Breaking the Waves (Review of Martha Graham’s Fall and Recover Gala, for DanceTabs)

Blakeley White-McGuire (and her extraordinary dress) in "Imperial Gesture." Photo by Charles Eilber.
Blakeley White-McGuire (and her extraordinary dress) in “Imperial Gesture.” Photo by Charles Eilber.

Here’s my review of the Martha Graham Fall and Recovery Gala, which included the restored version of Imperial Gesture, an intriguing excerpt from Canticle for Innocent Comedians, a new work by Luca Veggetti, and an excerpt of a work-in-progress by Duato.

And a short excerpt:

“Even more than with other choreographers, the costumes and sets are essential elements of Graham’s dance imagination. Think of Martha’s stretchy sack-dress in Lamentation, or the prickly metal tree-dress by Noguchi in Cave of the Heart. They are extensions of the dancers’ bodies, and of Graham’s Jungian world-view. Even more, they color our perception of the movement. A contraction of the pelvis looks quite different in a leotard than it does in a floor-length cape-dress.”

Any thoughts on the current Graham season?

Sleeping Beauty at New York City Ballet—When it all Clicks

Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik

New York City closed its Tchaikovsky-themed winter season with two weeks of performances of Peter Martins’ staging of Sleeping Beauty. I always think of this this great classical ballet as a luminous example of the triumph of form. When all the elements come together—musical interpretation, sets and costumes, grandeur and detail in the dancing—I feel an irrepressible surge of emotion at its splendor. Watching its patterns unfold is like a visit to Vaux le Vicomte: how could something be so beautiful, so elegant, so harmoniously grand? Tchaikovsky’s music conveys this feeling with ardor and a kind of blind belief: the longing for things to be made right (just think of the cello solo in the Vision Scene), the lure of fantasy (think of the sparkle of the Bluebird pas de deux), the glorification of harmony (the horns in the wedding pas de deux), the delight of ensemble dancing (the irrepressible drive of the Garland Waltz). In Sleeping Beauty, one easily recognizes the antecedent to Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, and the luminous finale of Symphony in C.

Teresa Reichlen as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Teresa Reichlen as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Every balletomane has his or her ideal version of the ballet. I’m not sure I’ve yet seen mine, but in the absence of perfection, and despite some reservations (mainly about its rushed pace), I have great admiration for Peter Martins’ staging for New York City Ballet. The scenery, by David Mitchell, is really quite beautiful. Mitchell uses projections of châteaux and landscapes to create a sense of space, inviting the audience to envision the story from afar and then experience it from close at hand. I especially love the way the projections slowly pan out, in a series of still images, from the courtyard where Princess Aurora’s birthday celebrations take place to the exterior of the castle, the forest, and then the entire kingdom, with just a small spire in the distance to suggest the castle’s isolation from the world. Then we fly high above a long, meandering river to the forest where Prince Désiré cavorts half-heartedly with his guests. Like Tchaikovsky’s pulsing music at this point in the score, the voyage through space also suggests a voyage through time. The Prince’s hunting party occurs one hundred years after the original events, in a setting that evokes by Watteau’s Fêtes Galantes. Mitchell’s autumnal scene, with rust-colored foliage and a river glistening in the distance, is very handsome, as are Patricia Zipprodt’s deliciously detailed costumes. I especially love Aurora’s slightly faded white tutu in the wedding scene, with a fine chain extending from the bodice and around the upper arm, accentuating the épaules, one of the loveliest parts of a dancer’s anatomy. Zipprodt’s colors are muted and faintly “antique,” thankfully free of the garish Disney-quality so often used in fairy-tale productions.

The hunting scene, however, reveals one of the staging’s nagging problems: an unwillingness to allow the story to take the time it needs to build atmosphere. No sooner have the Prince’s companions arrived that they are sent scurrying off again. An entire scene, along with its mime and courtly dances, has been cut. The scene no longer makes sense, except as an elaborate excuse to introduce the Prince. (An expensive excuse, too, since the costumes in the scene are quite sumptuous.) Similarly, the fairies’ individual solos in the prologue, each of which is meant to embody a quality presented to the young princess as a gift, are danced at such a clip that meaning and cleanness of execution are inevitably sacrificed. The dancers do their best, but they look rushed and rather pained. It’s a shame, because these are wonderful little miniatures, each with its own quality and perfume.

Balanchine's "Garland Dance" in "Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Balanchine’s “Garland Dance” in “Sleeping Beauty.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Martins has left many passages of choreography untouched: the Rose Adagio, the Vision, Balanchine’s glorious Garland Dance (with its necklace of little girls threading through the patterns), Bluebird, the Wedding pas de deux. Martins’ fairy-tale divertissements—especially Little Red Riding Hood, featuring another little girl from the company school—are especially pleasing. Martins has a knack for character dances, especially those for children. I also admire his homage to Balanchine during the Wedding divertissements, a pas de quatre with jewel tones:  Emerald, Ruby, Diamond, Gold. The third variation, for Diamond, is quite tricky, with its syncopated, accented music, to which he has set complex phrases of hops on point. I always look forward to it.

That said, the company doesn’t always dance Sleeping Beauty with the sparkle it deserves. The mime passages are rather vague, and the courtiers often look stiff and lost rather than noble and engaged. NYCB’s dancers are not trained to act, and the ballet’s extreme classicism can leave them looking rather exposed. For all these reasons, especially toward the beginning of the run the ballet  didn’t quite cohere. Tiler Peck, who had been so wonderful in her début as Aurora a few years back, now looked like she was trying too hard to “sell” the character. Aurora isn’t really a character anyway, more like a series of essences: child-like charm, dreamy longing, womanly grandeur, joy.

The final tableau in Peter Martins' Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The final tableau in Peter Martins’ Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

But the Feb. 21 performance fulfilled the ballet’s promise. Perhaps, after a week-and-a-half of shows, the style had cohered. The conductor, Andrews Sill, brought out the lushness and colors of the score, and for the most part, did not rush, though the tempi remained brisk and bright. The lilting violin melody during Aurora’s wedding solo was particularly well played—bravo to the violinist.  Sterling Hyltin’s Aurora was wonderfully fresh, skittish, delicate, and un-mannered, though she seemed a little bit nervous at first. Hyltin is one of the company’s most charming, feminine dancers. She has an innate sophistication and taste, but also a wonderful friskiness and light, happy jump. And she is appealingly free of airs, almost modest, despite the radiance of her dancing. Robert Fairchild, her Prince, danced with his usual ardor, to which he added a greater polish than I had ever seen from him. His partnering was, as always, devoted, impeccable.

There was an air of happiness onstage. Everyone seemed to be dancing his or her best. Lauren Lovette was a delicious Ruby, sensual and vivacious and lush. Ashley Laracey’s Fairy of Generosity was confident and lyrical, with gorgeously stretched lines. Teresa Reichlen, stepping in for Rebecca Krohn, radiated energy with her back, her head, her milky arms, one movement melting into the next. Lauren King, as Princess Florine, broke through her usual cheerful but slightly tense demeanor, arms fluttering, eyes engaged, chest and shoulders suggesting a fluttering heart. It was a charmed evening.

Shortly afterward, it was announced that eleven dancers had been promoted just as the performance was about to begin. Perhaps this explained some of the exuberance to be seen onstage. Hard work, form, perseverance, precision, belief: it all pays off. A brilliant way to finish the season.

Here is a list of the promotions:

From corps to soloist: Lauren King, Ashley Laracey’s, Megan LeCrone, Lauren Lovette, Georgina Pazcoguin, Justin Peck, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley.

And from soloist to principal: Adrian Danchig-Waring, Chase Finlay and Ask la Cour.

Breaking Through: An Interview with Teresa Reichlen

Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle in Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Recently sat down with Teresa Reichlen, of New York City Ballet; here‘s a link to my interview, for DanceTabs.

Reichlen has been dancing gorgeously this season; she seems to have broken through some emotional barrier that was holding her back slightly. She’s one of those dancers that just seem to transcend technique and really dance. You can still catch her as Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty on Feb. 22. But keep an eye out for her, especially in roles like the opening section of Vienna Waltzes or Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Dances Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette

Carla Körbes and Seth Orza in Roméo et Juliette. Photo by Angela Sterling.
Carla Körbes and Seth Orza in Roméo et Juliette. Photo by Angela Sterling.

The final performances of the company’s New York run were devoted to Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Here‘s my review, for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt:

“The ballet is laced with repetitive motifs that do nothing to advance the plot or provide insight into the interior lives of the characters. Do we really need not one but two foreshadowings of Romeo’s death? And two scenes in which Juliet’s nurse is squeezed and prodded by Romeo’s friends? All this is hammered home with great emphasis; no emotion is left un-amplified.”

Seeing Balanchine with New Eyes: Pacific Northwest Ballet in NYC (DanceTabs)

When an out-of-town company brings Balanchine ballets to New York, part of the pleasure is seeing  different versions of familiar works. This week, Pacific Northwest Ballet presented a single evening of Balanchine: Agon, Concerto Barocco, and Apollo, all but Apollo staged by Francia Russell, who danced with NYCB in the fifties. Apollo was staged by Peter Boal, now the company’s artistic director. Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt:

“One of the thrilling aspects of dance (and anything that involves the body) is that it is constantly in flux. Technique changes, steps are filtered through a company – or national – style, and choreography is remembered differently by different people. Someone who learned a ballet in the fifties will have performed slightly different steps than a ballerina dancing it twenty years later (or earlier). She will then pass on those alternate steps to a particular group of dancers under her tutelage. Not to speak of personal style. Just think of some of the ballerinas who have performed in Concerto Barocco: Suzanne Farrell, Diana Adams, Gelsey Kirkland, Allegra Kent, Tanaquil LeClercq. It’s a surprise we recognize the ballet at all.”

“The Music Comes First” — an interview with Sara Mearns (DanceTabs)

Sara Mearns as Dewdrop. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Sara Mearns as Dewdrop. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Here is a recent interview with Sara Mearns of New York City Ballet, for DanceTabs, in which she discusses  recent struggles with injury, her love of dance, and some interesting upcoming plans.

A little excerpt:

“The music comes first, hands down. The music will tell you everything. It will guide you to where you need to go. It’s hard to describe how I go to that place when I get out there and hear that music. There’s nothing else.”

What are some of your mental images of Mearns’ dancing?