NYCB Review: Ballet Masters, Jan. 22

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Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring, Glass Pieces. Click for more photos.

The New York City Ballet Masters at Work program this Winter presents two works for which I have polar opinions: Balanchine’s 1960 Liebestlieder Walzer and Robbins’ 1983 Glass Pieces.

I find Liebestlieder Walzer very dull, a challenge to stay awake. It is very pretty and the waltzes are nice, but not enough to keep my attention for 53 minutes. It features four couples in ballroom costumes waltzing to a Brahms score for piano duet and vocal quartet, set to poems by Friedrich Daumer and Goethe. German waltzes are not my favorite.

Glass Pieces is everything Liebestlieder is not: energetic, pulsating, modern, dynamic. The piece, set to Philip Glass music, opens (Rubric) with dancers walking briskly and randomly across the stage, much like everyday scenes from busy pedestrian crossings in New York. Keeping with Glass’s score, the scenery and costumes are minimalist in nature; dancers in unitards with a few women in skirts perform in front of a simple checkered background. Every now and then, three couples break up the frenetic informal walking with slow duets consisting of basic dance steps. Some steps are constant throughout the piece, such as lunges with an exaggerated outstretched arm, exaggerated struts with clenched fists, reinforcing themes from the repetitive music.

The second section (Facades) has a row of 12 women in silhouette across the back of the dimly lit stage, with a repeating, methodical shuffling motion, stopping periodically as they hold their pose. In front of the women in a spotlight were Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring, who danced a sensual pas de deux to the soft, slow music. Flowing arms and lunges are recurring themes. At the end, the 12 women in the back slithered off as Adrian carried Sara off stage.

The last section (Akhnaten excerpt) is my favorite, with energetic drum-focused music and exciting dancing from Corps members. Everyone had fun in this section including the orchestra; I could see the tuxedo-attired percussionist banging away on the drum, swaying and moving with almost as much gusto as a rock band drummer. This work has to be a favorite among dancers as it allows them to cut loose with raw athleticism.

In this section, Robbins created a number of interesting patterns and geometric shapes with the dancers. In one part, three men and women weave in and out, creating a circle. In another, six men dance in contemporary style, with flexed feet and legs turned in, creating a triangle. Another section features 12 men with recurring head bobs and lunges. I enjoyed Robbins’ innovative effort of creating visual images of Glass’s dramatic, frenetic, and exciting music.

I big negative to the NYCB season is the bizarre decorations by Marcel Dzama in the upper foyer, which offer so much to dislike. Most distasteful is a strange video showing on opposite sides of the foyer on giant screens. The video is performance art nonsense featuring a guy with eyes painted on his head playing chess to strange music. Four women with masks awkwardly dance, with their underwear sometimes showing. The female director, clad in a suit with a painted mustache, stops the action, complains about the smoke effects, fires one of the dancers, and joins in a Michael Jackson-style video dance to more modern music. The music stops, she is happy, shouts “Taxi” and leaves. I don’t get it. Also on the foyer are less controversial items such as artwork and rotating metal items. How these items, together with the film, are related is left to your imagination.

The entire foyer arrangement falls under the category “What on earth were they thinking?” I know NYCB is trying to attract a younger crowd for which they should be commended. However, to think they would be attracted to this mess is an insult to young people.

More commentary:


Okay, let’s get to the grand disappointment of the night which was the new art installation by Marcel Dzama. What a let-down after seeing such great work by the first three artists in NYCB’s annual Art Series. Huge video screens at either end of the promenade flash enough chaos and nonsense to bring on an instant headache, if not an epileptic seizure in those so predisposed. Rotating metal figures are centered on the promenade.  Some framed artwork around the perimeter and miniature set models on tables on the main floor offer individual examples of interesting stuff, but there seems to be no concept to this installation. Apparently, it was the artist’s funny bone that drove him to put large polka-dots on the huge statues at either end of the promenade, and it must have been his youthful defiance that made him feel entitled to deface someone else’s longstanding and respected art work. This was a real let-down. The flashing screens are likely to cause people to make fewer trips to the concession stands because it is all so annoying. So, there ya go. Every creative act is not art.

Alistair Macaulay of The New York TImes:

Marcel Dzama redecorated the main upstairs foyer with ostentatious triviality.