A Tale of Two Music Mistakes

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The New York Sun

Two premieres at New York City Ballet on Wednesday night told a tale of choreographers defeated by bad musical choices. Peter Martins’s ballet “The Red Violin” was performed to John Corigliano’s turgid, banal, and seemingly endless concerto composed for the movie. (Why does the fact that the music won an Oscar not surprise me?) Christopher Wheeldon chose Bela Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3 for his “Evenfall.” This is a forbiddingly dense work, combining bloviating Romanticism with prismatic modernism. It teems with more notes than any collection of bipeds could respond to.

Messrs. Martins and Wheeldon redeemed themselves at times by demonstrating a willingness to challenge themselves. This, however, made me wish that each choreographer had chosen more grateful scores. Throughout most of “The Red Violin,” Mr. Martins was working from a well-worn compositional playbook. Most of the choreography was built around multiples of two dancers, but the work was most interesting in the trios performed to violin cadenzas.

These recalled the lush and furtive emotional interludes in Antony Tudor’s “Lilac Garden” made to Chausson’s violin and orchestra “Poeme.” The episodes of triangular romantic conflict became intriguing in “The Red Violin”: Jenny Somogyi was partnered alternately by Amar Ramasar and Sebastien Marcovici, and she made for an eloquent heroine.

The eight-member cast also included some of NYCB’s most promising young dancers. Although they were given lots of steps, they didn’t add up to much more than a long slog in the salt mines. When “The Red Violin” succeeded in its evocation of melancholy and inanition, the ballet had some substance.

Mr. Wheeldon’s “Evenfall” seemed more authentic than much of his recent work. He seemed neither occupied with proving that he could handle every possible genre nor, as was the case with last season’s “Klavier,” with paying his regards to a score he loves.

Here he seemed to be trying to both analyze and explore the music; the fact that the intractable score squeezed him out of his comfort zone was perhaps salutary. “Evenfall” was most interesting in its corps de ballet material, which explored oddities that didn’t seem like a gratuitous strain for invention.

At one point the women pitched forward stretching the palms of their hands to the ground, while the men crouched under them, and the stage seemed to posit an emotional truth. The choreography for the lead couple, Miranda Weese and Damian Woetzel, was not as notable as the corps’s. Both leads danced with irreproachable integrity, however, and their interactions with the ensemble were intriguing. “Evenfall’s” slow middle movement contained interesting disorientations in which the corps and leads seemed to be responding to entirely different sounds.

To NYCB’s credit, it seemed evident Wednesday night that the company’s orchestra, led by Andrea Quinn in the Corigliano and Maurice Kaplow in the Bartok, had expended much care on these difficult scores.

Sandwiched between the two premieres was William Forysthe’s “Herman Schmerman Pas de Deux,” created for NYCB’s 1992 Diamond Project, in which Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans cavorted triumphantly on Wednesday. It’s hard to think of any ballerina in the world who could get more out of Mr. Forsythe’s work or make it more diverting. Ms. Whelan’s command of Mr. Forsythe’s oxymorons, such as a pirouette followed instantly by a drop to the ground in push-up position, was dazzling.

Ms. Whelan brings depth and allure to Mr. Forsythe’s work by making it about more than belligerence and insolence. On Wednesday night, she was belligerent, insolent, but also wittily subversive, and at moments slightly self-mocking. Both she and sly-boots Mr. Evans are very charming theatrical company.

Until June 25 (Lincoln Center, 212-721-6500).

The New York Sun

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