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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
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New York City Ballet: Mother Goose, Episodes, Firebird

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 29, 2006
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

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New York City Ballet: Mother Goose, Episodes, Firebird

New York City Ballet

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children's Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Andrea Quinn
Managing Director, Robert Daniels
Associate Director, Communications, Siobhan Burns
Press Coordinator, Joe Guttridge

New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
(See Other NYC Ballet Reviews)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 29, 2006


Mother Goose (Fairy Tales for Dancers, 1975): Music and Scenario by Maurice Ravel, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Costumes by Stanley Simmons, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Conductor: Andrea Quinn, Performed by The Company. This ballet premiered in 1912 with Ravel's score for "Ma Mère L'Oye" (Mother Goose). Ravel detailed scenes for Sleeping Beauty to dream about other fairy tales, all conceived by Perrault. (NYCB Notes).

A stage backdrop of young corps "actor-dancers" represented casually rehearsing Sleeping Beauty characters, as well as Cupid, Green Serpent, Blackamoors, Pagodines, Courier, Hop o' My Thumb, Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas, and Beauty and the Beast, plus a "Dream Box" holder and a couple of Fairies. These youthful City Ballet dancers presented a fairy tale for adults, a surreal take on Sleeping Beauty.

(I say adults, because, quite inappropriately, there was a bevy of toddlers (yes, toddlers and pre-schoolers) seated in the orchestra in prime seats, squirming and screaming, at times, all dressed up for Lincoln Center. Some even arrived and left in strollers. With Mother Goose and Firebird on the matinee program, misguided parents assumed this was a kids' ballet day. Did they notice the inclusion of Episodes to von Webern? Regardless, not one of the ballets was suitable in its entirety for young children in a large, formal setting, and the quieter moments elicited dreadful distractions from the focus on dance).

The Mother Goose score, by Ravel, is sumptuous and playful, each passage important to the action, character, and mood. This is not the familiar Tschaikovsky score, nor is there the renowned Princess Florine's en pointe dance with several prospective suitors. This score enhances the surrealness and dream-like quality of the thematic threads. As the Castle sleeps from the Good Fairy's spell, the other tales unfold in front of Princess Florine, dreaming in her little white bed. The Dream Box generates pirate-like feathered hats, a snake, who once was a handsome man, children leaving crumbs in the forest, Chinese lanterns on sticks, and the transformation of beast to man, thanks to the gift of love.

I wondered if Jerome Robbins borrowed from Alvin Ailey in the wedding scene, with long poles held high, swirling white chiffonny circles, after the use of horizontal blue fabric was extended en air for rushing water. Tiler Peck was a poised Princess Florine, Gwyneth Muller, an enchanting Good Fairy, William Lin-Yee, a devious Bad Fairy, and Andrew Veyette a charming Beast to Kristin Sloan's ingénue Beauty. Andrea Quinn kept the tempo and theme together nicely.

Episodes (1959): (See May 7, 2004 Review). Music from the orchestral works of Anton von Webern, Choreography by George Balanchine, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Maurice Kaplow, Performed by Abi Stafford, Philip Neal, Teresa Reichlen, Jason Fowler, Jennie Somogyi, Sebastien Marcovici, Darci Kistler, Charles Askegard, and the Company. Balanchine was enthusiastic about Webern's music, which he felt left "the mind free to ÃŽsee' the dancing". Martha Graham originally choreographed for Balanchine "Episodes I", danced by her Company and four NYCB dancers, but this section has not been presented since 1960. (NYCB Notes).

This abstract work is signature Balanchine, with upswept arms and ethereal beauty of ensemble friezes. The Von Webern score is austere and severe, and the women's black leotards with flesh tights and men's white/black motif all enhance the sophisticated choreography. Abi Stafford was perfectly cast with Philip Neal in their Symphony, Opus 21 pas de deux. Teresa Reichlen and Jason Fowler's Five Pieces, Opus 10 added a striking change in mood and lighting, in sensual, self-absorbed spotlights, especially with Ms. Reichlen's all-white leotards and Mr. Fowler's all in black. Their timing and partnering were to the second of the faintest of sounds.

Jennie Somogyi and Sébastien Marcovici's Concerto, Opus 24 was mesmerizing, and these partners, with Ms. Somogyi happily back dancing this season, should be paired often for physicality and connection. Darci Kistler and Charles Askegard's Ricercata in six voices from Bach's "Musical Offering" were always the pros that they are, and Ms. Kistler was a scintillating star, angular and glowing. Maurice Kaplow conducted the poignant, percussive passages with their tiny, exotic effects with ease. Kudos to Ronald Bates and Mark Stanley for their fascinating lighting concepts.

Firebird (1949): (See June 15, 2004 Review). Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, Scenery and costumes designed by Marc Chagall (1945), Scenery executed by Volodia Odinokov, Costumes executed by Karinska, Firebird costume supervised by Dain Marcus, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Guest Conductor: Clotilde Otranto, Performed by Sofiane Sylve as Firebird, Charles Askegard as Prince Ivan, Henry Seth as Kastchei the Wizard, Rachel Rutherford as Prince's Bride, and the Company as Maidens, Youths, and Subjects. Balanchine's Firebird was one of his earliest creations for NYC Ballet that used such elaborate costumes and sets. Russian folklore is integrated in this ballet. Balanchine used Stravinsky's orchestral suite instead of the three-act score. In 1970, Chagall came to NYC to supervise the new costumes and sets for a new production, and Robbins contributed some new choreography. This new production was staged in 1985. (NYCB Notes).
The plot centers on Prince Ivan, who captures a Firebird in the woods. When she begs for freedom, and her wish is granted, he receives a magic plume. Kastchei, the wizard, has enchanted a Princess and the maidens, but Prince Ivan rescues them all and marries the Princess. (NYCB Notes).

This third surreal work on today's eclectic, matinee program was, for me, the highlight, as Sofiane Sylve's style and skill are so well suited to the evocation of this red bird with undulating arms and difficult choreography. This second Robbins work today is far more interesting and captivating than the first. It has seemingly "hundreds" of creatures, like roosters, monsters, horses, and more, scampering or huddling for eerie effect. Charles Askegard, as Prince Ivan, was rapturous and attentive, as always. This is no rambunctious dancer, as he prefers the elegant, Princely pose. Henry Seth, as Kastchei the Wizard, is the theatrical dancer par excellence, and, at this monster moment alone, there were enough costumed creatures for all the children to see.

Of course, all moments morph, in ballet, and the monster moment morphed to the wedding scene, where the ever-elegant, Rachel Rutherford, first in long white, then long red, was finally the bride in a festive scene. She hosted young cherubs, assuredly from School of American Ballet, who dashed to and fro with cake and candles for the courtly crowd, the corps in full ornamentation and regal attire. But, this ballet belonged to Sofiane Sylve, with her wide leaps, intense attitude, and some of the most creative choreographic flourishes ever seen. This ballet also belonged to Marc Chagall, whose massive, color-hued backdrops were hand-painted with a quintessential firebird, ladder, castle, moon, forest, a bride, a bouquet, and everything else Chagall. Kudos to Clotilde Otranto, Guest Conductor, whose sprightly image and mastery of the Stravinsky score so captivated the audience.

New York City Ballet's Sofiane Sylve and Charles Askegard in Firebird
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet's Sofiane Sylve in Firebird
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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