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January 9, 2006

What gets cut, Chapter 2

From yesterday’s DVT review, there were two sentences cut from the end of the penultimate paragraph:

It was delightful, but it’s actually wrong for the ballet. Still, if we could only all be wrong like Ashley Bouder. . .

They were cut after consultation with the editor, but she did not cut them. I did.

The first review I ever did of NYCB for Danceview Times was assigned to me literally on the plane. I was on a flight from Brussels taxiing to the gate at JFK when Alexandra asked me to cover a performance a few days later. I agreed to it and didn’t think much of it until I took my seat in the theater. I knew the program (their “Viennese” evening) but hadn’t checked the casting. Who was leading the first ballet out?

Alexandra Ansanelli.

“Oh Christ. I don’t want to review her.” I’d just made a ballet on her the year before. How could I review her? Worse still, I thought she was miscast in the role.

Alexandra Ansanelli nailed everything in the sixth variation and her pas de deux too, especially her rapid footwork and fast, accurate turns. Her impressive strength in that delicate body is always surprising. She isn’t yet a natural choice for the role; Ansanelli is the ingénue of the company right now, and the central ballerina role in Divert is a figure of quiet authority. It’s not just that the variation is faster and harder and it’s not just that she’s at the center of every design. She presides over the dance, and Ansanelli tends to dance in her own magical world. She’s an enchanted princess in a queen bee role. The performances are investments for later; she’ll gain the authority needed with time.

It took me several shots to write that paragraph, and it’s not one of my best. I can see the contortions in it; if I didn’t know her I might have written “Ansanelli performed well in a role she isn’t suited for” and have been done with it. For the audience that’s the better sentence because it reflects their point of view. They don’t know Ansanelli. But at the time I couldn’t write it. Ironically enough, I think she did the role again just recently for Farrell’s company at the Kennedy Center honors telecast; I didn’t get to see it and find out if my predictions were correct.

I haven’t known Bouder as intimately as Ansanelli; I’ve seen her grow up from a distance. I first saw her dance at CPYB a decade ago. When I participated in Choreoplan there in 1999; I had first pick of dancers. I was planning an ensemble piece; the first thing I said was that I did not want Ashley; that she should go to someone who could give her a leading role.

Later that year she came to SAB. She danced with the school at some NYCB performances in Christopher Wheeldon’s Scènes de Ballets as part of a group of five.

She did the lead in Stars and Stripes at the SAB Workshop Performance the following year. When I saw her dance at CPYB she was an amazing technician, but never seemed to smile. It could have just been my luck on what performances I saw, but the girl in the workshop performances at SAB beamed and took the audience into the palm of her hand. And something else, something about her makeup. . .

After the performance I saw Darla Hoover smiling like a mother hen. Hoover had been in NYCB and taught Bouder at CPYB. “Darla, who taught Ashley to do her makeup?” I asked her. She said that she did, but I already knew that. Onstage Ashley’s eyes (especially the brows) looked just like Darla’s.

In 2001 I was covering an Interpreters Archive filming and there was Ashley learning a variation Balanchine created in 1935. I think she was 17.

The last real conversation we had was after Ashley came back from the yearlong absence that had so many people concerned. I was at SAB rehearsing, I think with Peter. Ashley came down the hall and we hugged.

“Do you know how much we missed you?” I asked.
“Well, I’m back!” was the answer.

I’ve said this about watching Alexandra or Ashley, but watching them onstage is like watching my favorite niece. I know their flaws but they don’t matter to me. But that doesn’t help the reader. So my job is to try and balance personal knowledge with what was actually onstage. The fact that I have some connection to the dancers compromises my work somewhat, but it also enriches it. Every reviewer has a bias. This is a glimpse into mine.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at January 9, 2006 11:02 AM

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