Prodigies old and new

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  June 10, 2008

Rabbit and Rogue, like much of Tharp’s career, spans a trajectory from the jazzy, brassy syncopations of the popular stage to the glamor of the silver screen. Norma Kamali’s costumes evolve from silver shoes and black neutrality to black-with-spangles to white and silver tights and swimsuits.

The Rag Couple (Kristi Boone and Cory Stearns) do rhythmic rags and slinky maxixes; they seem a bit coarse and argumentative. The Gamelan Couple (Maria Riccetto and Jose Manuel Carreño) are more decorous. They occasionally slow down, they do stretched-out tricky lifts and vertical jumps. Each aspect is echoed by units of the ensemble.

Toward the end, the music consolidates into a stately processional, like the wedding at the end of Firebird, and after a man from the corps seems to referee the differences between Rabbit and Rogue, the corps gathers in a curtain pose, with the women in decorative lifts, and the leading men reach accord at last — but face away from each other.

CONCERTO DSCH: Alexei Ratmansky’s groups are composed of individuals who know they belong
together, and they behave with easy sociability.

Over at the New York State Theater, Alexei Ratmansky has made another fine new work for New York City Ballet. The unpronounceable title Concerto DSCH refers to a musical motif Dmitri Shostakovich used as a signature; the ballet is set to his Second Piano Concerto. Like Tharp’s work, the Ratmansky is a pure-dance ballet, with wonderful opportunities for wonderful dancers and not much dramatic distraction. Where her dance is relentless and almost choked with activity, his is asymmetrical but spacious, often fast but somehow unhurried. His groups are composed of individuals who know they belong together. Her groups are individuals who remain separate but agree on tenuous solutions.

We might think we know the contrasting qualities of ballerinas Wendy Whelan and Ashley Bouder, but Ratmansky reveals something more about them and about dancing. In a duet with Benjamin Millepied, Whelan makes the cliché of falling backwards into his arms seem to have a reason that’s not necessarily ecstatic surrender. Bouder sprinkles sudden jumps into an allegro solo, and later she seems to be gently guiding her partner’s leaps. I wasn’t sure which of her competing suitors (Joaquin de Luz and Gonzalo Garcia) she was helping, but it was an original idea about partnering that distinguished the moment.

In this work, and in last year’s Russian Seasons, Ratmansky’s dancers behave with easy sociability toward each other. Even his most formal patterns, like the flower design that begins the ballet, are more than pictures. As the circle gradually opens, you see the group, clad in dusty orange, in layers and combinations, expanding, contracting, until it spreads flat, to reveal Bouder at the center, wearing dark blue. Later the group circles Whelan and Millepied, in gray green. More than facilitating a design, they’re all acknowledging one another as their friends.

City Ballet has been celebrating Jerome Robbins this year, the 10th anniversary of his death, with exhibitions, publications, and an intense concentration of revivals. Robbins too could bring out the communal sensibilities of a group of dancers, the warmth of a gesture. I think his forthrightness about people was one reason the audience loved him. He made cool, classical ballets, but those weren’t his great works.

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