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June 4, 2004

New York Times

The two premieres that Peter Martins has choreographed for New York City Ballet could not be more different. In "Chichester Psalms," he has visualized Leonard Bernstein's most popular choral work (with the same title) and its plea for world peace. The end result is an affecting, simple allegory that beautifully integrates dancers and choral singers on the same stage.

As a ballet, "Chichester Psalms," like its music, is a rousing call to spiritual arms. With its six psalms or excerpts sung in Hebrew, "Chichester Psalms" is not timely but timeless in its universal appeal for harmony and brotherhood. Mr. Martins has invited the Juilliard Choral Union, directed by Judith Clurman, to share the stage with the dancers for his ballet's performances. His ballet is in the tradition of the Balanchine and Robbins works with chorus seen at the company's 1972 Stravinsky Festival. At that festival's close, the dancers sat onstage and listened to the singers.

Mr. Martins puts the chorus and dancers on equal footing with stirring impact. Standing on a semicircle of steps, the two groups cannot be told apart. Catherine Barinas has costumed all in biblical cool: white chiffon skirts and laced bodices for the women, black robes for the men. (The male dancers have see-through tops.) Mark Stanley's lighting is on a stunning, dramatic plane, transforming the stage and two sets of hanging ropes behind the chorus according to mood.

Commissioned by Walter Hussey, the dean of Chichester Cathedral in England, Bernstein wrote a deliberately accessible composition and joked that John Cage would find it square. On Wednesday, the 13-year-old James Danner was the "boy soloist" Bernstein required. At its first performance in Chichester (July 31, 1965), the choir was all male. But the mixed chorus here allows for contrast, as Mr. Martins translates Bernstein's images of joy, strife and harmony.

Posted by acapnews at June 4, 2004 9:46 PM

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