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Friday, April 29, 2016

Spring Season Diaries, part one: shiny Jewelry

The incomparable Tall Girl of Teresa Reichlen, photo @Andrea Mohin

Spring Season is so hectic that it's easier simply to keep shorter diaries of things you saw. So the first two weeks of spring season I saw three ballets at NYCB. Here are my brief thoughts:

April 19, 2016 - New York City Ballet's Spring Season kicked off on April 19 with a performance of Jewels that was packed to the rafters even in the fourth ring (unusual on a weeknight). It was not the best NYCB could offer as Jewels.

Emeralds was the biggest mess -- Amar Ramasar is completely miscast in the lead cavalier role and this ballet brings out the least in Tiler Peck. She's good, but you can always see her working too hard to achieve a resemblance of a dreamy reverie. Rebecca Krohn in the second solo part gave one of her usual low impact, bland performances. Rubies was much better. Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia didn't have the spiky edge that this ballet calls for but they did have the flirtatiousness and playfulness down pat. Teresa Reichlen reprised her unparalleled Tall Girl portrayal in Rubies. The cool, remote authority she exudes (as well as the mile-long legs and nonchalance) make this a modern day classic portrayal. She has so much strength -- she did all those unsupported developées and penchées without any strain. When she exited the stage with one last unsupported arabesque penchée the audience clapped loudly. Then Diamonds. I've now seen Sara Mearns in Diamonds several times and she looks more miscast each time. At this point in her career she's simply not classical enough to pull this off. Her arms get sloppier every day. She has a habit of pushing through the music and punching out the steps that takes away from the reverie of the pas de deux. In the Scherzo section she failed to play with the music, but again muscled gracelessly through the steps. Tyler Angle was her attentive partner.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Miami City Ballet Paints the Town Red

Serenade by the MCB, photo @ Andrea Mohin

When out of town ballet companies that are not The Royal Ballet/Mariinsky/Bolshoi/Paris Opera Ballet tour NYC, the formula is often depressingly predictable. They book for a few performances at the Joyce/City Center/Theatre Formerly Known as State Theatre, they bring some modern works along with some Balanchine, they try their best, and the reaction of the NY audience is polite but distant. This makes the Miami City Ballet's tour to NYC this week all the more remarkable. They got the snotty "I saw SUZANNE do this" audience to stand up, scream, cheer. They not only exceeded expectations, they smashed them into smithereens. Miami City Ballet came to the Big Apple and painted the town red.

How did they do this? Simple. They picked ballets that highlighted their strengths and hid any weaknesses. The first thing you notice about the dancers is their incredible vigor. There are no "alabaster princesses" (as Mr. B called his muses) among the dancers -- almost all of them are like Energizer Bunny rabbits. The second thing you notice is that this is a company that embraces diversity. There aren't rows of corps girls who are alike in shape, build, and appearance. There is a great variety in height, body type, and yes, skin color. Rather than try to squeeze the dancers into a specific mold, it seems as if at MCB the differences are embraced. You have tiny little dynamo  Nathalia Artha burning up the stage side by side with stately veteran Jennifer Kronenberg. It's clear though that despite the diversity this company dances with a similar spirit and purpose, and sometimes that is just as effective as having a row of girls where every finger is held at the exact same angle.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Elektra - Game of Thrones

Meier and Stemme in Chereau's Elektra, photo @Marty Sohl

My favorite TV series now that Mad Men is over is Game of Thrones. I've followed the sex and gore in Westeros since the first season and have also read all of George R,R. Martin's books. One of the greatest things about Game of Thrones is the character of Cersei. Cersei is the series' great villainess. She's pure evil. It would take too long to list all of Cersei's depraved machinations and deeds. But one of the fascinating aspects of Cersei is that all of her actions are understandable, and even sympathetic. In her own mind, she's doing the right thing, and when we watch her, we find ourselves agreeing.

Last night the Met premiered Patrice Chéreau's intelligent and insightful production of Richard Strauss's Elektra and I thought about how everyone in Elektra (at least as directed by Chéreau) is like Cersei -- a monster who happens to be 100% right. Chéreau died before he could personally direct this production (it premiered in Aix in 2013) but Chéreau's DNA was all over the evening. This production took away the campy sensationalism that Elektra can sometimes become and really brought the Greek tragedy back into the opera.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pennsylvania Ballet - Contemporary Ballet Done Right

Adrian Molina Soca and Lillain di Piazza in Grace Action
It was almost on a whim that I decided to check out Pennsylvania Ballet's program of contemporary pieces at the Joyce Theatre. PA Ballet has received a lot of buzz since the appointment of beloved ABT principal Angel Corella as Artistic Director. Corella immediately put his stamp on the company -- he fired longtime staff and has shuffled the roster. The Joyce Theatre brochure had a "letter" from Corella in which he tellingly talks about how the company just finished performing "my new Don Quixote." This is HIS company now.

The program he brought to NYC are all recent pieces -- the oldest (Matthew Neenan's Keep) premiered in 2009. And they're all what I would call pop ballet. They're not masterpieces, nor do they intend to be. And I must say, they chose three pop ballets that, unlike a lot of contemporary ballet pieces, were refreshingly watchable and fun. There was no screeching dissonant music, no agonizing ennui and angst, and best of all, the pieces were SHORT! The whole program was like eating a bag of potato chips and ice cream -- empty calories to be sure, but enjoyable.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Roberto Devereux - God Save (???) the Queen

Roberto Devereux, photo by Ken Howard

Last night I saw Sondra Radvanovsky complete her "Three Queens" trilogy with a performance of Roberto Devereux, commonly thought to be the most difficult role in the trilogy. Overall I thought it was the most impressive of her portrayals, although as with all things Sondra she was consistently inconsistent.