Review: Ghosts Hover Over New City Ballet Collab

It’s hard to digest New York City Ballet’s latest premiere without knowing the story behind it. In a roundabout way, it’s a ballet of s...


It’s hard to digest New York City Ballet’s latest premiere without knowing the story behind it. In a roundabout way, it’s a ballet of stories, but not the kind where a princess falls asleep after being pricked by a needle. “Architects of Time”, a collaboration between choreographer Silas Farley and composer David K. Israel, is a background ballet.

Its history dates back to 1946. It was Igor Stravinsky’s birthday, and George Balanchine wanted to give his dear friend a present. He composed a melody and put an acrostic poem in it, with the first letter of each line spelling out the name “Igor” in Russian. Stravinsky, seduced by Balanchine’s melody, harmonized the song.

The charming and quirky lyrics, translated into English, explain why Balanchine, the man as much as the choreographer, is sorely missed: “Name day and anniversary / Guests, noise and animation / We get drunk at the Grand Marnier / Don’t forget a drink for me too.

Now it has grown into something bigger, but not anywhere so charming or eccentric: Farley’s Ballet, created in honor of the City Ballet’s current Stravinsky Festival. It was unveiled Thursday at the Spring Gala, which seemed like the right place for it. It was not designed as a simple second-hand piece, but its chances of survival seem slim.

The work has its genesis with Israel, which found a photocopy of the song in the Harvard Theater Collection nearly 30 years ago. At the time, he was music advisor to dance critic Arlene Croce. For him, it was a gold mine, and better still, a gold mine on which he could compose variations. His score for ‘Architects of Time’ deserves some extra listening: it extracts and manipulates Stravinsky’s music – sometimes vividly and shimmeringly – to create a danceable sound new and old.

But the ballet, which does the same with Balanchine’s repertoire, ends up being a more or less polished showcase where the positions and postures, the angles of the wrists and arms, do not generate new choreographies so much as they mix fragments of the past. What is the broader meaning? It seems less inspired by Balanchine’s ballets than by pictures Balanchine’s ballets.

Unfolding in eight variations, “Architects” is finished with group sections that feature the entire cast – eight men and eight women – as a moving organism scattering across the stage in arrangements of twisting leaps and bounds. Farley, here and elsewhere, creates slices of space in which the dancers stand out from the crowd. Quinn Starner exudes a particular luxury, especially the way her crystal-clear shoulder shows off the angles of her head and shoulders; Samuel Melnikov’s juicy jump has a way of lingering in the air, always extending through his long arms and flowing hands.

Ultimately, such snippets are more rewarding than the moments presented – a duet for Emma Von Enck and Lars Nelson in which the partnership is awkward in its starts and stops, and solos for Jovani Furlan and Claire Kretzschmar that hint to contemplative states but rarely go Deeper. Furlan, incorporating odd, crumpled shapes reminiscent of Balanchine’s “Episodes,” is something of a whimsical journey, while Kretzschmar, his arms rotating in classic positions, drifts to and fro on pointe with ground-skimming footsteps. At times, especially when her arms open as her face bows, there is an echo of the opening prayer from Balanchine’s “Mozartiana”. But the timing is off, and the effect is more pious than pensive.

It doesn’t help that the combination of Mark Stanley’s lighting and Cassia Farley’s costumes darkens the scene considerably. Are they going for something elegiac? Even when the dancers are in a happy mood – and thank you, Roman Mejia and Gilbert Bolden III, for turning up the volume – the decor is sad. Cassia Farley, who is the choreographer’s wife, created short dresses for women and jumpsuits for men; the bottom half of each is dark maroon red and the top half fades to show the dancer’s skin tone. They look like hard-boiled eggs dipped in dye and glitter.

Although it made sense to associate Farley, a former member of the company who has always been fascinated by the rich history of City Ballet, with Israel’s score, the collaboration is too static to fly away. “Architects of Time” refers to something Balanchine says in the documentary “In Balanchine’s class”: “The composer is the architect of time, and we must dance to it.”

These words are urgent. In the film, he also says, “Music is the foundation, or ground on which we walk. But here, the ground is weighed down by too much heritage and too little imagination. And on this gala program, there were too many things to compare, including Balanchine’s all-female.”Russian Scherzoa lively tribute to Russian folk dance featuring advanced students from the company’s School of American Ballet, as well as what is arguably the crown jewel of the 1972 festival, “Stravinsky Violin Concerto.”

With its folk motifs, spellbinding two pas de deux and galvanizing group sections, “Violin Concerto” remains surprisingly playful and moving. With all his sharp virtuosity and intense focus, Joseph Gordon, dancing with Ashley Laracey – at times otherworldly, hesitant at others – seemed to be shot down by a cannon. Unity Phelan, in a promising start, used her glorious plasticity to startling effect, but seeing her with a different partner will tell a different story; here she danced with Amar Ramasar, whose prowess continues to be rooted more in confidence than bodily truth.

The highlight of the evening came straight away, with “Circus Polka” by Jerome Robbins, to music Stravinsky had composed for Balanchine, who performed a dance for the young elephants of the Ringling Brothers circus in 1941. In 1972, Robbins used the music to make a centerpiece for students at the School of American Ballet and performed the role of the Ringmaster; here, the recently retired Maria Kowroski do the honours.

Having a woman in the role was a first for City Ballet, but that didn’t make it so satisfying. Leading more than 48 school children, Kowroski used his height to his advantage – making the tiny dancers look even tinier as they paraded and pranced over Stravinsky’s score. Kowroski has the delightful ability to be both motherly and joking. It was good to have her back, even if it was only for one night.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: Ghosts Hover Over New City Ballet Collab
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