Ballet at (the new and improved) Lincoln Center, where even the fountain dances!

June 30, 2010 at 2:23 am (Ballet)

Recently, I traveled to New York to see ballet at Lincoln Center: The American Ballet Theatre in the Opera House on Friday night; New York City Ballet at the David H. Koch Theater on Saturday. In both cases, I was going with dear friends of long standing, who love dance as much as I do. What I didn’t realize was that for the past three years, Lincoln Center has been in the throes of a major redesign project.

I arrived – June 10 – as work on the project was entering its final phase. My friend Lynn, for whom the city is a second home, was the ideal tour guide. To begin with: a new sign:

Henry Moore's sculpture Reclining Figure now floats above a refelcting pool at the Center's North Plaza

Festive poster display in front of the Opera House

The fountain at the center of the Main Plaza has become a whimsical, even playful accompaniment to the Lincoln Center experience. Not everyone was initially happy with this innovation. But Saturday night, just prior to the eight o’clock curtain at both the Opera House and the Koch Theater, the waterworks suddenly got high and wild. People were exclaiming in wonder; some  got wet; everyone seemed delighted by  the show.

This video will give you some sense of what the scene was like, although in this instance, we really do have a classic case of You Had To Be There:

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Here’s another shot of the reflecting pool at the North Plaza:. I took this picture to make a point; namely, that virtually every new  feature currently to be seen at Lincoln Center is named for a major donor. The fountain, for another instance, is more properly termed the Revson Fountain, for Charles Revson, founder of Revlon Cosmetics. But the example I got the biggest kick out of was “the Roslyn and Elliot Jaffe Family Drive.” This is basically an underpass directly in front of the complex, allowing a noxious and perilous street to go underground.

Although these various enhancements were not without controversy, I found them for the most part quite wonderful – a material improvement of an already priceless resource. The Kennedy Center in Washington DC was supposed to undergo a similar makeover, but Congress declined to vote the necessary funds. I wonder if they’ve considered going the naming rights route? It’s obviously worked wonders for Lincoln Center. (As I sit here, I’m trying out “the Ron and Roberta Rood Underpass.” Not sure how that sounds, never mind where the money would  come from!)

Well, enough of this – what of the ballet? Ah, the ballet…

Here’s the banner proudly displayed on the opera house facade:

Lynn and I saw three one act ballets performed by this venerable company. First on the program was  Brahms-Haydn Variations, choreographed by Twyla Tharp. what a splendid work! In his review in the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay could not heap enough praise on Tharp and on this ballet:

“Brahms-Haydn” changes mood alchemically from one variation to the next, builds cumulatively to its finale and develops variations on those original two lifts and other early movement in ways that look inevitable. In one variation, a woman takes that jumping lift right over a man’s back. When she arrives, she wheels her raised leg around until it almost hits him; then she wheels it back again. Ms. Tharp makes this look like an experiment in action (is this going to work?) as no ballet choreographer ever did before. With such strokes she has enlarged the nature of spontaneity in choreography.

From the Brahms-Haydn Variations

The next ballet was “On the Dnieper,” with music by Sergei Prokofiev and  choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. I was  especially delighted to be seeing this,, because I love the music of Prokofiev, and I was keen to see something of the work of Ratmansky, formerly of the Bolshoi and now artist in residence at the ABT.

“On the Dnieper” is a tale of love and heartbreak. It was beautifully done.

Finally: Fancy Free. I realized that I had actually never seen this storied collaboration between Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. Or at least I hadn’t seen it all the way through. All I can say about this justly famous work is: to see it is to love it:

Fancy Free debuted in 1944. In 1957, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein collaborated again, this time on an  musical destined for Broadway. Into this ambitious project they drew a young lyricist and compose unknown at that time to theater audiences. His name was Stephen Sondheim. The show was West Side Story. At the tender age of thirteen, I had the enormous privilege of seeing it with the original cast, shortly after its sensational opening.

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The New York City Ballet’s Saturday night program was equally memorable. Again, we saw three one act ballets. The first was “After the Rain,” choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to the music of Estonian composer Arvo Part.  This ballet has two sections; the second half, danced by Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall, was riveting. I had seen my first Wheeldon ballet  this past January: Liturgy, also with Wendy Whelan. These dances are like nothing I have ever seen before, and Wendy Whelan – age 43! – is simply amazing. In “Terrestrial Wanderings in a Place Rich With Atmosphere,” New York Times critic Gia Kourlas said: “Wendy Whelan seemed to float in [Craig Hall’s] arms like gosssamer; they should always dance together.”

Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall

The second ballet was “Luce Nascosta” or “Unseen Light.” The choreographer was Mario Bigonzetti; the score, by Bruno Moretti, was commissioned by City Ballet. While parts of this dance were fascinating, as a whole I did not think it was entirely successful. For one thing, it was too long; for another, the dancers’ movements were sometimes jerky and hieratic in a way that I found unlovely. The stage was in darkness much of the time.

All the more reason to cheer for the third and final number on the program:  “Who Cares,” a delicious confection set to music by George Gershwin and choreographed by George Balanchine:

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I recently came across this rather spectacular promotional video for  the Dutch National Ballet’s 2010-2011 season. I wonder of this company tours at all? If not, I may have to pop over to the Netherlands to see them:

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