I'll always remember Wendy as that unbeatably flexible girl in the Agon pas de deux who could also be a beautiful Sugarplum Fairy (her shoulder jumps were always awe-inspiring). If there was a role Wendy was outright bad in, I can't remember it.
The final piece on the program was a little oddity. A joint effort by Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky, called By 2 With & From, the score was a Max Richter adaptation of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The choreography was basically a tribute to Wendy -- Tyler Angle and Craig Hall took turns partnering Wendy in moments that were alternately solemn (the Wheeldon half) and more offbeat and fun (the Ratmansky half). The final pose was Wendy being held aloft in the air, her back arched proudly for the last time.
And then it was time for the floral tributes, the cheering, the bows, the confetti, the streamers. But maybe the most touching tribute from Wendy came from a security guard who had checked my bags when I first picked up the tickets earlier that evening. "Wendy could do anything," he said. "And she is a nice girl." I murmured something about them all being nice, and he said, "No, but she was NICE." So many people turned up for Wendy Whelan's farewell not simply because they admired her. She was loved.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
The opening night Macbeth was surprisingly sparsely attended but strong word of mouth quickly made subsequent shows sold out. Last night I decided to catch the second-to-last performance of Macbeth -- all the way up in the Family Circle, standing room.
First things first -- it's a cliché that sound is best in the Family Circle, but a very true one at that. Only in the upper rings of the Met do you get the full voice/orchestra balance, so the textures and nuances of orchestration that are missed in the lower rungs ring loud and clear from the upper rings. I heard details of Verdi's score that I never could have heard sitting in a prime orchestra seat.
Second of all, the Adrian Noble production from 2007 looks amazing from so far away. From up close you can see the tackiness -- the oddly dressed, squatting witches, the never-ending business with the chairs (most distracting in the Sleepwalking Scene), the costumes that look for lack of a better word, well, cheap. But from so far away, the dark lighting and shadowy costumes made the whole thing look ghostly and atmospheric. The production really needs to be seen from far away.
I thought it was obvious that compared to opening night, Lucic (Macbeth), René Pape (Banquo), and Joseph Calleja (Macduff) all sounded slightly tired. Lucic in particular appeared to be doing a sort of early-Verdi-meets-Bayreuth-bark thing. His voice, which can turn wooly and clouded under pressure, brayed and was often beneath the pitch. Only during "Fuggi regal fantasma" was there a hint of the legato and cantabile line that's so important in early Verdi. Luisi's treatment of the score again tries to erase the sometimes crudely written Verdi melodies. It makes the music sound more important, but perhaps less exciting.
Anna Netrebko, however, seemed completely freed from any pressure to be note-perfect for the HD, and instead she did some wonderful vocal experimentation. It's odd what she apparently thought needed improvement, vs. what I thought needed improvement. For instance, on opening night, I thought her opening aria "Vienni t'affreta" was a bit rough and imprecise. Last night the bumpiness was still there, and there were still missing grace notes and trills. I also thought that the Act Three duet with Macbeth on opening night was marred by awkward blocking and a weak climactic high C -- well it was even weaker last night. The C was barely touched as she pulled Lucic into a rather awkward tight round of horizontal mambo.
However, the changes she did make were all improvements. For instance, "La luce langue" was even more expressive than opening night -- less of a sledgehammer approach, more introverted and sung as an internal dialogue. Maybe the greatest improvement was during the Brindisi -- opening night I remembered her sounding somewhat insouciant throughout. Tonight, during the second verse her voice had a cold rattle, as if she were gritting her teeth and shaking with rage at her husband. She also managed two full-throated trills that in context sounded like her exerting her control over the situation in the most kick-ass way.
And the Sleepwalking Scene -- opening night I thought she was note-perfect, but she seemed determined to get through the scene without any vocal bumps, so the portrayal was very introverted. The fussy business with having her walk on chairs didn't help. Tonight, she added much more fanciful "traditional" mad scene effects -- some ritards here and there to emphasize Lady Macbeth's confusion, a lot more conventional "mad scene" acting. She colored her voice differently -- gone was the sheet of ice in the opening night. Her voice sounded more disconnected, almost kooky. She also took the final D-flat as a thin whisper, a vocal effect that so many sopranos try without much success.
Interpretively she's also added a lot since opening night. Now Anna's Lady Macbeth is even tougher, if that's even possible -- at one point she literally gives her swift husband a kick in the rear. I doubt Lady Macbeth is a role Anna is going to sing much in the future -- sometimes I could hear that despite her large voice and astonishing range, she was pushing her voice to the maximum. So I'm just glad that I caught 2 of these performances, so I saw both her initial thoughts on the role, and her final thoughts.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
In less than two weeks, Wendy Whelan will retire from the New York City Ballet. It's definitely the Dance Event of the year. Tickets were notoriously hard to get -- I snagged two fourth ring tickets for $94 -- a minute later the whole show was sold out. The farewell will be a busy, emotional event, and I'm sure not many people will really remember the dancing. For that reason I bought a ticket to see Wendy this afternoon in La Sonnambula. I wanted to see her just dance a regular performance.
Friday, October 3, 2014
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
The NYCB fall season. It only started a few years ago, but now I can't imagine life without it, and it's become maybe my favorite NYCB season. The dancers are fresh and rested from a summer off, the programming is usually full of Balanchine classics, and the weather's nice so you don't have to trudge home from the ballet in snow boots.
The 9/27 evening performance at the NYCB was a severe all Stravinsky, all B&W program: Apollo, Momentum Pro Gesualdo/Movements for Piano and Orchestra, Duo Concertant, and Agon. It's a testament to Balanchine's genius that not once did I think, "Wow, this is too many leotards against too much Stravinsky dissonance."
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Sunday, July 27, 2014
There are so many ridiculous moments in Yuri Grigorovich's Spartacus that by rights, I should have hated it completely. The choreography for Spartacus and the slaves consists almost entirely of marching (the "goosestep"), leaping on a diagonal, chest-beating and sword-fighting. The choreography for Phyrgia consists entirely of being lifted like a sack of potatoes. The only remotely interesting choreography is for Crassus and Aegina. Crassus brandishes his penis extension (uh, I mean sword) in some truly convoluted ways, and Aegina is asked to shimmy, to lie on the floor and thrust her hips upwards, and then in Act Three, to do a pole dance in which she actually takes the pole and rubs it between her legs and shivers from the orgasm. The score by Aram Khachaturian takes a melody, and then repeats it about 10,000 times more.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Don Quixote has long been considered the Bolshoi Ballet's house special and touring warhorse. Wherever they go, audiences go crazy over the Bolshoi's boisterous, happy, busy depiction of a Spanish fairyland. The curtain rose tonight at the Koch Theater and the effect was the same -- the audience was bombarded with sashaying skirts, rustling maracas, banging tambourines, swaying fans, swinging capes, and the happy reaction said "Ah, so fun."
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
There's a saying in ballet that says "Put Swan Lake on the billboard, and they will come." This certainly seemed the case tonight as the Bolshoi Ballet has kicked off its two week stay at the Koch Theater with a week a Swan Lakes. Well ... I think many of the audience were shocked, to say the least, that in the Bolshoi/Grigorovich version, there's no swan and no lake. In fact, audience reaction was muted, and it made for some awkward moments when the audience was dead silent and the dancers decided to come out for another bow.