New York City Ballet
8 Oct: Classic NYCB II: La Valse, Other Dances, After the Rain pas de deux, Agon
and some thoughts on 7 Oct: Balanchine + Peck: Monumentum Pro Gesualdo, Movements for Piano and Orchestra, Chaconne
New York, David H. Koch Theater
7, 8 October 2021
Highs and Lows
As one might expect from a ballet season following a pause of eighteen months, there have been strong performances, and others that have revealed some rust around the edges at New York City Ballet. There have also been quite a few last-minute casting changes. Returning to a full schedule has its perils for the suddenly overworked dancers.
The contrasts have been striking. On Oct. 7, Mira Nadon gave a bold, exciting performance in Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra, both by George Balanchine. This corps de ballet dancer seems to have grown even stronger and more confident, her movement more expansive, in the time since we last saw her. But on the same night, the cast of Chaconne, led by Teresa Reichlen and Adrian Danchig-Waring (replacing Tiler Angle at the last minute) was tentative and musically vague, if with the exception of Lauren King, whose bright dancing has acquired a lovely ease.
The following night, Oct. 8, was one of highs. Balanchine’s La Valse, a dance about vanity, decadence, and fate, was riveting, despite a somewhat brutal rendering of the Ravel score by Maestro Andrew Litton. Emily Kikta, tall, stylish, stood out as one of the three fate-figures in the opening scene, creating elegant, ominous shapes with her gloved fingers, hands, and forearms. The movement of hands plays a big part in La Valse; they seem to represent all the falseness with which we present ourselves in society. Everyone seems to be showing off in one way or another.
In the climactic final scene, Sterling Hyltin, who had looked a bit pallid on opening night, found her wild side, plunging her hands into the black gloves offered by a mysterious visitor with a sense of abandon verging on greed. Her more genteel partner was danced by Joseph Gordon, replacing Taylor Stanley. Gordon’s elegance and slight remoteness is just right for this role, as is his limpid, unforced dancing. By the end, the ensemble had whipped itself into an appropriately headlong mass of churning bodies. It was the most exciting La Valse I had seen in a while.
That was followed by two couple dances, the first being Jerome Robbins’ Other Dances, with Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain up next. Other Dances, originally created for Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, was danced here by Tiler Peck and the soon-retiring Gonzalo García. Peck has always shone in this role, in which Robbins left ample space for musical play between the dancers and the onstage pianist, playing Chopin mazurkas and waltzes. At this performance, she took her time, as if listening to internal impulses. She extended certain poses, creating a sense of pleasure and voluptuousness, then sped up, dancing in tiny, pinprick steps. She luxuriated in the undulations of her arms, shoulders, and upper body. García, handsome and lyrical, provided a bemused, relaxed base for her explorations of the music.
The After the Rain pas de deux, which has become the universal ballerina-baring-her-soul vehicle, was danced by Lauren Lovette and Preston Chamblee. It was the occasion of the first of the evening’s standing ovations. Lovette is retiring on Oct. 9. But wistfulness was not the only reason for the audience’s reaction. Abetted by Chamblee’s quietly stoic partnering, Lovette gave the pas de deux something it often lacks – an arc, and some tension. She reached, and bent, and opened her chest, projecting a sense of need and wonder. She remade the piece in her image. At the end, she seemed surprised by the roaring response of the audience, but it was deserved.
The second ovation came after Agon, which closed the evening. It was a perfectly respectable performance, neither the best nor the worst I’ve seen, except for two highlights. First, Anthony Huxley’s searing rendition of the “Sarabande,” prince and jester, legs shooting through space, torso folding and unfolding. And then, in the pas de deux, Maria Kowroski, going for broke in her final days with the company, stretched every position, deploying those long limbs of hers like lassoes. At one point, she flung her leg back and encircled Amar Ramasar with it, her foot peeking out from behind him. The audience gasped. Ramasar seemed to be holding his breath, waiting for her next move. The pas de deux was not only sleek, but dramatic.
Not every performance has come with this level of dancing, and the male ranks at the top have been looking rather thin. But it was nice to see Gordon step in – more please! The company is going through a transition, with dancers leaving, and young dancers stepping into corps roles they barely knew before the pandemic. A few growing pains are to be expected.