Jack Anderson

Barcelona Ballet

BARCELONA BALLET -- Alejandro Virelles, left, and Dayron Vera in "For 4." Photo by Erin Baiano.

Barcelona Ballet
City Center, West 55th Street
April 17-20, 2012
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, April 22, 2012

Angel Corella’s company first came here in 2010 as Corella Ballet Castilla y León. Now it’s back as the Barcelona Ballet, its new name reflecting its architecturally imposing and culturally vibrant new home city. Its director remains the deservedly popular dancer Angel Corella, and his guidance has made the troupe increasingly assured, with a particularly strong male contingent. Changes are taking place. But not enough has changed. The company’s chief weakness remains its repertory (at least, that portion of its total repertory it chooses to show on tour).

In 2010, its most satisfying offering was Christopher Wheeldon’s “Danse à Grand Vitesse.” This year, the best piece is another Wheeldon, “For 4.” One could fear the worst. This work for four men was created for a Kings of the Dance presentation, one of those occasions when male superstars assemble for virtuosic and implicitly competitive displays. And the choice of accompaniment seemed weird: the theme and variations movement based on the song “Death and the Maiden” that provides one of Schubert’s most poignant quartets with its subtitle.

The fears were misplaced. “For Four,” though technically demanding, did not descend into vulgar exhibitionism, nor did it try to tell a mawkish tale about some doomed damsel. Rather, this was a plotless ballet in which male technique was used lyrically, with especially fluid movements for shoulders, arms, and hands. The men flowed in and out of the space, sometimes seeming to converse gesturally, without breaking phrases abruptly. If there is more eloquence in the Schubert score than Wheeldon has matched choreographically, he has nevertheless managed to create a ballet in which technical prowess also possesses grace and dignity. On the night I saw it, its admirable men were Dayron Vera, Francisco Estevez, Aaron Robison, and Damián Torio.

There was nothing subtle about the evening’s other ballets. Why companies keep reviving Clark Tippet’s “Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1” continues to mystify me. Although Tippet was a much-liked dancer with American Ballet Theater, he was a novice choreographer; his “Bruch,” of 1987, was only his second ballet , and his untimely death in 1992 prevented there from being many more. Overflowing (or, to speak more frankly, you could say crammed) with non-stop steps for four leading couples and a large corps de ballet, “Bruch” exhibits a young choreographer’s bravado, but it’s like an enormous cake with so many layers of frosting that although some of them are quite nice, indigestion soon results.

Finally, we had another crammed concoction, this one a big steaming choreographic stew, “Pálpito,” by Ángel Rojas and Carlos Rodríguez, with music (much of it loud) by Héctor González and lighting (much of it murky) by Luis Perdiguero. The title means “hunch” and, according to the program note, the ballet concerns a man “who is trying to free himself from the strings that have him bound to his former role of a dancer and that keep him from advancing into the mature role in his spirit with tranquility and peace…” I’m not sure what that means (maybe the meaning has been lost in translation), nor do I know what the ballet itself means. For 40 minutes, Corella and a large cast storm and stamp, often unhappily, until everyone cuts loose in what resembles a cabaret act. The choreography tries to combine ballet steps with Spanish stances, and a company such as the Barcelona Ballet deserves to experiment with such stylistic fusions. But this one has more agitation than dramatic coherence.


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