Monday, February 20, 2012

Don't Hate Ballet Because It's Beautiful

Altro Canto 1. But they didn't bring the candles to the Joyce... Photo by Marie-Laure Briane.
A surfeit of style in dance can be viewed as a sign that there’s a certain lack of thought or seriousness, and therefore little redeeming value. (See Lana del Rey.) Les Ballets de Monte Carlo visited the Joyce Theater last week, its first New York run in many years. At first glance, Karl Lagerfeld’s gold pleather bustiers, jeans, and bubble skirts (worn by both women and men) in Altro Canto 1 (2006) screamed “slick!” But company artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot’s fluid, clever choreography supplied enough invention and appeal to overcome “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” To melodic music by Monteverdi, Marini, and Kapsberger, the mixed pairings and groupings (grounded by Bernice Coppieters) provided texture and dynamics.

The second work on the bill, Opus 40 (2000), contrasted in no small part because of its score, by Meredith Monk. Another big name, artist George Condo, designed the visuals, which included simple multi-hued dresses and a shimmery lighting that reflected on the backdrop, like the sun playing on a lake. Monk’s vocalise set a tone of childlike innocence and whimsy that at times felt forced. That the lead trio happened to be among the most seasoned members of the company buttressed the inconsistent notion that age is mostly a state of mind.

New York City Ballet presented a solid program on February 17. It led off with Balanchine’s Agon (1957), whose crisp, brief scenes—modern interpretations of a French dance manual—are like perfect little dishes that complement one another. Wendy Whelan and Teresa Reichlen brought their respective warmth and coolness, and Adrian Danchig-Waring showed his strength as a Balanchine interpreter. Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free (1944) featured Robert Fairchild, Andrew Veyette, and Daniel Ulbricht. All three can command the stage, but Fairchild does it slyly, Veyette jovially coercing, and Ulbricht by demanding it.

Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 is a confusing mashup where beauty does seem a gloss. The first three parts (done in 1970) are viewed through a washy scrim, conjuring the effect of dirty eyeglasses. In "Elégie," we see the familiar ballet trope that you can have true love unless your mate is lost in a bunch of clones. Sara Mearns, in bare feet and bubble gum pink tulle, rushes about urgently, chased by Ask La Cour. Not Mr. B’s finest, nor are the following two sections ("Valse Mélancolique" and" Scherzo"). 

But in the final section, "Tema con Variazioni" (otherwise known as Themes and Variations, a classic staple choreographed in 1947 and combined into the whole in 1970), the scrim rose; the steps were lucid, crisp, and architectural; and my heart sang. Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz both possess admirably solid technique. De Luz knows just how to temper his natural flair; Fairchild is confident enough to be gaining an electricity that is beginning to match that of her frequent partner.

NYCB's winter season ends this week, which also sees Ballet Arizona at the Joyce, and the spectacle Kings of the Dance at City Center that includes prodigal son David Hallberg.

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