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BWW Dance Review: City Ballet Miscasts the Founder's Classics

Sara Mearns and Jared Angle
George Balanchine's "Serenade"
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

The state of any company's dancing can be gauged by looking at how it performs its founder's work. Of course that is no easy feat to assess with New York City Ballet, what with its glorious repertoire. All the same, Wednesday October 12th's program of three classic works - with the addition of a Christopher Wheeldon piece - revealed deep problems within the company. In politics, we follow the money; in ballet, we follow the casting.

Opening with "Serenade" gave one high hopes. Curtain up on that iconic image of outstretched arms elicits sighs every time. Followed by the downcast head to en bas and turnout to first position that leads to the bold tendu a la seconde proves the very recipe of beauty. And then it all fell apart as the corps de ballet struck one pretty pose after another. "A lot of pretty pictures and everything is just so, but where is the drama?" I kept asking myself. Sara Mearns as "The Waltz Girl" was the answer. Ms. Mearns is the sort of dancer who always makes a strong impression, frequently too strong if not downright histrionic. Here, she was spot on with bold plunges into arabesque - ably partnered by the ever steady Jared Angle - and immaculate épaulement. Less secure was Justin Peck, a last minute replacement for Adrian Danchig-Waring. Mr. Peck's precarious dancing made one wonder how he ever managed to attain soloist status. One look at Megan LeCrone as "The Dark Angel" told everything you needed to know about why she is a soloist: she is technically perfect though not yet ravishing in her delivery. All she wants is to plumb the depths of her passion and "Ballerina" status will surely be hers. And then there was Tiler Peck as "The Russian Girl". Ms. Peck is a brilliant musician who on this evening played it safe to the point of predictability.

Christopher Wheeldon's "American Rhapsody" has returned to the boards much changed. When I reviewed its premiere I felt that the main problem lay in the casting of Robert Fairchild, for whom it was choreographed following his return to City Ballet from starring on Broadway in "An American in Paris". At the time Mr. Fairchild was hardly at fighting weight. Worse, his pairing with his wife, Ms. Peck, generated zero chemistry. As last minute replacements for Lauren Lovette and Russell Janzen, history repeated itself. Luckily Amar Ramansar and Unity Phelan as the couple of swells were simply sensational. Their combined joy even managed to coax Ms. Peck out of her ennui during their extended pas de trios. One wonders how much longer Mr. Fairchild will dance with City Ballet. His jump has lost its spring, his line is diminished, his arabesque nonexistent, and next to Mr. Ramansar he looks logy.

New York City Ballet
Christopher Wheeldon's "American Rhapsody"
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux offers the most artful arrangement of show stopping dancing that one may ever find. This program featured Ashley Bouder, recently returned from giving birth to a daughter, and Andrew Veyette. More than a case of miscasting, this was an example of poor casting. Mr. Veyette has a very short neck, which is only accentuated by his refusal to stand up straight. I frequently found myself wincing at his sloppy technique and discomfort with maintaining a princely mien. And yet he received applause for a series of jumps that never landed in closed 5th position or showed much ballon. It appears that audiences at City Ballet are unaccustomed to virtuoso dancing from their men. They are more than spoiled on it with the women. Though she lacks a singing arabesque and is saddled with a pair of less than elegant feet, Ms. Bouder remains a technical whiz kid who can do anything. But might does not make right in ballet; just because Ms. Bouder has been successfully devouring the challenges of this role for many years does not mean that the audience should be held hostage by her less than complex interpretation. Does hearing a talented alto sing the mad scene from "Lucia di Lammermoor" benefit anyone? Defying emploi can have scintillating results except for when it doesn't.

Chase Finlay and Lauren King
George Balanchine's "Western Symphony"
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

The evening closed with "Western Symphony". Silas Farley, like Unity Phelan will be a star one day. "Western Symphony" is essentially a Broadway style cartoon western. By virtue of the choreography alone, the men do not come off looking so cool. That takes spirit, charm, swagger, and verve. All this and more belongs to Mr. Farley, who along with Sean Suozzi in the Adagio section, was the only man onstage to look comfortable. While Mr. Suozzi and his partner Indiana Woodward acquitted themselves well - despite Ms. Woodward's need to tighten up her supported entrechats - none could hold a candle to Mr. Farley. Fascinatingly he was cast as only a corps member in this ballet, and yet even when he was all the way in the back row one could not tear their eyes off of him. To be sure, he is a big man - 6'4 - and blessed with the big jump that his fellow male dancers lack. Best of all, he dances with effortless virility and great agility. Chase Finlay, one of the finer classicists amongst City Ballet's men, danced like a child who keeps exclaiming "Ta-Da!!" which might have worked, given his partner's, Lauren King, ingénue interpretation. Then again, this is a western and even love-struck cowboys have to pull up their britches. Zachary Catazaro in the Rondo had the strut and mugging of a dude though it felt more put on than genuine. His dancing was fine, particularly during his jumping solo, which interpolated a number of tricks though without much height. Teresa Reichlen was miscast as his partner. She was delivering the Siren from "Prodigal Son" instead of the Marlene Dietrich glamour girl that the role requires. Believe it or not, there is a fine distinction. As with Ms. Bouder, I do not fault her for this. She tried her best; she was simply miscast.

The music, under Andrew Litton's baton, was lucidly played though I'd wager more than a hair too slowly for house style. While the dancers looked "comfortable" with what they were doing, the lack of speed defanged the signature City Ballet attack. What does all of this have to say about City Ballet? The artists on this night told us that the women are strong, if not properly cast, and the men - excepting Jared Angle, Silas Farley, Amar Ramansar, and Sean Suozzi - lack oomph. Perhaps the upcoming Nutcracker season will help to sort things out.

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From This Author Juan Michael Porter II

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