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Dance : NYC Ballet Principals: Without Balanchine


If George Balanchine's heirs suddenly withdrew his choreography, what exactly would be the interest and importance of New York City Ballet?

The question isn't entirely hypothetical, since a 20-member company billed as Principal Dancers of New York City Ballet presented three programs over the weekend at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts without including a single Balanchine work.

Yes, they'd announced a repertory dominated by Balanchine, but dropped his works due to a contract dispute with the Balanchine Trust. Moreover, by the time the company arrived in Cerritos, dancer injuries forced it to revise its program revisions--already choreographically undistinctive--even further.

Three pieces by Peter Martins exploited the unprecedented speed and intricacy that Balanchine developed as a touchstone of NYCB technique.

In "Barber Violin Concerto," Martins depicted a flirtation between elegant, academic classicism (more plausibly embodied by the radiant Kyra Nichols than the effortful Nilas Martins, son Peter) and gnarled, hyperactive modernism (represented by a manic Stacey Calvert and a brooding Jock Soto).

In a duet from "Ecstatic Orange" (cautiously executed by Soto and Heather Watts), Martins launched convoluted partnering gambits using music by Michael Torke. And in "Ash," he used Torke to create a hard-sell, high-velocity showpiece that left Martins-the-Younger looking winded but found Wendy Whelan in her element.

Whelan's talent for spectacular contortions-on-pointe also distinguished the intriguing pas de deux from William Forsythe's "Herman Schmerman," created for NYCB to music by Thom Willems. However, Whelan proved less adept at defining the mock-hostile mood of the piece than her partner, Albert Evans.

Something else was missing as well. When Sylvie Guillem danced this same duet at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in May, she wore a transparent black gauze top over bare breasts. Whelan wore the same black gauze on Saturday--but over an undergarment. Since Forsythe built costume changes (and a parody thereof) into the structure of the piece, the loss proved more than merely decorative.

Evans also danced brilliantly in "Viola Alone," a quartet by former Tharp and American Ballet Theatre dancer Kevin O'Day set to Hindemith pieces composed over nearly two decades. O'Day seldom successfully bridged the drastic shifts in musical style, but his technical arsenal and sense of contemporary locker-room banter certainly suited Evans, Calvert, Melinda Roy and Damian Woetzel.

Whether danced by a serene Lourdes Lopez and an ardent Ben Huys on Friday, or by a glazed Roy with Huys on Saturday, the "Romeo and Juliet" pas de deux choreographed by former company principal Sean Lavery looked fluent but generalized--out of sync with many permutations in Prokoviev's score.

Similarly, City Ballet principal Woetzel's two creations suffered from musical insensitivity. Indeed, he managed to undercut his own technical brilliance and make even Nichols look unmusical throughout his "Glazunov Pas de Deux." He also inflicted arbitrary shifts in impetus and activity on the exemplary Soto and the vivacious Jenifer Ringer in "Ebony Concerto" (music by Stravinsky).

Group passages in the latter, however, confirmed his promise as a choreographer. And as a dancer he unleashed his honed, Balanchinian exactitude on the 19th-Century warhorses garnishing the repertory. Opposite a tense but promising Kelly Cass in the "Corsaire" duet, he gave his flamboyance full rein. But he offered a far classier performance in the "Don Quixote" pas de deux opposite guest artist Paloma Herrera.

And no wonder. The big news at American Ballet Theatre this season, Herrera dances with extraordinary freshness and an ability to flow through positions with great aplomb, gathering electricity on her way to drop-dead terminations. As Kitri, she also ventured a series of sustained unsupported balances that looked like tantalizing down payments on a Rose Adagio.


On Saturday, Herrera proved the clear victor in a virtual Swan Sweepstakes--the Black Swan, White Swan and "Dying Swan" showpieces all on the same program. (What, no "Swan of Tuonela"?) Her Ballet Theatre colleague Julie Kent had danced a diligent, small-scaled, passionless Odette (opposite Huys) on Friday, then brought these same qualities to the Fokine solo the next night.

Lopez's Saturday Odette (opposite Soto) had also been diligent--and more imposing in scale--but hardly inspired. Which left Herrera's kitten-with-a-whip Odile (opposite Huys) seeming even sharper, freer and more technically lush.

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