Mirage

Saturday night marked my final ballet of the season and included a new Peter Martins ballet, with scenic design by architect Santiago Calatrava. As you know, this season has been the Architecture of Dance season and that was never more on display than in Martins’s new ballet, “Mirage.”

But, we begin with “La Source,” the first piece on the program. Set to Leo Delibes music, this Balanchine ballet was pleasant and fairly whimsical. There was nothing extraordinary about it; it was mostly classical French ballet moves, though it was a treat, as it always is, to watch Sterling Hyltin dance. The most remarkable thing about “La Source” was that the music for the first pas de deux sounded like a cross between a dirge and “Sunrise, Sunset.” A little unsettling.

Next up was “Mirage.” Not only is the ballet new, but the accompanying score is, as well. City Ballet’s Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins signed on as a third commissioner for a violin concerto composer Esa-Pekka Salonen was already working on for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony. Martins says he heard something very romantic in the music. I heard something very urgent, powerful and slightly foreboding in the music. I guess that’s what makes horse races. The benefit of using new music by a living composer was that for all four performances of “Mirage,” composer Salonen was conducting the orchestra and violinist Leila Josefowicz, for whom the concerto was written, played lead violin.

Calatrava’s set for Mirage was a large moveable structure that began as two, joined arches taking up center stage. (The logo above is a sketch of this set.) Throughout the ballet, the arches rose, came together, floated apart and turned to help move the ballet. Each new position created a new shadow on the stage, which was almost more powerful than the large structure itself. At one point, the structure created what looked like an infinity symbol, leading me to think about the lovers in the ballet journeying throughout the space-time continuum.

Everything about this ballet was sharp, crisp and precise. Martins played with symmetry and space very well here, which actually reminded me of a Christopher Wheeldon ballet (I think it was “After the Rain”) that I saw a few seasons ago. Jared Angle, always a favorite of mine, was thoroughly engaging. Also particularly engaging were soloists Kathryn Morgan and Chase Finlay. What I liked about the ballet was that the shape-shifting structure and the symmetry of the dance seemed perfectly described as a mirage – you’re not sure what you’re seeing, if it’s real or not, but it’s something you move toward, anyway.

Ending the evening was “Western Symphony” which is pretty much what it sounds like. The one thing I didn’t like was the costumes. They were fine except that they made all the long, lithe dancers look short and stumpy. Not particularly flattering. Other than that, there was nothing objectionable about “Western Symphony,” though it was nothing special, either. Jonathan Stafford was featured in the allegro movement and I always like watching him jump around on stage. Besides Stafford’s performance, I found Western Symphony to be an upbeat filler piece, a light and fluffy way to end the evening.

That’s all from the ballet for now but check back in the fall: The 2010-2011 season starts in September, and includes three Wheeldon ballets, a new Benjamin Millepied ballet, NY Export: Opus Jazz and my favorite, The Four Seasons.

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