New York City Ballet
20th Century Violin Concertos: The Red Violin, In Memory Of…, Stravinsky Violin Concerto
New York, David H. Koch Theater
7 October 2017
It goes without saying that Stravinsky Violin Concerto is considered one of Balanchine’s greatest works, but never have I seen it shine so brightly than Saturday night at the Koch, with Rebecca Krohn giving her farewell performance.
The finale on an otherwise drab and dreary program, Stravinsky dazzled with searing vitality. Noteable was Sterlin Hyltin’s footwork, timing and panache in the Toccata movement were a sight to behold. Hyltin again proves a shining example of City Ballet at its best, the company which puts musicality first. Hyltin’s fluidity and poise went beyond technical prowess, her intuition a match for the tricky rhythms at play.
Play itself was a big part of the performance on Saturday night, both because of Stravinsky’s inherent gamboling qualities and the gala-like atmosphere Krohn’s goodbye was bound to have. And who better than Amar Ramasar wo always deserves a gold star for “playing well with others?” The boyish, grinning Ramasar – a fastidious, frisky partner to Krohn in the first Aria – looked as if his chest would burst with happiness, his smile contagious to the nth degree. In the Capriccio, he even managed to tease some frolic out of Ask la Cour, who, at least in the first movement, looked rather strained.
Stravinsky boasts at least one, if not two sexy pas de deuxs, and Krohn – whose mentor Karin von Aroldingen originated the role – didn’t let us down in the first Aria. The striking, arachnidian posturing took on a flirtatious jazz vibe rather than one of vigilant modernism. From the first undulation of her hips, Krohn is sensual but sharp – a woman aware of her own powers, of her own agency. Her partnership with Ramasar adds a warmth to this pas which is so often chiseled to a stiletto point. In an exchange of wit and fire, their bodies flirt mid-tryst for their enjoyment alone and no one else’s.
In Aria II, Hyltin – partnered by la Cour – is radiant in her fleet footedness. She picks up the soft, pulsing rhythms and her hips are alive to it like a salsa dancer, she too imbuing the pas with more warmth than coldness. Full of pretzel-like contortions, knots and the inevitable unfurling, Aria II exhibits a couple who challenge each other in a different way, their conversation meaty and complex, their high coming from the cadence of conflict and resolution. In the Capriccio, the full cast assembled, the celebration was on, the flexed footed folk dance frolic was in the highest spirits, and not a dancer missed a beat.
Unfortunately, closing with a masterpiece performed with aplomb leaves both Martins’ The Red Violin and Robbins’ In Memory Of… in vulnerable positions. Neither are very strong works, and both appeared weaker after considering them alongside the Stravinsky finale, where Balanchine, with his perceptive personification of Stravinsky, stood even mightier.
The Red Violin is set to music by John Corigliano, an adaptation from his score for the macabre film of the same name. Frequently brassy and cacophonic, Violin is tough on the ears and the eyes. Martins gives relentless, unwieldy choreography to both men and women, with many of the dancers off their musical cues and struggling not to slide off the stage. Women get yanked into this position and that, their legs flung so hard they start to embody a doll or a marionette with weak strings: one almost expects a leg to fly out of a hip socket.
Robbins’ In Memory Of… is a depressing narrative of a girl who gets sick and dies young, which was the inspiration behind the score, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. According to Arlene Croce, the City Ballet program used to quote an essay by George Perle on Berg’s true inspiration for the work: that in addition to a memorial of Manon Gropius (daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius), it also referenced the first and last loves of his life (neither his wife), and was a “requiem” for Berg himself, who would die later that year.
Maria Kowroski was in the lead and musters up a lot of dignity but it’s not enough to carry the work. The initial choreography is not quite girlish enough to get across much teenage energy, and the movement in which she is supposed to struggle with death looks more like a scene of long, drawn out domestic violence. She strains to get away from a man representing Death (Zachary Catazaro), and if she does, her arms outstretched, leg behind her, she is drawn back to as if by magnetic force in a tableau that is almost laughable. Robbins’ classicism doesn’t ever quite lock into Berg’s twelve-tone composition. While not completely unmusical, the dancing and the music have a strained relationship. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting transforms the final movement – the young girl now an angel, ascending into heaven – flooding the previously muddy stage with a dawn-like glow. Kowroski returns, her hair down, Suzanne Farrell-like (Farrell did originate the role, to mixed reviews) and the corps drifts dreamily as the music builds. At the end, Kowroski is carried off by Catazaro and Jared Angle, her legs moving as if on a bicycle, her transition to the afterlife one of benign acceptance.