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New York City Ballet

'Prodigal Son,' 'Mirage,' and 'The Concert'

by Jerry Hochman

June 23, 2010 -- David H. Koch Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York

I confess that, of the works of his that I've seen (not including the full length pieces), I've had difficulty with Peter Martins's choreography. Being plotless is not the issue – being no more than intellectually interesting is. So it was with considerable apprehension that I prepared to watch Mr. Martins's new piece, "Mirage."

My concern quickly evaporated. While not a home run, "Mirage" is a very fine work that is both powerful and accessible, and it is well worth seeing.

The last of the seven dances created by contemporary choreographers for New York City Ballet's 'New Choreography and Music Festival,' promoted under the catchphrase: 'The Architecture of Dance,' "Mirage" most completely integrates each of the individually potent 'architectural' components of the piece – the music, the set, and the choreography – into a coherent whole. Consequently, while perhaps not the most endearing of the four of these pieces that I've had an opportunity to see to date ("Estancia," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, is), it may well prove to be the most enduring.

"Mirage" boasts a strong, contemporary score ("Violin Concerto") by Finnish-born composer Esa Pekka Salonen, who until last year was Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (and is now its Conductor Laureate). The Concerto was written for renowned violinist Leila Josefowicz, who performed it with vigorous intensity as well as gentle reverence at this NYCB performance, which Mr. Salonen conducted. The music combines angularity with lyricism, masculinity with femininity, and the result is a very interesting and evocative sound coloring that brings to mind a sort of wilderness of spirit,  like wind racing through barren space on some not-yet-discovered planet.

The strength of the music is matched by the strength of the set. Created by architect Santiago Calatrava, the set consists of a large skeletal structure composed of multiple filaments radiating tightly parallel to each other, rib-like, across to 'backbones' some distance away – resembling the finely cascading supporting cables of the bridge designs that are among Mr. Calatrava's signatures. The structure is first presented, centered on the upstage floor, as an object that consists of two connected cut-away half-domes that resemble cave entrances, but as an abstract work it is open to virtually limitless metaphorical descriptions. During the course of the piece, the construction rises from the stage floor, and shapeshifts (concurrently with intermittent changes in the music patterns) into different celestial-like abstract forms hanging in space – once, to me, resembling a Vulcan bird of prey – culminating in the two halves of the construction coming together and forming a unified disc shape that looks planetary. As the piece ends, this solar/lunar object is bathed in multiple colors. It is a stunning, dominating work of art, that could draw attention, and awe, in any location (e.g., as a moving sculpture somewhere on the Lincoln Center campus). And special kudos to Mark Stanley, who created the lighting that brought the structure to life.

In its power, Mr. Martins's choreography matches the music and the set strength for strength, picking up on the music's lyricism and angularity, and marrying both styles into a coherent presentation that defies categorization. The choreography also reflects the sensuality and other-worldliness of Salonen's music and Calatrava's set, giving the work a cosmic, spiritual aura – abetted by the cut-out tunic-like costumes created by Marc Happel, which resembled modified (and considerably more attractive) Star Trek uniforms. Indeed, at times the piece brought to mind echoes of the celestial orbs of Frederick Ashton's two "Monotones.”

Although the movement in "Mirage" is essentially spread among seven pairs of dancers (except in the beginning of the piece, when two individual dancers appear framed by the 'cave entrances' provided by the Calatrava set), "Mirage" focuses on, and is dominated by, the three lead couples: Kathryn Morgan and Chase Finlay, Erica Pereira and Anthony Huxley, and most significantly Jennie Somogyi and Jared Angle. And when Ms. Somogyi and Mr. Angle were the only pair on stage, the intensity of their presence as they executed Mr. Martins's starkly complex and intricate choreography, which invites a viewer's application of a definite (and welcome) emotional gloss, was every bit as powerful, and lyrical, as the set that hovered above them and the music to which they moved.

Where I had difficulty with the piece was in its dependence on Salonen's music. Rather than illuminating it, the choreography reflected it, and was limited by it. Also, at times I found the movement to be more intricate than it needed to be: although they are complex works, both the music and the set are relatively straightforward; the choreography needn't have been as convoluted as it was.

But "Mirage" is a memorable work that lingers in the mind long after it ends. I look forward to seeing it again.

"Mirage" was bracketed on the program by two NYCB signature works: George Balanchine's "Prodigal Son," and Jerome Robbins's "The Concert." "Prodigal Son" was a bit of a disappointment. Although Daniel Ulbricht, was a frustrated, determined, aroused, and ultimately devastated Prodigal Son, he did not convey the anger and the power that I find essential to the portrayal – although I concede that I may be hopelessly prejudiced by having seen Mikhail Baryshnikov's performance in the role (I never saw Edward Villella's legendary portrayal).

Similarly, Teresa Reichlen executed the steps beautifully, as she consistently does, and looked stunning, as she consistently does, but she appeared to this viewer to be too young, and too sweet-tempered, to be a Siren. On the other hand, "The Concert" was a delight. The piece has tickled audiences for over fifty years. As the diva, Sterling Hyltin overacted to perfection, and was ably abetted by Georgina Pazcoguin (whose promotion seems long overdue), Gwyneth Muller, Andrew Veyette, Arch Higgins, and the rest of the cast.

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