The hyper-fancy busy-busy Stravinsky programme at Avery Fisher Hall bore a whimsical title: A Dancer’s Dream. To at least one iconoclast, however, it seemed little more than a dancer’s mish-mash.
The event was, to be sure, essentially imaginative, doggedly unconventional and occasionally beguiling. Still, the inherent drama rambled onward and downward, blurring focus and frequently forgetting essential plot-lines. In the convoluted process, the musical sources – Le baiser de la fée and Petrushka – got trivialised.
The man on the podium – who wandered off it from time to time – was the resident maestro, Alan Gilbert. He revealed a flair for hammy indulgence in quest of not-so-innocent merriment. His roster of co-conspirators included Doug Fitch (director and designer), Karole Armitage (choreographer) and Edouard Getaz (producer and video creator). The production, an amalgam of ballet, drama, mime, puppetry, video projection, circus antics and acrobatic stunts, was credited to an outfit officially known as Giants are Small.
The small giants, in this instance, toyed with the plight of a ballerina who copes in her dainty fashion with bad weather, brash jugglers, cutesy puppets and assorted magicians. Upstage and upstaged, the good-natured members of the New York Philharmonic struck clever poses, marched about, sported funny hats and smirked for the cameras, proving that symphonic work need not be serious business. For The Fairy’s Kiss, the quasi-cartoonish setting masqueraded as the icy Swiss Alps. For Petrushka, it represented some sort of quaintly Russian carnival.
The lofty protagonist was Sara Mearns, principal from the New York City Ballet across the plaza. Her tutu-slender flesh in fine fettle, she dabbled in petty Petipa during half of the evening, then, though underutilised, turned folksy-mod en pointe. Amar Ramasar, her cavalier, flew through the fair with the greatest of ease. Monica Lerch was credited as atmosphericist, whatever that means. Two deft stalwarts from the Met, Eric Owens and Anthony Roth Costanzo, made mute onscreen appearances.
The Philharmonic started rather soupily, eventually turned brash. It hardly mattered. With Stravinsky reduced to background music, the playing was not the thing.