New York City Ballet – Tchaikovsky & Balanchine, Stravinsky & Balanchine bills – New York

Tiler Peck in <I>Theme and Variations</I>.<br />© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)
Tiler Peck in Theme and Variations.
© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

New York City Ballet
Tchaikovsky & BalanchineSerenade, Mozartiana, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3
Stravinsky & Balanchine: Apolo, Monumentum Pro Gesualdo, Movements for Piano and Orchestra, Duo Concertant, Agon

New York, David H. Koch Theater
24, 25 September 2014

Bringing Balanchine Back

New York City Ballet is in the midst of a two-week Balanchine tear, interrupted only by next week’s new works program (Oct .2), at which time Alexei Ratmansky’s latest ballet for the company will be revealed. There are three all-Balanchine programs to choose from:  all-Tchaikovsky, all-Stravinsky, and a mixed bill that includes Donizetti Variations, La Sonnambula, and Firebird. I caught the first two this week and was reminded, once again, that there really is nothing quite like seeing City Ballet dance Balanchine.

One cannot help but be amazed by the number of exceptional women in the company, and by how differently they approach the steps, the music and the temperament of each ballet. There is no one quality that defines them as a group except perhaps musicality. But even in this respect, they are remarkably unalike: how can one compare Tiler Peck’s opulence and ease with the crisp, staccato attack of Sterling Hyltin, for example? One is a surfer, gliding on the shining surface of the music, the other a cat on a hot tin roof. And how does one compare them to the excitement produced by Sara Mearns, who doesn’t appear so much to listen to the music as to live its internal storyline? Or to the showmanship of Ashley Bouder, who seems to laugh her way through Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, inviting her audience to buckle its seatbelts and come along for the ride?

Chase Finlay in <I>Duo Concertant</I>.<br />© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)
Chase Finlay in Duo Concertant.
© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

The high points of these two programs are too many to list here, so I’ll just touch upon a few. First and foremost, a Theme and Variations (Sept. 24) performed by Tiler Peck and Joaquín de Luz with such eloquence and panache that it made one forget the dreariness of the rest of Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. (Three whole movements of elusive loose-haired maidens wafting across the stage in diaphanous dresses!) Peck, through a combination of technical assurance and imagination, has become a master illusionist. A relatively small person, she seems to expand to twice her size in this role, moving through Balanchine’s formal, regal choreography with weight, majesty, and a composure that belies the notorious difficulty of the choreography. She hovers off-balance, throws off blindingly fast chaînés, and turns transitional steps into major events. And as she does so, she trasnforms herself into a color in the conductor’s palette, adding lilt and swing to the music. De Luz, too, holds up his end of the bargain; he’s noble and serious but never stiff, polished, self-assured, with vertical jumps followed by clean landings. If only he were just tiny a bit taller, it would make the partnering a little more balanced.

Tiler Peck in Theme and Variations.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)
Tiler Peck in Theme and Variations.
© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

There was a dazzling Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, which Ashley Bouder spiced up with a touch of flash, as is her wont. Bouder holds positions and turns until she’s almost late, then speeds up the next bit, never losing clarity, her eyes laughing all the while: “watch this!” Her partner, Gonzalo García, was game, though he danced with a dazed expression that made him look he had just awoken from a nap. Maybe dancing alongside Bouder does that to one.  And what a pleasure to see Mozartiana after a few seasons out of rotation. Like Balanchine’s Divertimento from Baiser de la Fée it starts as one kind of ballet, and ends as another. Baiser appears light and ends up being heavy. Mozartiana is just the opposite.  Set to Tchaikvosky’ Suite No. 4, Op. 61, it opens with a lachrymose prayer. Flanked by four little girls—perfection-in-training— the ballerina drifts across the stage in tiny, gliding bourrées, holding her hands in a prayerful pose (a bit like “Prayer” in Coppélia). The passage unfurls as if in one breath and ends on a long, held chord for the orchestra’s high strings, as if the world were waiting for the sky to open. And then, without warning, the ballet  becomes a courtly, elegant delight, an essay in Mozartian wit and esprit. One solo variation builds on another, each happier than the last, until, as if to say “that’s enough!” the piece closes with an exposition of calm, classical form. Order and happiness have been restored. The leads on this night were Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle. Angle convincingly channels Mozart’s slightly ironic courtesy and quiet joy—though it would be nice if he stretched his legs and pointed his feet more in his solos. And he is the most gracious of partners. Kowroski, with her expansive limbs and slightly goofy sense of humor, is perhaps a touch broad for the role, but has also made it her own. (She was more convincing the following night, in Agon.) Next week (Sept. 30) Sara Mearns will make her début in the ballet, alongside Chase Finlay—an intriguing pairing.

Robert Fairchild in <I>Apollo</I>.<br />© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)
Robert Fairchild in Apollo.
© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

On the Stravinsky program (Sept. 25), Robert Fairchild returned to Apollo, making a greater impression than he had the first time around. 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. Tiler Peck débuted as Terpsichore, the muse of dance. She looked a little nervous at first, but then in her solo and the famous pas de deux—the one with the swimming lift—she let the music be her guide. In a series of playful brisé jumps, her feet crossed and uncrossed in the air just as the violins performed a little trill; it sent shivers up your spine. Toward the end of the ballet, the other two muses, Lauren Lovette (débuting as Calliope, the muse of poetry) and Ashley Bouder, shared an almost competitive gallop across the stage. The performance had none of the reverential solemnity one often sees in Apollo.

Teresa Reichlen in <I>Movements for Piano and Orchestra</I>.<br />© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)
Teresa Reichlen in Movements for Piano and Orchestra.
© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

At the same performance, Teresa Reichlen danced Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra with a kind of serene daring, betraying no effort at all. The moment in which two men throw her high into the air was particularly striking; she seemed poised to fly. Her dancing looks almost unschooled, as if she had been born to move this way. One never sees a preparation or an ending; each movement simply leads into the next. Nor does Reichlen change much from ballet to ballet. She’s just herself, Botticellian, imperturbable.

Reichlen, Lovette, Peck, Mearns, Kowroski, Bouder, Hyltin. (Not to mention Wendy Whelan, the company’s senior ballerina, who retires at the end of the season.) It’s not a bad time to be a dance lover.

About the author

Marina Harss

Marina Harss is a free-lance dance writer and translator in New York. Her dance writing has appeared in the New Yorker, The Nation, Playbill, The Faster Times, DanceView, The Forward, Pointe, and Ballet Review. Her translations, which include Irène Némirovsky’s “The Mirador,” Dino Buzzati’s “Poem Strip,” and Pasolini’s “Stories from the City of God” have been published by FSG, Other Press, and New York Review Books. You can check her updates on Twitter at: @MarinaHarss

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