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Richard Penberthy
New York City Ballet (NYCB)
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New York City Ballet - For Lincoln: Program Six - Apollo, Agon, Symphony in C

by Richard Penberthy
April 28, 2007
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
New York City Ballet (office)
New York State Theater
20 Lincoln Center
New York, NY 10023


Conductor: Faycal Karoui
The New York City Ballet continues celebrating the centennial of Lincoln Kirstein's birth with this program spanning thirty years of George Balanchine's choreography. The program and Guide to the Repertory indicate that Balanchine was 24 years old when Diaghilev's Ballets Russes premiered Apollo (Stravinsky) in 1928, and that he considered it his coming of age, achieving a oneness of tone throughout and less ornament: "…I could dare not to use everything, that I, too, could eliminate." (quoted from the program).

This ballet is performed on a bare stage, with Apollo (characterized here as the god of music) and three muses, Terpsichore, Polyhymnia, and Calliope, all in white. But that has only been the case since 1957; before then, such luminaries as Chanel, Pavel Tchelitchev, and Karinska had their way with sets and costumes. It is impossible to picture that now, with the focus strictly on the dancing and the narrative choreography. Nilas Martins is a commanding presence, in control of and excelling in his solo work, and in command of the muses. He convinces as 'young Apollo, golden-haired," and was made for this role, all muscularity, masculinity, and moodiness.

The tale probably gives classicists heartburn because it rather jumbles the muses' (these are three of nine) inspirational roles. Apollo commands the muses to perform for him. Calliope (Muse of Poetry) is handed a tiny tablet and, danced well and bravely by Rachel Rutherford, declaims; Polyhymnia (Muse of Mime) is handed a mask, and danced by Jennie Somogyi, mugs a bit; Terpsichore (Muse of Dance and Song) has a leg up, after all, and is danced by Maria Kowroski. Whether dancing together or solo, or partnered by Apollo, these dancers gave committed performances, character gestures notwithstanding.

In a further gesture of myth-breaking, Balanchine has the muses assume the role of horses pulling Apollo's chariot, the sun, across the sky. And the final, very beautiful, vision is of a setting sun projected across stage rear, with the dancers' extended legs forming a sunburst silhouette: Apollo, statue-like, in front, left arm raised, first muse leaning into from behind, in demi-arabesque, the next hidden behind her, in 90-degree arabesque, and the third muse hidden, in a fully extended, deep arabesque. Very beautiful, with no winged or sickled feet in the arabesques, so the sunburst is successful.

Agon is a 1957 piece Balanchine choreographed for NYCB, and represents the last of the thirty-year span represented in this evening's selection of ballets. Agon simply means contest, and these three movements showcase the fine work of four couples and an additional four women. The couples are Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans, Teresa Reichlen and Andrew Veyette, Ashley Laracey and Seth Orza, and Savannah Lowery and Amar Ramasar; the corps women are Marika Anderson, Sophie Flack, Dara Johnson, and Gwyeth Muller. All are in plain black and white costumes. The idea of the ballet is to represent 17th Century French court dances, balletically interpreted. Only Part II (of three), names names: for instance, Sarabande, Gailliard, Bransle Simple, Bransle Gay, Bransle Double (de Poitou)…and one Pas de Deux. Whereas the rest of the ballet, Parts I and III, comprise more familiar ballet terms: Pas de Quatre, Double Pas de Quatre, Triple Pas de Quatre, Danse de Quatre Duos, Danse des Quatre Trios, Coda, and so on. No matter – it's all gloriously representative of the finest NYCB dancing.

The curtain rises to the Pas de Quatre in Part I, and four men face away from the audience. They are so very different in build and stature! Stage right is Amar Ramasar with broad, straight shoulders, impressive deltoids, small waist, but he is balanced at stage left by Albert Evans, densely, evenly muscled, and between them are the more classically dancerly physiques of Seth Orza and Andrew Veyette. The magic is that each dancer is superb, alone or in their Pas de Quatre, and that each of them has his perfect partner. Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans in their Pas de Deux in Part II are absolutely luminescent.

Balanchine choreographed Symphony in C, (Georges Bizet's Symphony No. 1 in C Major) for the Paris Opera in 1947, under a different title, Le Palais de Cristal. The next year, he simplified sets and costumes and revived it for and with NYCB. The sets are so simplified now that they're downright gone. Karinska black and white costumes sparkle only minimally and are relatively simple. This is a ballet in four movements, each with its own lead ballerina and danseur, two other couples, and a corps. The four movements are: Allegra Vivo (Ana Sophia Scheller and Jonathan Stafford lead couple), Adagio (Sofiane Sylve and Charles Askegard), Allegro Vivace (Ashley Bouder and Joaquin De Luz), and Allegro Vivace (Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle). This is a large ballet to try to take in – the finale brings back the cast of all the movements, 52 dancers onstage. It is a hopeful thing to see that of the eight couples dancing non-lead roles in the various movements, seven were from the fine-print listing, the corps. They too are superior dancers.

The ballet includes both the classical choreography and the quirky grace of some of Balanchine's inventions. It is a…well, a massive way to end the evening. And, on Saturday, every dancer was spot on, every gesture was intended and committed to before it was made. Lincoln Kirstein would have been pleased.

P.S. Re: my comment about muse misrepresentation in the review. I didn't feel I could get too long winded about the muses in the review. But, Terpsichore was actually the muse of dancing and dramatic chorus (and, later eloquence). Calliope of eloquence (she got there before Terpsichore) and epic poetry. Polyhymnia of sacred poetry and sacred hymnody and eloquence (who knows what order she acquired this assignment) and, later, agriculture and pantomime.
Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans in 'Agon'

Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans in "Agon"

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Ana Sophia Scheller and Jonathan Stafford in 'Symphony in C'

Ana Sophia Scheller and Jonathan Stafford in "Symphony in C"

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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