Haglund was glad that he attended last evening’s NYCB Spring Gala performance, but he was glad when it was over, too. There were highlights to the evening, most notably Robert Fairchild and Jenifer Ringer in Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna, A Grand Divertissement.
But the disappointment was in seeing that Benjamin Millepied has fallen off track again with his choreography. Despite what his extensive biography in the Playbill leads one to believe, Millepied is a young, inexperienced choreographer who has lassoed commissions that give him free rein to muck about and do whatever he wants without having acquired the tools with which to develop his concepts.
Why am I not where you are was as unpunctuated as its title and meandered from one Balanchine quote from La Valse to another. As usual, the dancers are to be congratulated for pouring their hearts and souls into every freakin’ step. Sean Suozzi, Kathryn Morgan, Amar Ramasar, and Sara Mearns danced for their lives in an effort to save Millepied’s choreography.
Why am I not where you are began with Sean Suozzi trying to figure out his outcast designation and why the other dancers, particularly Kathryn Morgan, could not see him. The answer to the unquestion was clear: Suozzi bought his white casual clothes from Old Navy instead of shopping at The Salvation Army like the rest of the group. Once the group re-dressed Suozzi in their purple and green likeness, he became visible to and accepted by all and everyone was happy. But just as suddenly and without provocation, a gang of mean girls began stripping Morgan’s colorful costume from her to reveal a white tutu. Suddenly no one could see or appreciate her.
The story was clear, but Millepied couldn’t devise an original choreographic structure with which to convey it. So, he borrowed ideas from Balanchine‘s La Valse. It all came across looking like a cheap counterfeit.
Millepied may typify the new 21st century choreographer who is more concerned with branding himself than with developing choreographic skill. Get that website up. Get your philosophy in place. Make industry contacts. Get commissions. Stream video. Do interviews. Exploit connections with big names. That hardly leaves time for the lonely, torturous grunt work of developing creative craftsmanship. Then there is the problem of the ballet marketplace that doesn’t disguise how desperate it is to find the next big thing – so desperate it throws money at inexperienced choreographers like dice in a crap shoot.
Ballet companies should seek new works from new choreographers using a more businesslike request for proposal method. The artistic director chooses the music, libretto, and the number of dancers to be used. He then invites new choreographers to submit their ideas that utilize all of that structure. Giving an inexperienced choreographer the responsibility for deciding music, libretto, scenery, costumes, and which dancers to use takes too much of his focus away from developing choreography. It provides too much distraction, convenient distraction, from developing that all important craftsmanship.
The second half of the evening improved with the premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna, A Grand Divertissment. Haglund would spend an evening sitting on a chair of nails if it meant he’d have the opportunity to see Robert Fairchild featured in a ballet with any story line whatsoever. Right now, NYCB doesn’t have the depth of repertory to exploit this dancer’s theatrical talent. Fairchild’s character last night was the unlucky, somewhat naïve guy who lost his beloved slave girl in a bet, and embarked on a search to find her. Everyone he met resembled her, including Jenifer Ringer who delivered a rich performance in the segment in which the ladies passed around a cigarette. Sara Mearns dazzled as well in some very challenging and speedy choreography. But it was Fairchild’s show, and he delivered a fantastic theatrical dancing performance with clean and forceful technique that was launched with unforced power.
Haglund enjoyed all of the costumes in this piece. Some of the corps women wore long yellow empire dresses with pleating. All wore pointe shoes except in a segment in which the ladies in the yellow dresses wore black technique slippers with black elastic over the top which made the shoes look like MaryJanes. Other corps women as well as the principals wore single layer tutus of a stiff, transparent fabric in various shades of blue. All of the dancers, except for Fairchild, wore head caps of some type.
The entire ballet was inventive: the story, the steps, the patterns, the costumes. Inventive but light weight. Sometimes Ratmansky’s choreographic humor seems a little nerdy or cutsy. More of a problem is that he tends to insist that there be a step for each and every note of music. Over the next few years of his ABT residency, perhaps he will grow to appreciate the Tudoresque idea (actually a Mies van der Rohe idea) that less is more.
Haglund awards this Pump Bump for the gala performance which was in some ways an odd mix of materials: