NEW YORK CITY BALLET ‘MOVES’ INTO LAS VEGAS
By: Hal de Becker
In a program titled “Moves”, co-presented by The Smith Center and Nevada Ballet Theatre, a 19 member troupe of dancers from New York City Ballet (NYCB) treated the opening night audience to a taste of the renowned 90 member company co-founded in 1948 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein.
In the first of its two performances (the one I attended) the troupe presented five contemporary works created during the past half century by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Ulysses Dove, Justin Peck and Peter Martins.
George Balanchine’s “Duo Concertant” to a Stravinsky score for piano and violin had an assurance and artistic maturity that no other work on the program came close to.It was openly accessible and had the qualities of innocence and creative spontaneity found only in the very best works of art.
It opened with violinist Arturo Delmoni and pianist Cameron Grant placed downstage and to the side, giving the dancers, Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild, the center area in which to perform. Music and dance alternated equally and when the dancers finished a section they stood behind the piano while the musicians performed alone.
The ballet radiated an honesty that rejected any awkward looking movements or forced effects. In the graceful brio of its allegro combinations each step seemed to have been born at the same moment as the music.
The ballet approached its conclusion with the stage blacked out except for a spot light on Ms. Hyltin’s face. The spot expanded and out of the darkness the couple’s hands were seen first, touching, as their bodies were slowly illuminated.
If some other works on the program might be compared to an exotic cocktail, ‘Duo Concertant’ was an invigorating glass of pristine, crystal clear water.
Four of Frederic Chopin’s poetic piano “Nocturnes, beautifully performed from the pit by Nancy McDill, provided the inspiration for Jerome Robbins’ ballet, “In the Night”.
It was lyrically though too uniformly danced by three couples against a star studded backdrop upon which a projection of chandeliers suggested a 19th century ballroom.
Each couple entered alone to dance duets and solos. Later, they all danced together with similar lifts and arm movements echoing each other and adding to the romantic quality of the piece.
But the only dance possessing a sense of human drama was a passionate and superbly performed duet depicting a couple engaged in a heated lovers’ quarrel.
The choreographer didn’t resort to the typical gesticulations and actions one might expect to see in such a situation but seemed rather to reveal the couple’s inner turmoil and confusion.
Among the touching and insightful passages was one reflecting the lovers’ ambivalence as the man strode off stage alone but soon returned for a short-lived reconciliation only to have it followed by the woman’s departure -- and her subsequent return.
Near the end of their dance they faced each other and in an almost groveling manner she sank to her knees, laid her head on the stage and extended her hands to his feet, palms up.It was a demeaning servile finish to an otherwise compelling dance.
The ballet continued with more dances and towards its end the three men moved to center stage to acknowledge each other with a nod.The ladies did the same with a slight curtsy and then, in their partner’s arms, resumed dancing to the ballet’s conclusion.
The late Ulysses Dove was adept at creating works combining pure classical ballet steps with vigorous contemporary gyrations and inter-twined bodies.He also possessed a keen sense of what music best served his choreographic ideas.
The music for his dynamic “Red Angels” was composed by Richard Einhorn for electric violin and received a dazzling performance by Mary Rowell.With the four dancers in red body-leotards and the stage bathed in red light, plus a red slash down the middle of the black backdrop, the dance couldn’t help but sizzle – and it did.
“In-Creases” was choreographed for four couples by NYCB dancer Justin Peck to a rhythmic, syncopated score by Philip Glass.The dance was accompanied onstage by pianists Elaine Chelton and Alan Moverman.
The choreography was bright and amusing with the dancers often hugging the ground in demi plié (knees bent) as though in preparation for a leap that didn’t follow. It approached its finish with a series of widely spaced chords each sounding like the music had ended, causing the dancers to keep responding with one humorous robotic movement after another.
The men’s white tights and long sleeved tee shirts resembled pajamas and with black sox and slippers were not flattering, but probably part of the fun.
It was a cute number with a cute title but it didn’t make a lasting impression.
Up to now it had been a well danced, entertaining evening of ballet but one pervaded by a sense of sameness. There had not been much individuality from the dancers and the program seemed weighted down with multiple duets and small ensembles.
But with the finale’s “A Fool For You”, which for the first time utilized the full cast, vivid colorful costumes and the brilliant dancing of Daniel Ulbricht, the ‘sameness’ cycle was broken.
It was choreographed by NYCB’s director Peter Martins -- who incidentally attended the performance -- to ten songs recorded by Ray Charles.
With lots of strutting and arms and hips swinging from side to side it often captured the mood of 1950’s and 60’s R & B upon which Mr. Charles had a major influence. It was youthful and carefree but overlong and, towards the end, repetitious.
The most genuinely exciting dancing of the entire evening came from Daniel Ulbricht in the songs “It Should’ve Been Me” and “Mess Around”. The audience went wild in response to his astounding elevation and turns including multiple pirouettes while sinking to the floor on one leg and rising up again, as well as to his exuberance and engaging personality.
The ballet ended with lots of smiling and foot tapping from the delighted audience.
The Smith Center hosts the Shen Yun Dance Company March 15, 16, 17; the hilarious Les Ballets Trockadero April 23; and Nevada Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet” May 11 and 12. Ticket info at 702-249-2000.