Overall, I found the ballet blander than I remembered. The pas de deux is lovely, with hints of danger and a slightly obsessive quality. Lauren Lovette, débuting in the “Julie Jordan” role at New York City Ballet, captured this sense of excessive abandon quite well. At first she seems frightened and tries to run away from this strange man who pursues her, but then she finds herself drawn in inexorably. Finally, she acquiesces entirely, running toward him and wrapping herself around him like a scarf, chest exposed, off balance, completely vulnerable. In her excessive self-exposure, “Julie” reminds me of Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass. A rather conventional swoony pas de deux follows, with the usual big lifts. The first part is more interesting, more uncomfortable. Why does the man grasp her forearms with such force, and why does she keep running back to him? Why does he leave her alone, defenseless, for a moment? Lovette, a dark beauty with sparkling eyes, was perhaps a touch too innocent, too sweet here. Her interpretation felt like an extension of her Maria, from West Side Story. But I’m sure she’ll find more nuances over time. I remember Peck having a strange sort of animal quality; at first she fought for her freedom, and then she seemed to give in to an urge that even she couldn’t quite understand.
But the main problem with the ballet is the Billy Bigelow part. In the musical, he’s depicted as an angry man with violent urges and a strong sexual energy. He’s damaged goods, but fatally attractive. But Wheeldon’s choreography for Billy gives him almost no chance to reveal himself. Billy comes across as more of a conventional romantic lead. For the most part, Wheeldon keeps him occupied with partnering, pulling, lifting, turning, catching the girl. Or standing apart, under a spotlight and watching her as concentric circles revolve around him. Finally, when he does dance alone, briefly, the choreography doesn’t give us a sense of who he is or what he represents. He performs a few jumps, some turns with his arms thrown out wide, and rushes about the stage with what looks like elation. Of course, it’s also true that there is absolutely nothing dark or dangerous about Robert Fairchild, who danced the role of Bigelow this afternoon. (In the recent New York Philharmonic production shown on Live from Lincoln Center it was equally hard to believe that Fairchild could be anything but a warm, lovely young man.) His dancing here had a lot of fervor but no real heat, and I do remember Woetzel having a bit more of an edge.
Wheeldon’s ensembles, which consist mainly of social dances and waltzes, interspersed with fluid, elegant lifts, are expertly handled, as are the big numbers, including a long diagonal of couples that rise up and fold down to the ground and roll away, like a wave. The carousel image, with the women raised on the men’s shoulders as if on horseback, is nice. As is the overall look of the ballet, suggesting a nocturnal outdoor dance pavilion, with two pretty garlands of colored lights hanging above. The costumes, stretchy summer dresses with panels in complementary colors (by Holly Hynes), flow beautifully as the women whirl. And I’ve always liked “Julie’s” yellow dress; the off-the shoulder straps expose her neck and upper back, making her look even more vulnerable, ripe for the picking.