New York City Ballet
Bournonville Divertissements, La Sylphide
New York, David H. Koch Theater
23 May 2015
New York City Ballet’s brief sojourn in the world of August Bournonville entered its final stretch this weekend. Soon a new community of forest-dwellers will rise up in our midst: performances of Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream begin on June 2. This weekend it was Lauren Lovette’s turn to strap on her sylph wings and lure the restless James into the woods in Peter Martin’s staging of Bournonville’s La Sylphide.
Martins’ production, though essentially true to the original, is a rushed affair. The intermission has been cut. Tempi are brisk. In the first-act party scene, one man’s (Gurn’s) solo segues without pause into the next (James’), leaving little time to breathe. (As a result Gurn gets no applause.) Nothing is given the chance to resonate. The brisk pace is echoed by the light treatment of the secondary characters – Madge, Gurn – i.e. mainly for laughs. The cumulative effect is that the ballet’s overall impact is less than it might be.
Even so, individual performances stand out. In her début as the Sylph, Lovette was warm, soft, enticing, more child-like than enigmatic. When she discovered that James, the object of her fascination, was engaged to marry a woman of flesh and blood, she clutched at her heart; one could almost feel the pain blossoming there. In her death scene, she seemed to wilt; life drained out of her, on the spot. Her arms – liquid and always in motion – were particularly lovely.
In another début, Anthony Huxley danced the role of the Scottish dreamer, James. It’s hard to imagine a dancer more suited to Bournonville’s choreography than Huxley. He has the gift of coordination: arms, head, shoulders, torso, feet, all working together to create a crisp, harmonious impression. His jumps begin and end in a deep, pliant plié. He rides the music, landing squarely and silently, and infallibly on the beat.
His interpretation of the character, though, is more problematic. His small, slender build and closed expression make him look like a very serious boy in an illustrated book. He’s not particularly easy to read except when the situation calls for wonderment or alarm. When he finds himself surrounded by fairies, a look of recognition brightens his eyes, as if he had found a community of kindred spirits. Perhaps, his attitude suggests, James feels more at home with them than in the human world. In comparison, Troy Schumacher’s Gurn – another début – is decidedly down-to-earth: vulnerable, confused, and ardent. It makes perfect sense that the earthy Effie should choose him in the end.
In the first half of the program, a new cast took over Stanley Williams’ Bournonville Divertissements, a suite of excerpts from various ballets by the Danish master. The dancers gave a clean rendition of the crisp footwork, full of beats, circles of the legs and bouncy pliés. But, with the exception of Russell Janzen and a few others, their upper bodies remained rather square, their arms too stiff, too straight. With their legs they were dancing Bournonville; with their upper bodies, Balanchine. Nevertheless, the choreography, full of witty ideas, is a delight in itself.
The high point of the program was the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano, danced by Teresa Reichlen and Zachary Catazaro. Reichlen’s marvelous sense of ease flowed through the steps: cabrioles, hops, and playful fouettés in which she faces first one way and then the other, in arabesque. Catazaro burst through a sequence of big split jumps, hair flying, eyes ablaze. The technique is a challenge for a dancer of his height, but he made up for what he lacked in speed with panache. (Now if he could just point his feet a little more…) The two had an undeniable chemistry – they danced with their eyes. For that brief moment, the spirit of Bournonville was alive and well.