David Koch Theatre, New York, NY; October 3 and 12(m), 2013

Jerry Hochman

“Soiree Musicale”, “Spectral Evidence”, “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement”

Sterling Hyltin and Tyler Angle in "Namouna, A Grand Divertissement" Photo © Paul Kolnik

Sterling Hyltin and Tyler Angle in “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement”
Photo © Paul Kolnik

I reviewed “Soiree Musicale,” following its company debut at last Spring’s Gala. It still looks like a workshop piece (it was initially choreographed in 1998 as a workshop presentation for the School of American Ballet, NYCB’s affiliated school), and I continue to see it as more pleasurable than memorable. But any opportunity to see NYCB’s young dancers in featured roles is worth seizing. The cast was the same as last Spring except that Zachary Catazaro, in a role debut, replaced the injured Chase Finlay. While Mr. Catazaro’s initial effort was fine, there were understandable timing issues that affected his overall performance.  At yesterday afternoon’s performance, however, those issues faded, and his performance was very well done, and Mr. Catazaro has a tall, dark, ‘matinee idol’ appearance that commands attention.  Indeed, at yesterday’s performance the entire cast shined, including Lauren Lovette, who, with Mr. Catazaro, danced the piece’s central pas de deux to perfection, and Brittany Pollack as a pseudo sophisticated lady leading a brigade of male admirers.   Sara Adams, Kristen Segin, Indiana Woodward, Harrison Ball, Taylor Stanley, Ralph Ippolito and Peter Walker also sparkled in featured roles.

“Spectral Evidence,” Angelin Preljocaj’s take on the Salem Witch Trials, premiered at the company’s Fall, 2013 Gala. I reviewed it two weeks ago, and subsequent viewings have changed my opinion, but only to a limited extent. I now see the piece’s pas de deux with Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild to be more detailed and compelling than I did before, and recognize that Mr. Fairchild’s subsequent solo is brilliantly performed. I still think the choreography for this solo, with the accompanying eerie vocalization, is overbaked (the score consists of grabs from several works by John Cage). However, the juxtaposition of the pas de deux and the solo serves to emphasize the connection Preljocaj makes between the sensuality of the ‘possessed’ girls, and the torment of the clergymen seduced both by the girls and by their theological message. The piece is too long and suffers from avoidable excess, but “Spectral Evidence” is a stunning visual concept and theatrical ballet that should be seen.  [But for future performances, program notes would assist an audience that has no clue what this ballet is about.]   The cast was the same as in the premiere performance, except that Mr. Stanley replaced Mr. Finlay as one of the clergymen. Mr. Stanley’s natural intensity is a perfect fit.

The final ballet on this program was the most eagerly awaited – the return to the repertory of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement” after an absence of several years.

When I reviewed the piece following its premiere at the Spring, 2010 Gala, I found it pointless; a ballet that looked good but was indecipherable, a potpourri of clichés in search of a purpose. I now see Mr. Ratmansky’s choreographic motivation more clearly, but doing so doesn’t change my opinion.

‘Namouna’ was a full-length ballet choreographed by Lucien Petipa (Marius’s brother) to a score by Edouard Lalo that premiered at the Paris Opera in 1882. The ballet told the story of Lord Adriani, who loses his favorite slave-girl in a bet, and spends the next few hours – or however long the ballet took – to search for and find her. None of that story is present in Mr. Ratmansky’s creation (although at times there’s a typically Romantic ‘search’ for a lost love). Rather, Mr. Ratmansky’s intent is not to present the story en toto, but to isolate a series of dances, a ‘grand divertissement’ that might have comprised the final act of the original M. Petipa production – except these dances are updated with an abstract and somewhat irreverent vision, and are presented as a standalone ballet. The fact that each ‘scene’ may be only tangentially related to another is intentional: They’re supposed to be relatively independent dances, tied to the missing core story by a concluding ‘unity dance’. Imagine a complete ballet consisting of a kinky reimagining of the final act of “The Sleeping Beauty” (or “Coppelia”). Instead of one dance in a series of divertissement that is part of a celebration, the celebration being the culmination of the core story, here one strange-looking dance is part of a series of strange-looking divertissement, all of which are lopped off some unknown core story. And just as the last dance in Romantic ballets featured the union of the lead characters, “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement” concludes with the union of the lead characters, blessed by a Puck-like faun assuming the role of the Lilac Fairy.

It’s certainly a unique, interesting looking ballet, but what makes it interesting is that it’s strange. It’s all choreographic glitz that looks like a collection of staged production numbers culled from depression-era movie musicals. There is an introductory promenade of women with hair helmets that make each of them resemble Louise Brooks, followed by dancers wearing short, pale, and very plastered-looking locks that make them look like moving statuary – or that that they all forgot to remove their white shower caps after leaving the bath, Hollywood pool, or swan lake.  In the course of the various divertissement, the choreography alternates dizzying rapid-fire movement with intricate corps patterns with wonderful character dances with comic vignettes with quirky scenes that make no thematic sense (Bacall exhaling cigarette smoke at Bogart?). Through it all, Mr. Ratmansky mines one Romantic ballet source after another. It’s Petipa (Marius) reimagined by Busby Berkley.

Sterling Hyltin, in a role debut on the 3rd, was more crystalline in her execution, and more sympathetic as a ‘slave-girl’, than I recall from the original cast. [That character title is mine, based on the story; none of the roles is identified in the ballet.] In her performance in the same role on the 12th (her debut was the preceding evening), Rebecca Krohn, while not as technically refined as Ms. Hyltin, added an air of vulnerability which helped distinguish her character from the other two featured ballerinas (besides that her character, unlike the other featured ballerinas, dances in a pure white tutu).  Sara Mearns was spectacular in reprising her role as one of the other lead ballerinas, and Ashley Bouder, in a role debut (replacing Jenifer Ringer) as the other featured ballerina, was a fabulous smoke-blowing Bacall-esque tease.  Tyler Angle, whom I had not seen previously in the lead male role, danced with his usual elan on the 3rd, but lacked the charisma that Robert Fairchild lent to the original cast (and repeated on the 12th).  At both performances, Daniel Ulbricht was outstanding as the peripatetic Puck-like faun.