In fairness, I can see that there must be an audience for Lar Lubovitch's campy two-man duet to the slow movement of Mozart's clarinet concerto K622, but surely not when it is danced with the lugubrious air which Peter Boal and David Krensing assume. No fear of thinking these chaps are gay when they act so glum.
Karole Armitage's new Life Story, on the other hand, gets a thoroughly lively performance from the cast she made it for - NYCB's Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans -with the soprano Mary Carewe making the most of every nuance in Thomas Ades's setting of a bitter (but at the last moment shockingly funny) poem by Tennessee Williams.
Armitage lets words help out the action - not at all up Balanchine's street - but her duet about the disadvantages of casual sex does benefit from the modern use of balletic technique which the master choreographer pioneered. Compare it with his Agon duet, which shook audiences in 1957 by the audacity of its movement and its dance imagery, and, for an indication of his range, contrast it with his sheerly virtuosic Allegro brillante, created only the previous year.
Both works introduced a leading dancer unknown here. American Ballet Theatre principal Paloma Herrera didn't look ideally suited to Allegro brillante: neat and quick but small-scale, missing the potential grandeur. Maria Kowroski, newly promoted in New York City Ballet, has no lack of amplitude, swinging her long legs high in the air, free and bold, but she did not show that she has yet learned to put any meaning into her dancing
The Agon duet can, and should, look a lot sexier and wittier than she made it, likewise her other role, the second lead in the brash, glittery Rubies.
However, Rubies did provide the show's best dancing, from Wendy Whelan as its mockingly smiling ballerina. Perhaps the perfomers needed more inspiring musical accompaniment than Christopher Austin and his Brunel Ensemble provided with their sludgy treatment of Tchai-kovsky and Stravinsky.
It is always a pleasure to see Balanchine's ballets (not forgetting something as lively as the Armitage duet), but let's not fool ourselves that the performances are ideal. For that we need the long overdue visits by New York's full companies. Start agitating now - or saving to go and see them at home.
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