New York City Ballet
Dances at a Gathering, Union Jack
New York, David H. Koch Theater
9 February 2014
Soave Sia il Vento
For a dancer, calculating the right moment to say goodbye is an art in itself. One of the cruel ironies of dance is that just as a dancer comes fully into her own as a human being and an interpreter, her physical prowess plateaus and then begins to fray. It’s tempting to hold on to that golden moment long after the glow has faded. And yet there is so much still left to say.
Some dancers leave us wanting more. That’s how Jenifer Ringer’s retirement from New York City Ballet feels; we’ve seen so little of her in recent seasons, and she’s dancing so well. I would have wanted to see her again in Emeralds, as the Cigarette Girl in Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna, in Liebeslieder Waltzes. (She brought tears to my eyes a few years ago during a public coaching of Liebeslieder with the French ballerina Violette Verdy. Dressed in rehearsal clothes, under bright studio lights, she and her partner conjured a completely enclosed world in which only they existed. After they finished Verdy said simply, “that was perfect, I have nothing to say.”)
But Ringer leaves with no regrets, with two children to look after, a new memoir in bookstores – Dancing Through It – and a new life in Los Angeles, where her husband will manage Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project. As so many of her performances have in the past, her farewell on Feb. 9 exuded poise, generosity, warmth, presence of mind. More than any other dancer I’ve seen, Ringer is fully herself onstage, a person first, and then a dancer.
The Koch Theatre was full to the rafters, the audience peppered with present and former City Ballet colleagues. Ringer danced the Girl in Pink in Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering and the Pearly Queen in Balanchine’s homage to Britain, Union Jack. (She also made a tiny impromptu appearance in the hornpipe of the same ballet.) Both are well served by Ringer’s warmth and 1920’s glamour-girl beauty: creamy complexion, raven-black hair, dark, sparkling eyes. Ringer writes eloquently in her memoir about the joys of performing in Dances, the “sense of completion and gratefulness” that comes at the end. And of the lessons she learned from Jerome Robbins, who told her never to take her eyes off her partner. She took the lesson to heart. In every interaction onstage, life shone through her eyes. “We have a silent dialogue going on between us,” she writes, and when she’s onstage, we can almost hear it.
Then there is her musicality, so profound and knowing – so very adult – but never showy. One can see her listening and responding not only to the sound but to the phrasing and its intention, pulling in her legs while hovering in a lift just a millisecond after the beat to draw attention to an accent, or finishing a transition with a tilt of the head, as if completing a thought. (In Union Jack, she blew a kiss at the orchestra, and you could tell that she meant it.) It’s clear she has considered each moment, and has a story to go along with it. But the interpretation never seems forced or imposed, nor does her technique, still strong and seemingly effortless despite two maternity leaves and all-too-infrequent appearances in recent years. Her balances, in particular, seem to float in the air, which gives her dancing a great sense of amplitude and freedom. She radiates ease.
Her ability to create a story comes in particularly handy in the jazzy “Costermonger Pas de Deux” in Union Jack. More vaudeville number than ballet, with its mugging and soft-shoe moves, it has a tendency to fall flat; the more the dancers try to be funny, the less it works. With her light and sophisticated touch – and excellent timing – Ringer made it sparkle. She rolled her hips and flirted with the audience, shook her shoulders and played along with her partner, but she never became a caricature. She has the glamor, and the comedic talent, of an old-time movie star. Meanwhile, her partner, Amar Ramasar, seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, clowning around as he twirled his umbrella and threw himself into off-balance moves. He countered Ringer’s minimalism with his usual maximalism, exuding a great sense of fun. He wasn’t the only one. The company danced Union Jack, always a fun ballet, with particular gusto. The hornpipe – performed by Troy Schumacher, Savannah Lowery, and Giovanni Villalobos – was especially euphoric.
I can’t imagine the company dancing Dances at a Gathering better than it is being danced this season. The hour-long ballet goes by without any longueurs; every moment has its meaning and mood. The characters are clearly drawn, from the tentative graspings at first love of the Girl in Mauve (Rebecca Krohn) to the grandiose volubility of the Girl in Green, played with wonderful loopyness by Maria Kowroski. In a previous cast this week, Lauren Lovette and Joseph Gordon (both débuting in the ballet) were a revelation in the “wind waltz,” flying across the stage as if blown by a breeze, but also revealing the first pangs of attraction. Zachary Catazaro, with his dark good looks and romantic demeanor, adds yet another color to the ballet’s palette.
Just before the end of the ballet, the Boy in Brown, danced with great lyricism by Gonzalo García, makes the symbolic gesture of kneeling and touching the stage with his palm, as if consecrating it. As he stood up, he turned slightly toward Ringer. A look passed between them, full of joy and sadness – feelings shared by all those who were lucky enough to see this remarkably graceful farewell.