New York City Ballet: The Seven Deadly Sins / David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, NYC / March 11, 12, 13 14, & 15, 2011
Working Girls: Patty LuPone, Wendy Whelan, and company men in Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s The Seven Deadly Sins
Photo: Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet’s spring season gala on May 11 focused on the company’s new production, The Seven Deadly Sins, choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, credit-wise a practiced hand at dance-theater. It looks pretty much born yesterday, but the Kurt Weill – Bertolt Brecht cabaret-style melding of music, dance, and spectacle has a history both with George Balanchine and the company.
Balanchine produced his first version of the piece in Paris for Les Ballets 1933 in that year. It was far from universally acclaimed, but the choreographer never forgot it. In 1958 he made a revised version for the 21-year-old Allegra Kent, a flexible creature of fantasy who had captured his imagination. Kent danced the lithe Anna 2, a naive idealist. Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife, famous for a rough-edged voice that resonated tough experience, sang Anna 1, the cynical tyrant. Plot-wise, the two are treated as sisters, but are designed to represent the morally conflicting halves of a single person.
Back home in Louisiana, their righteous, poverty-stricken family–mom, pop, and two brothers, all sung by men–send the young women across America, the land of opportunity, with the mission of earning enough money to buy them a proper house to replace their poor people’s shack on the banks of the Mississippi.
Sweet Love Remembered: Whelan and Craig Hall
Photo: Paul Kolnik
The project takes a Biblical seven years and visits to seven metropolises, during which the white-souled Anna repeatedly fails as a dancer (indeed, an artist of any kind) and is forced to eke out the required funds as a prostitute. Miraculously, she retains her guilelessness, though the degradation finally kills her.
I saw the 1958 production while I was still at school. I remember Kent and Lenya distinctly, no doubt because each was unforgettable in her own way. I don’t recall many specifics about the production, but I can still feel–or is it taste?–its atmosphere: decadent, sordid, sinister, yet unable to penetrate Anna 2’s natural purity.
Taylor-Corbett’s take on the material is a strangely tame revue. It has no atmosphere and no affecting drama. Even the melodrama falls flat. Dire and ironic situations are acted out–say, Anna 2’s submitting to sex with a rich john, while the true love she’s found waits for her in the bed of a look-alike hotel room next door–yet nothing ever really seems to happen to anyone. This is not sound theatrical policy and certainly not good for a production that requires a heavy sardonic tone.
Sisters Under the Skin: LuPone and Whelan
Photo: Paul Kolnik
Patti LuPone, a Broadway-type singer with a dynamo voice, and Wendy Whelan, City Ballet’s senior ballerina, carried out their assignments well, Whelan working in her airy lyrical mode to reflect her character’s unimpeachable innocence. However, neither was magical. Nothing they did was likely to arouse the audience’s empathy. Similarly Beowulf Boritt’s sets and Judanna Lynn’s costumes, attractive on their own terms, failed to evoke the sleazy and mordant tone of the culture they needed to describe.
I could register other complaints, such as the distracting fact that it’s often hard to connect the sin named in the program with the representation it’s given on stage and that Anna 2’s physical modesty is overdone to the point of monotony. Still, none of this would matter if the show had only taken fire instead of remaining dutifully workmanlike. Instead it’s like a coloring book in which the crayon has been forbidden to venture outside the lines.
© 2011 Tobi Tobias