Posts Tagged ‘Peter Martins’

Dance as a Luxury Product: the Post 9/11 Environment

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

By Rachel Straus

The Slovak National Dance Congress 2014 recently asked me to speak about the state of New York City dance. Since I’ve been living in New York City on and off since 1979, I decided to take up the challenge. In the following slides (which have been converted into a movie), I tease out the changes that have occurred for New York City concert dancers following 9/11 and then more recently in the wake of the financial crisis. What I found most striking (and dismaying) in my research was that the U.S. capital of Terpsichore is increasingly recognizing dancers and dance organizations not as artists and arts groups—the obvious—but as brands for luxury consumption. Because this project was made for a European audience, the monetary valuation is in Euros. Note: The embedded movie requires you to use the pause and play icons in order to read the full text. To see the work, click below.


NYC Dance as Luxury Product






The Seven Deadly Sins at City Ballet

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

By Rachel Straus

New York City Ballet’s new staging of  “The Seven Deadly Sins,” which had its premiere at the company’s spring gala on May 11,  puts Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s dark, sinister “ballet chanté” of 1933 into a new context: a tinsel-town soundstage, complete with unison hoofers in the grand finale. Choreographer Lynn Taylor-Corbett, whose credits include Broadway’s “Swing,” has essentially created a Cliff Notes version of this irony-laced yarn, dragging  principal dancer Wendy Whelan and guest artist Patti Lapone through seven shallow scenes of human transgression and stripping the work of its brooding soul.

In the original 1933 production, choreographed by George Balanchine for Les Ballets 1933, singer Lotte Lenya and dancer Tilly Losch were presented as Anna I and II, yin yang composites of the same woman. The fact that Lenya and Losch bore a striking resemblance to each other, and were about the same age, probably helped Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht’s scenario. It concerns the Annas experiencing seven American cities, encountering seven “deadly” sins, and struggling with each other’s opposite personalities.

When Balanchine revived the work in 1958, he cast the 21-year-old Allegra Kent across from the significantly older Lenya. New York Times dance critic John Martin dubbed the production  “a stunning revival of a minor masterpiece.” But not all critics concurred, though the vision of Kent carried aloft on a human-size plate wearing just lingerie lingered in the mind, says dance writer Deborah Jowitt.

Balanchine was never afraid of being naughty. He also wasn’t afraid of “Seven Deadly” dissapearing after its run. No one filmed the performance. This may say more about what Balanchine thought of his “minor masterpiece” than City Ballet’s capacity to film performances in the 1950s. But this point is conjecture.

Now flash forward 60 years. At a City Ballet studio event, Lynn Taylor-Corbett suggests to Peter Martins that she make a reintepreted revival of “Seven Deadly Sins.” With a penchant for commercially-driven projects, Martins agrees to the venture and to Taylor-Corbett’s casting of the matronly-looking Patty Lapone, who sings like a battle ax, and the bone-thin Wendy Whelan, who dances like a steely wraith. The hope was that the project would bring in new audiences (read Broadway ticket holders). At the gala, I did see Matthew Broderick arm and arm with his wife Sarah Jessica Parker.

Unfortunately, on stage Whelan and Lapone never formed a convincing relationship, twin-like, sisterly, or otherwise. Lapone mostly stood on the sidelines, serving as singing narrator. Whelan danced Taylor-Corbett’s forgettable choreography, becoming a pawn rather than a protagonist in the rapidly unfolding events.

The greatest interest in Taylor-Corbett’s ballet was Beowulf Boritt’s sets of seven cities. In Memphis, where the sin is “Pride,” Whelan flitted about in imitation of Isadora Duncan during an audition for a sleeze-style cabaret. The black and red décor said bordello, as did the lighting by Jason Kantrowitz. In San Francisco, where the sin was “Envy,” Boritt’s backdrop of quaint Victorian row houses against a boundless blue sky was enviable. In Baltimore, where the sin was “Greed,” Boritt created a salon, channelling both Phillipe Starck’s overblown modernism and the Belle Epoque’s love of patterns. From two gargantuan black and white striped, tasseled love seats, Anna’s overfed suitors embarked on a mutually fatal duel.

As for Taylor-Corbett’s choreography, it lacked movement invention or good movement imitation. In Boston, where the sin was “Lust,” Whelan and Craig Hall peformed a romantic pas de deux.  Muscular and in a wife beater, Hall looked like Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s film version of “Street Car Named Desire.” He lifted Whelan aloft in shapes and transitions that looked exactly like moments in Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain”—which Whelan and Hall perform frequently.

Following the performance, this reviewer read the Brecht text, which was translated into English by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman. What crystalized from the text, but not from Taylor-Corbett’s production, is that the production hinges on demonstrating the conflict between the Annas: Anna I wants money and power; Anna II wants love and a creative outlet. Also, Anna II allows Anna I to push her around. But only in the last scene of Taylor-Corbett’s work is their conflict delivered without a doubt and Anna II emerges triumphant. As Anna II  (Whelan) collapses in front of her families’ spiffy new home, Anna I (Lapone) walks up the stairs in a mink, looking like a character from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

The gala’s second half was devoted to Balanchine’s “Vienna Waltzes,” which premiered at the 1977 City Ballet gala.  If you don’t care for the music of Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehar, or Richard Strauss or for watching a carousel vision of dancers waltzing for 46 minutes, this ballet may not be for you. But despite the work’s repetitiousness, “Waltzes” is visual spendor at its finest;  Karinska’s five sets of costumes, ranging from full-skirted 1860s crinoline ball gowns to sleek white silk Roaring Twenties dresses are a fashionista’s delight.

In the pit, Clotilde Otranto energetically conducted such ditties as the “Explosions-Polka” and excerpts from “Der Rosenkavalier.” Principals Maria Korowski, Jennifer Ringer and Megan Fairchild demonstrated their strikingly differing styles through the same steps. That said all City Ballet dancers waltz with a brilliant elegance.

A New Apollo: Chase Finlay of New York City Ballet

Monday, May 9th, 2011

By Rachel Straus

There is no better way to anoint a rising City Ballet male star than to award him the title role in Balanchine’s “Apollo.” On May 5 corps dancer Chase Finlay hit the big time, receiving curtain calls and roars of applause. The 21-year-old looked like a young Nordic god (much the way Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins did when he first appeared as “Apollo” in 1967). With a Martins-style majesty, Finlay subsumed his new role. Seated and gazing at his dancing Muses—Terpsichore (Sterling Hyltin), Polyhymnia (Tiler Peck) and Calliope (Ana Sophia Scheller)—Finlay captivated in stillness as much as in his boldly vigorous movements.

Beyond Finlay’s debut, Thursday’s programming felt celestial. Beginning the night were the Balanchine-Stravinsky masterworks “Monumentum Pro Gesualdo” (1960) and “Movements for Piano and Orchestra” (1963). Though these short ballets were made three years apart, they became side-by-side companion pieces. While “Monumentum” features choreographic lyricism and equilibrium, “Movements” traffics in cubist asymmetries. In the latter work, the building blocks of classical vocabulary (plie, tendu, fifth position) are interrupted in transit. Spiral movements are forced into right angles. Despite a lack of narrative, principals Maria Kowroski and Sébastian Marcovici plied a psychologically complex relationship. Neither intimates nor strangers, they danced like two people in a coolly impassioned debate. With hands flexed, they seemed to end their conversation at an impasse.

Photo: Paul Kolnick

But getting back to Finlay. More should be said about this “Apollo,” which appeared second on the program. In Balanchine’s 1928 ballet, the young god’s moment of benediction comes when his muses perform a unison triple handclap. Then the women open their palms for Apollo to rest his head. When Finlay stood and laid his brow, he looked absolutely relieved, having passed through the work’s most iconic moments. They include the instance when Finlay extends his arms skyward like Michelangelo’s “Vitruvian-Man,” echoing the string instruments’ sonic force. Performing this gesture convincingly requires a Nietzsche-like approach to the self. (“The world itself is the will to power – and nothing else! And you yourself are the will to power – and nothing else!”)

Hopefully, Finlay’s ability to embody youthful absolutism will be confined to the stage. Recently French Vogue featured Finlay half naked in Bruce Webber’s photos. Of equal interest, but of a less salacious sort, is the dancing of principal Sterling Hyltin. Her musical responsiveness and love of moving make her appear triple her size. As Terpsichore, Hyltin was bodily electric.

Another hair-on-arm raising experience were the performances of Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments.” (1946). Seen on May 5 and May 7, the casting was powerfully good. Jennie Somogyi’s dancing in “Sanguinic” possessed a boxer’s controlled strike and the elegance of a leopard in full lope. Gonzalo Garcia’s solo in “Melancholic” was velvety phrased and gravely projected.

With 11 Balanchine works selected for opening week, the choreographer’s triple passion for movement abstraction, minimalist costuming, and modernist music was revealed. Called “Black and White,” the series was not a bit monochromatic. Like a spring awakening, the dancers bloomed with color and energy.