New York City Ballet – Music Director’s Choice: Barber Violin Concerto, Fancy Free, Who Cares?, Candide (Overture) – New York

Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle in Peter Martins' <I>Barber Violin Concerto</I>.<br />© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle in Peter Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto.
© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

New York City Ballet
Winter Season Opening
Music Director’s Choice: Barber Violin Concerto, Fancy Free, Who Cares?, Candide (Overture)

★★★✰✰

New York, David H. Koch Theater
19 January 2015
www.nycballet.com

By opening its winter season with a program chosen by its new music director, New York City Ballet makes a couple of things quite clear: that it is hellbent on being seen to support Andrew Litton in his new role, and to remind everyone that City Ballet’s focus on musicality is inextricable from the company ethos. The program just so happened to be, like NYCB, very American, and highly syncopated.

Several performances in Who Cares? – Balanchine’s Gershwin scored, pitch perfect tribute to old Hollywood – stole the show Tuesday night, most notably Tiler Peck and Ana Sophia Scheller. Peck brings an unbridled passion to Who Cares?, especially in the monstrously difficult, vivacious solo to Fascinatin’ Rhythm. Apropos, Peck’s rhythm is fierce and on form. She is the overcaffeinated Balanchine dancer: ebullient but never untidy. In the finale, she stretches balances to the last millisecond, filling the music without ever being off time–something one more readily expects in Swan Lake than a Gershwin ballet. Peck is all the better for it, flaunting the piece as the work of Olympian athleticism and whirlwind musicality that it should be.
 

Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck in George Balanchine's Who Cares.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s Who Cares.
© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

Scheller charms in her solo to My One and Only which has some of the most satisfying hip thrusts and wrist flicks in all of Mr. B’s oeuvre. Her ownership is complete, her sass satisfying. Robert Fairchild, as the main man in town partnering three soloists, means well throughout, but is ho-hum until he wakes up in the 15th scene, in his solo to Liza. In this penultimate movement he is all panache, swivel and flare with execution to match. Harrison Coll and Ralph Ippolito, brimming with verve, stood out among the corps for their drive, enthusiasm and accuracy throughout the jazzy piece.

Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, about three sailors partying on shore leave, is another crowd pleaser, and Tuesday night’s cast did it credit without blowing it out of the water. Joaquin de Luz is the eager and wiry powerhouse, Tyler Angle the dreamy romantic and Amar Ramasar the witty, smirking youth. Fancy’s opening is actually a touch sinister, with the sailors creating a ruckus of street harassment and purse pinching in the name of flirtation.

Georgina Pazcoguin, as the girl in yellow (first of the “Passers-by”), proves “a good sport,” even after her hair is dishevelled by the sailors, and gives in – briefly – to their wiles, as does Sterling Hyltin. Hyltin’s pas de deux with Angle is sweet enough but doesn’t take the breath away as I have sometimes seen with other troupes (ABT and SFB in particular). Fancy Free is a “fun” ballet, but the undercurrents, as with many a Robbins work, are quite pensive, revolving around desire, yearning and antidotes for loneliness. City Ballet doesn’t dwell on this however, but they could tap this potential if they want to.

Ramasar uses his eyebrows with a charming precision, and while he didn’t get as many laughs as de Luz and Angle, he was no less deserving; in fact, he deserved it more. Ramasar felt more three-dimensional, his character more believable than his peers. One tip could be given: to curve his cha-cha hips up more, making Fancy’s one moment of booty shake really smile.
 

Amar Ramasar in Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

Amar Ramasar in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free.
© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

After the brisk and boisterous orchestra-only opening of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide overture, the night got off to a slightly rocky start with Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto. Russell Janzen stepped in for Ask la Coeur, partnering Sara Mearns in their role as the “classical” couple.

Perhaps as a result of the substitution, Janzen lacked the confident, princely air one wants to see in the opening movement, which, in musicality and choreography, is sweepingly romantic. Mearns, however, expects him to be there, and arcs back into his arms without a care. Megan Fairchild introduces herself as the assured “modern” dancer (originally set on Kate Johnson, a Paul Taylor dancer), partnered by a staid Jared Angle (created on David Parsons).

Barber pits two different ethos against each other, that of American modern dance and classical – albeit modern also – ballet. The two reach a fever pitch in the second movement, with the classical ballerina dancing with the wild modern man. Despite the work’s attempt at thwarting the status quo, the ballerina is the one who gets down, and Mearns, true to form, revels in letting her hair down in a feisty and at times awkward pas de deux. She looks as if she might sail out of Angle’s arms rather than into them, after a pirouette that swirls into a penchee nearly sent her flying into the orchestra pit. Angle meanwhile keeps doing his crouching poses as Mearns works herself into a frenzy of spinning, twirling and diving. Martins’ opposites attract conceit is obvious, but Barber nevertheless still leans on tried gender roles of the man standing and supporting while the female dancer provides the variety and spectacle. The third movement, with its pulsating, Stravinsky-like percussion, produces a clash pas. Fairchild struggles for the attentions of the detached Janzen, and the audience laughs because Fairchild is comedically gifted, and it is a common narrative: clingy woman fails to attract/engage man. While both sexes are guilty, the violence (Janzen’s arm is a guillotine to Fairchild’s neck) is far from funny.
 

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Lauren Gallagher is a dance writer based in New York City. Formerly a dance critic for the San Francisco Examiner, she spent her childhood as a Rudolf Nureyev groupie and considers London her second home. She Tweets about ballet, books, cars, and life at: @snickersnacked.

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