BWW Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET's 'Classic NYCB II' Is a Reminder of Why the Company in an Artistic Treasure
On the afternoon of May 22nd 2016, audience members at a nearly sold out performance of New York City Ballet's "Classic NYCB II" program at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center were treated to five selections that underscored the impressive range and enduring excellence of the troupe's repertoire.
The opener was Serenade, famously the first ballet choreographed by Balanchine in America. The dancers back then were students at his fledgling School of American Ballet in 1934 before the company that would become NYCB was launched. I never cease to be amazed at how gorgeous this ballet is and how perfectly it lets us "see the music" of Tchaikovsky's sweeping score. I once had someone unfamiliar with ballet ask me why I would want to see certain ballets over and over again. Didn't I get bored watching the same works more than once, he wondered? No indeed, and certainly not if that ballet is Serenade! From the first note played by the orchestra before the curtain rises to reveal the iconic opening pose of Serenade, I quiver with anticipation because I know I'll not only revel in the familiar but also find nuances that I had missed during earlier viewings of this masterpiece. I'm never disappointed. The intricate patterns and superb partnering always enchant me anew. Yet even though Mr. B insisted that this ballet is plotless, the hints at a storyline intrigue me. I know I'm not alone. During the intermission on this occasion, I overhead heard one man say that Serenade seems to evoke the poignant sadness of unrequited love. In contrast, another man commented that he perceived a playful poke at the "mad scene" in Giselle when one dancer falls and lets her hair loose from her ballet bun. Is there a story? Does it matter? That's up to each of us to decide. What does matter is that this ballet is a joy to see and a testimony to Balanchine's genius.
Up next was Hallelujah Junction, a 2001 piece by NYCB's Artistic Director Peter Martins to the minimalist music of John Adams. Serenade is a hard act to follow, which is why I was surprised that Martins chose to put his ballet in that slot. I've never been much of a fan of his choreography, largely because his ballets tend to go on longer than is warranted and could use some judicious trimming. This one proved to be no exception. Even so, many of the moves were inventive and the decision to have duo pianists Elaine Chelton and Alan Moverman on an elevated platform upstage was felicitous. Dancers Sterling Hyltin, Amar Ramasar, and Andrew Veyette performed with verve, power, and even a little pizazz.
Following that was Duo Concertant to the music of Stravinsky, another of my favorite Balanchine ballets. Violinist Arturo Delmoni and pianist Nancy McDill, on stage and relating to the dancers, were first rate. Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley were technically proficient but not as charming and heart-tugging as others I have seen dance this work, most notably Ashley Bouder and Robert Fairchild. Even Bouder's hand in a spotlight while the rest of the stage is dark projects an eloquent premonition of the impending separation of two lovers.
The pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain to the music of Arvo Pärt, also played live by Delmoni and McDill, was a last minute addition to the program. Tiler Peck and Craig Hall danced the roles made justifiably famous by Wendy Whelan and Jack Soto, both now retired from the stage. Peck and Hall were mesmerizing in this elegiac expression of yearning and desire. The audience responded with a standing ovation. I tend to think, perhaps somewhat cynically, that audiences give Wheeldon's works standing ovations as a knee-jerk reaction. In this case though, the standing ovation was warranted.
Balanchine's rousing Western Symphony was the perfect closer. A showman at heart, Mr. B was a master at creating high jinks, high kicks, and mood boosting humor. The Hershey Kay score plays off of American folk songs such as "Red River Valley", and Balanchine worked square dance themes into the choreography. The scene stealer in this ballet during the performance I saw was Taylor Stanley, stepping in to replace Chase Finlay in the Allegro section. Stanley had been promoted to Principal Dancer status only a few days before on May 17th, and he showed us why he deserves that rank. He's a high-flying jumper, he turns like a top, and he projects beyond the footlights. In Western Symphony, he related with just the right playful insouciance as he deftly partnered Lauren King. Congratulations, Mr. Stanley. May your career continue to soar.
NYCB's spring season goes on until May 29th with A Midsummer Night's Dream. If you're in town, don't miss the chance to see this world class company in action!
Photo by Paul Kolnik