Here’s my review of the Jan. 20 and Jan. 22 programs at New York City Ballet, which included six works by Balanchine: Serenade, Agon, Symphony in C, Donizetti Variations, La Valse, and Chaconne. Not bad for two nights at the ballet.
A little excerpt:
“These Balanchine evenings quickly establish the company’s core values: musicality, speed, lightness of touch, spaciousness, style. They also impress upon the audience the vast range of balletic modes in which the choreographer worked…. The ballets are not only worlds in themselves but, taken as a group, they seem to encompass most of ballet.”
Last night I saw my umpteenth performance of Balanchine’s Nutcracker at New York City Ballet, and was once again impressed by the construction, power, and fluency of this version. Yes, it was a particularly tight performance, without a weak link—even the kids were especially lively. But it’s not just that. There is something in the way the choreographer paced the action, the dancing, and the music that both streamlines and enlarges it. I talk about it some more in my review for DanceTabs.
And if you just can’t get enough, here is an excellent piece by Laura Jacobs about the history of the ballet, from Vanity Fair.
Here’s my review of the Saturday matinee at New York City Ballet, including débuts by Sara Mearns and Russell Janzen in Balanchine’s Chaconne and my second look at Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go, from last season.
And a short excerpt: “[Everywhere We Go] begins well, with a striking duet for two men, or rather for a man and his shadow. This shadowing theme suffuses the rest of the ballet, particularly the complicated relationship between principals and corps. Peck constantly subverts the hierarchies of lead dancers and ensemble. Dancers melt in and out of larger formations; at times the shadow figures become the main event. Peck’s configurations for the ensemble are often asymmetrical, non-frontal, kaleidoscopic, but never less than clear.”
New York City Ballet has been going from strength in a series of all-Balanchine programs. I review ballets with music by Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky here. A short excerpt:
“On the Stravinsky program (Sept. 25), Robert Fairchild returned to Apollo…He has relaxed into this challenging role and is now able to take risks, tilting dangerously (and excitingly) off-balance and pushing the tempo to create moments of surprise and wildness. Like the unruly young god he depicts, Fairchild tests his strengths and weaknesses before us on the stage.”
Here’s my latest for DanceTabs, a review of New York City Ballet’s spring gala, which included a new ballet, a pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon, and the revival of an older work, Soirée Musicale, as well as excerpts from Who Cares, Stars and Stripes, Glass Pieces, and West Side Story Suite.
And a short excerpt:
“Considering the many distinctive works Wheeldon has given this company over the years…a Wheeldon première inevitably brings raised expectations. His newest piece, A Place for Us, turns out to be an extended pas de deux for two of the company’s most musical dancers, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. Both move with scintillating clarity mixed with a jazzy sense of all-American informality….In response to these qualities, Wheeldon has created a dance that has the feel of an improvisation, as well as an homage to the artful spontaneity cultivated by Jerome Robbins in works like Other Dances and A Suite of Dances.”
Questions, comments, and complaints welcome!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s my review of Tuesday’s program at New York City Ballet, which featured the return of Jerome Robbins’ N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz and Peter Martins’ rarely performed Waltz Project.
And a short excerpt:
“I’m always surprised at how sexual Opus Jazz really is – remember, it was made in the fifties – especially the two middle sections, Statics and Passage for Two. In Statics, three guys hang out on a rooftop – denoted by a few chimneys outlined against a dark sky, by Ben Shahn – lunging and sliding, kicking and making fists. They’re gaming for a fight. The accompaniment is all percussion (by Robert Prince), drums and cowbells, thumping syncopations. Into this hotbed of male adolescent aimlessness saunters Georgina Pazcoguin, super-sexualized and over-confident, taunting them with her curves.”
On Sunday, at the New York City Ballet matinée, the company performed a mixed bill: Divertimento from ‘Baiser de la Fée,’ Tchaikosvky Pas de Deux, Bal de Couture, and Diamonds. As always, I was fascinated by Divertimento‘s ungraspable quality. It seems like one kind of ballet, but turns out to be something completely different. Its haunting ending makes you question everything you’ve seen before. Tiler Peck captures this transformation perfectly; she is able to transform herself, subtly, from country girl to spellbound woman, lost in a dream. You can see my review here.
Sara Mearns also performed, in Diamonds:
“Sara Mearns, back from an injury which had kept her off the stage for nine months, was in rare form, dancing with that special intensity that sets her apart from other ballerinas. One could almost hear her thoughts as she slowly zig-zagged across the stage toward her cavalier (Ask la Cour) at the start of their pas de deux. The deep arch in her back in the duet’s many backbends expressed enormous yearning; each unfolding of the leg was a momentous, slow, deliberate affair. “I am your queen, and I have suffered long.” Like a great opera singer, Mearns is able to sustain endless legato phrases, melodies that modulate and stretch and leave the viewer gasping for air.”
I recently sat down with Valerie Taylor Barnes, wife of the late critic Clive Barnes and founder of the Clive Barnes Foundation, rewarding what she calls “that mysterious thing called artistry.” She is incredibly gracious, funny, and full of stories. You can read the interview here.
Here she is, talking about Frederick Ashton:
“I loved all his work. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, absolutely lovely. He was very, very sensitive. I never knew him to lose his temper, with all the trials and tribulations; he was always just terrific, with a great sense of humor. I learned, well, I suppose everything I knew about the theatre from him. He was very open and generous with everything. His way of choreographing was wonderful because he would ask us to join in. He would say: ‘Just do a step to that,’ and even if he didn’t use it, you felt like you were partaking in what was going on. It kept everybody interested. I think everybody loved him. He was an amazing man.”