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Jack Anderson

NYC Ballet: Final Diamonds

NYC Ballet: Final Diamonds
New York City Ballet
Closes June 25, 2006
Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., $30-86.
New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
Tickets: (212) 721-6500 or www.nycballet.com
Reviewed by Jack Anderson June 22, 2006
Jenifer Ringer, with from left, Jonathan Stafford, Amar Ramasar, and Sean Suozzi in "Russian Seasons." Photo by Paul Kolnik.

The New York City Ballet's last two diamonds truly glittered. These were the final new works in its Diamond Project series of premieres: Jorma Elo's "Slice to Sharp" and Alexei Ratmansky's "Russian Seasons." Although Elo, a Finnish choreographer, has been in residence at the Boston Ballet and Ratmansky's sprightly version of Shostakovich's "Bright Stream" was successfully shown here by the Bolshoi Ballet, neither choreographer is widely known in America. These works suggest they should be.

The deceptively titled "Slice to Sharp" may seem to promise brilliant, possibly menacing, movement. Brilliant it certainly is, but far from carving up space, Elo sets four couples giddily whirling to pieces by Biber and Vivaldi. The result is nonstop choreographic laughter that begins with its dancers (Maria Kowroski, Joaquin De Luz, Ana Sophia Scheller, Craig Hall, Sofiane Sylve, Edwaard Liang, Wendy Whelan, and Amar Ramasar) swinging one another about and circling deliriously.

These human tops, simply costumed by Holly Hynes, sometimes slow down. Or they suddenly vacillate between speed and slowness, while individual body parts do their own turning: thus heads revolve, and hands and fingers wiggle. The choreography is demanding; nevertheless, the ballet radiates ease.

Although Elo has drawn upon Vivaldi concertos, he uses individual concerto movements, instead of choreographing concertos straight through, a practice akin to Paul Taylor's choreographic treatments of Baroque concertos. Not having to follow strict musical forms at all times has freed Elo, as it has freed Taylor, to follow his imagination.

Vivaldi concertos also provided a source for "Russian Seasons," for its score by Leonid Desyatnikov is partially a response to Vivaldi's familiar "Four Seasons," but from a distinctly Russian perspective. Like the Vivaldi, it is a set of four violin concertos, each corresponding to a time of year. Yet there is also a mezzo-soprano, Susana Poretsky. Both music and lyrics are inspired by a collection called "Traditional Music from the Russian Lake District'' and the songs deal with such familiar matters as love, longing, separation, and death, although, surprisingly, one song also tells of a field growing cannabis, as well as flax.

Ratmansky basically reflects the musical moods, while making few detailed comments on any specific song text and revealing nothing about either flax or cannabis. This is a bold, occasionally boisterous, ballet for 12 dancers with steps evoking both classical ballet and folk dance. But the classicism never looks merely academic and the folk dancing avoids corniness. There are many vigorous thrusts, strides, and gallops. As costumed in bright colors by Galina Solovyeva, the women are in point shoes, the men in soft boots. Yet men and women alike occasionally paw and stamp at the ground as Desyatnikov's taut score recalls the Stravinsky of "Les Noces" and "Histoire du Soldat."

The dancers resemble members of a community. In the concluding episode when Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans, once clad in yellow, re-enter in white, with Whelan adorned with a wreath, they could be either a bride and groom at a wedding or ghosts come to haunt. The communal incidents almost inevitably recall Jerome Robbins's "Dances at a Gathering," although Ratmansky's people are less vividly individualized than those of Robbins. Nevertheless, they are decidedly worth watching.

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