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New York City Ballet: Prodigal Son, Octet, Who Cares?
-Onstage with the Dancers

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New York City Ballet
George Balanchine's
(NYC Ballet Website)

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children's Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Andrea Quinn
Marketing, Managing Director, Rob Daniels
Assoc. Director, Communications, Siobhan Burns

New York State Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 29, 2005

Originally Published on

Prodigal Son (1950) Ballet in Three Scenes: Libretto by Boris Kochno, Music by Sergei Prokofiev, Choreography be George Balanchine, Décor by Georges Rouault, original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Carolyn Kuan, Performed by Damian Woetzel as The Prodigal Son, Maria Kowroski as The Siren, James Fayette as Father, Antonio Carmena and Kyle Froman as Servants to The Prodigal Son, Dena Abergel and Pauline Golbin as The Sisters, and the Company as Drinking Companions. Balanchine, the 24 years old and Diaghilev's last Ballet Master, choreographed this work three months prior to Diaghilev's death. Rouault created the décor, and this ballet was premiered in 1950 for NYC Ballet. (NYCB Notes).

It's always nice to feel the effect of a new Conductor, and Carolyn Kuan evoked such a feeling with her searing interpretation of Prokofiev's sore. On this viewing, Damian Woetzel presented tremendous theatricality as The Prodigal Son, evolving from arrogant to distraught, and his duets with Maria Kowroski as The Siren, who winds her legs around him (legs which are characters on their own) and the stage with erotic, ecstatic energy, were riveting. The Georges Rouault backdrops, with blackness, blues, and full moon, enhanced the surreal and sorrowful moods that emanate from The Prodigal Son's brush with life's temptations and dangers.

James Fayette's dramatization as the strong and steady father, who carries the son with broken dreams, is, as always, on target with the mood and ambiance. Drinking Companions, in gray unitards and head covers, look like large slugs with spirit. The very seasoned Mr. Woetzel seems to strengthen skills every year, and this year is no exception. This season's appearance shows him in splendid form with everlasting skills in elevation and power. Prodigal Son exhibits Balanchine's vitality and versatility.

Octet (2003): Music by Felix Mendelssohn (Octet in E-flat for Strings, Op. 20, 1885), Choreography by Peter Martins, Costumes by Holly Hynes, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Violins: Arturo Delmoni, Jean Ingraham, Michael Roth, Yeojin Cho, Violas: Maureen Gallagher, Laurance Fader, Celli: Fred Zlotkin, Eugene Moye, Performed by Ashley Bouder, Darci Kistler, Benjamin Millepied, Stephen Hanna, Antonio Carmena, Aaron Severini, Sean Suozzi, Seth Orza, Jonathan Stafford, and Andrew Veyette. Mr. Martins, Artistic Director of NYC Ballet, champions contemporary music and choreographs widely for numerous ballets repertoires. (Program Notes).

On second viewing, Octet exuded equal passion and ethereal beauty. Benjamin Millepied glided and flew through his choreography, and at times was a proud male swan, poised, head high, leading the red ensemble against Stephen Hanna's green ensemble. Ashley Bouder, his partner, was more the gazelle. To extend the metaphor, Darci Kistler danced as a darting doe and the muscular Mr. Hanna as a cougar. Both principals and the Company were a vision of color, nuanced invention, and visual enhancement of the string ensemble. The celli were especially resonant.

Ashley Bouder and Benjamin Millepied in New York City Ballet's Octet
Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Who Cares? (1970): Music by George Gershwin, Adapted and Orchestrated by Hershy Kay, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by Jo Mielziner, Costumes by Ben Benson, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Maurice Kaplow, Pianist: Elaine Chelton, Performed by Miranda Weese, Sofiane Sylve, Janie Taylor, Nilas Martins, Dena Abergel, Saskia Beskow (Danskin Spokesperson), Amanda Edge, Pauline Golbin, Sarah Ricard, Kyle Froman, Henry Seth, Jonathan Stafford, Sean Suozzi, Andrew Veyette, and the Company. "Who Cares?" is an old song written by George and Ira Gershwin in 1931 for Of Thee I Sing. Balanchine used a small part of the Gershwin repertoire for classic dances. (Program Notes).

In today's performance of this favorite and upbeat work, Sofiane Sylve filled in for the ailing Alexandra Ansanelli. Embraceable You with Nilas Martins had more physicality and less sensuality than last spring. Ms. Sylve has power and possesses the stage. Her My One and Only was less effervescent and more energetic. Henry Seth, in the corps, is a dancer to watch, with buoyancy, style, quick timing, and charisma. Maurice Kaplow kept the orchestra in elegant form, and Gershwin came alive from Strike Up the Band to I Got Rhythm. Janie Taylor's solo in I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise and her duet with Mr. Martins in Who Cares? were remarkable and exquisite. In fact, the budding partnership of Ms. Taylor and Mr. Martins is exquisite on its own. Kudos to Nilas Martins for his memorable male lead.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at