Seen at New York City Ballet: With a multitude of premieres in one season, much of the onus of the design side of New York City Ballet falls upon lighting designer Mark Stanley to make each piece look fresh and original. One of this season’s world premieres was Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo’s Slice to Sharp, a crisp contemporary ballet performed with a chamber orchestra and two solo violins. The eight dancers glide in pairs, almost as it on ice, starting out in a moody kind of light with shadows of the dancers on the floor. In a first pas de deux, the dancers appear in pools of warm light, giving their skin a healthy glow, while a second pas de deux appears to be on a stage that is slightly brighter overall, revealing more of the tight-fitting purple/gray costumes by Molly Hynes which accent the long thin limbs of the female dancers especially. The tempo changes to a more fast-paced section then slow down again to a slower pas de deux in which the stage floor is “sliced” into sections by the light at various intensities, on a diagonal running from upstage right to downstage left. Then the light shifts again, cutting the stage into six slices as a transitional moment to a brighter floor. Well received by the press (John Rockwell in The New York Times called it a “blast of high energy”), Slice to Sharp, premiered as part of this season’s Diamond Project of new works at New York City Ballet, and is a welcome addition to the repertory.
Also part of the Diamond Project was Russian Seasons, with choreography by Alexi Ratmansky, costumes by Galina Solovyeva and lighting once again by Mark Stanely. This time the costumes were in bright primary tones, purple, red, green, etc. with the men in trousers and Cossack style shirts (loose tunics) and the women in dresses and occasionally in odd little hats that gave them a decidedly Russian constructivist look. Set to a score that includes Russian folk music, this piece alters from humorous moments to folk dances to more emotional sections, with the lighting echoing or contrasting with the color of the costumes (Stanley is often like a painter, using the upstage cyc as his large canvas). While most of the City Ballet pieces do not have scenic elements, this season included Balanchine’s 1954 Western Symphony with a themed painting backdrop by John Boyt, colorful costumes by the great Karinska and updated lighting by, yes, Mark Stanley (one assumes he was not yet with the company to have done the original lighting in 1954!). The piece reflects Balanchine’s passion for all things American and personally I’m glad it’s still being performed: it’s a fun piece that is a real showcase for the company.---Ellen Lampert-Gréaux
Seen in Central Park: A light rain fell throughout a recent production at the Delacorte, home to Shakespeare in the Park, which has taken the celebration of the Public Theater’s 50th anniversary out of doors. If the show had been Much Ado About Nothing or As You Like It, this would have been disconcerting; but, as it was Macbeth, it was a perfect addition to perhaps the playwright’s wettest, dirtiest, and bloodiest play (and maybe his most entertaining, too, so well-paced it is, and to-the-point, besides). The rain was particularly apt for the banquet scene, adding as it did another layer of discomfort to the sequence where Macbeth, tormented by visions of the ghost of Banquo, who he has slain in his rise to the throne of Scotland, bayonets the chairs and topples the wine glasses—it seemed as if the entire stage, and theater, were covered in the stain of his guilt. A good staging became memorable thanks to the timely intervention of the elements, and its star, Liev Schreiber, seemed genuinely thrilled at how it had gone, thanking the slightly soggy audience for staying on our way out.
The feeling was mutual, as Schreiber, who is working his way through the canon as surely as John Barrymore, had given a robust, and very finely spoken, performance. This was complemented by the iron butterfly turn by his Lady Macbeth, Jennifer Ehle, who I’d never seen as a blonde before (the work, perhaps, of wig designer Paul Huntley?). The hair color, and the pink and purple gowns designed for her by Michael Krass, softened the actress in a surprising way, and made her turn toward plotting and conspiracy all the more chilling. Outside of its World War I setting, the director, Moises Kaufman (of I Am My Own Wife and The Laramie Project) has largely stayed out of Shakespeare’s way, letting us find the parallels to our current strife through his timeless words. I know some audience members were let down by how Derek McLane’s imposing mansion set, strewn with rubble and debris, obscured the usual cheerful view of the park’s Belvedere Castle, but this underscored how the play is about tyranny, and not royalty. As compensation, however, the surrounding forest, brilliantly lit by David Lander, played the part of Birnam Wood magnificently at the show’s end, a stylishly choreographed series of bloodlettings that begins when the set splits apart and Malcolm and Macduff’s forces enter the fray.
An ominous score, by Peter Golub, is thunderingly conveyed by Acme Sound Partners, whose soundscape begins well before the show gets underway. [PRG supplied the lights and Masque Sound the audio.] And the bagpiper who played outside the Delacorte on the way in was a nice touch. The second season of the fine Canadian TV series, Slings and Arrows (now on the Sundance Channel) dramatizes, hilariously, the pitfalls of staging the Scottish play, which the Delacorte, thankfully, has managed to skirt.--Robert Cashill