The Fresh and the Seasoned

Angels we have seen on high

Robbins's poignant In Memory Of. . ., a meditation on death and transfiguration is set to Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, written in memory of Manon Gropius, the daughter of Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler, who died at 18. When Robbins choreographed his ballet in 1985, a number of friends, including Balanchine, had passed away in recent years. In Memory of. . . celebrates a community, not unlike a dance company, through which a woman (the miraculous Wendy Whelan) moves with her lover (Orza, fine in his reticent solicitude). Although he holds her, it's as if he's already losing her. The heart of the ballet is her struggle with another, more domineering suitor who represents death (a strong performance by Charles Askegard). Like Death in Kurt Jooss's The Green Table, he comes to her both tenderly and remorselessly, and Whelan beautifully modulates between fear and desire before yielding to his embrace.

In the end, white-clad dancers skein patterns of step-step-piqué arabesque over the stage. A circling of angels. But these are the same people who danced with the heroine earlier, and the kingdom she’s passing through is a more exalted version of home.

The evening ends with I'm Old-Fashioned, Robbins's tribute to Fred Astaire. Audiences love this ballet, with its prefatory scene of Astaire romancing Rita Hayworth in You Were Never Lovelier. But while Robbins felt he never reached Astaire's level, he made a sweet, fluent set of variations (Morton Gould using Jerome Kern's song as a theme) that show off a large ensemble and six leading dancers (Krohn, Jennifer Ringer, Sara Mearns, Tyler Angle, Jared Angle, and Stephen Hanna--all excellent on January 24). Mearns is a revelation—wonderfully pliant and generous in a solo in 3/4 time and a fine duet with Hanna.

"Sweet Fields" by Twyla Tharp
Rosalie O'Connor
"Sweet Fields" by Twyla Tharp

Details

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Joyce Theater
January 23 through 28

New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
Lincoln Center Plaza
212-870-5570
through February 25

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Speaking of outstanding dancing at NYCB, I was glad to see a performance of Peter Martins's abridged Sleeping Beauty in which Ashley Bouder played Princess Aurora and Benjamin Millepied her princely wake-up call. Granted, they had some slightly alarming moments in the final duet's three repeated dive-lifts, but they both illumine the roles with apparently effortless strength and clarity. Bouder captures both Aurora's "I'm 16 today!" enthusiasm in the first act and the regal graciousness she must display to her suitors during the Rose Adagio’s difficult balances. Millepied partners her ardently; after 100 years asleep, Aurora finally grows up into love.

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