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BWW Reviews: New York City Ballet: Jumping for Joy

January 26, 2013: Serenade, Mozartiana and Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2

Written with Ellen Dobbyn-Blackmore

Sara Mearns in Serenade, photo by: Paul Kolnik

Serenade, in the words of former New York City Ballet dancer Toni Bentley, is female terrain. Can a ballet that begins with the women paying homage with their palms raised to the moon be about anything else? Bentley performed Serenade many times with the company and knows what she's talking about. As she said, Balanchine's first masterpiece composed in America serves as a Rosetta Stone for a new kind of American classical dancer. It was in this ballet that Balanchine first laid out his vision and even after nearly eighty years it has not lost its relevance. This performance, the last of the all Tchaikovsky/Balanchine programs, featured two women new to the ballet and one perfectly seasoned veteran. Each of them brought her own distinct, feminine sensibility to the work.

Sara Mearns, in her first turn as the Waltz Girl, brought her beautiful legato to the role with all of the joy and yearning lyricism that is present in the music. Her long romantic tutu responded by floating behind her everywhere she went, leaving trails of wistfulness behind. She will have many years to continue to grow in this role but has already captured the essence of the Waltz Girl's pure love of dance and she abandons herself to the music with obvious pleasure. There is real ecstasy in the soul of this dedicated artist. It's been too long since she graced the stage and her return from a lingering injury was most welcome.

Megan LeCrone is a very different type of dancer. She brings a very measured and focusEd Grace to the role of the Dark Angel. This is a woman who is thoroughly in control of everything she does. It is actually hard to imagine her ever losing control. The pleasure of her dancing is in her strong centeredness and her ability to place everything exactly where she wants. She also has a perfection of line that defines space around her with crystal clarity. I wonder if it would not be better to see her let it fly once in a while and relinquish some of that sure control.

This performance, however, belonged to Ashley Bouder's flying Russian Girl, a part in which she has seemingly explored every nuance the ballet has to offer. If she has left a stone unturned in her exploration of this part it will have to be up to the next generation of dancers because there is no one around right now who comes close to Bouder's level of sheer, transcendent joy in dancing coupled with such technical ease. Ballon is the word classical ballet uses to describe the ability some dancers have to create the illusion of being able to hang in the air in defiance of gravity. Bouder defines the word every time she leaves the ground, jumping for joy. In every phrase she finds the right moment to sustain a jump or slowly and luxuriantly hold a balance. She is over, under and around the music, playing with it in exuberant brio.

When Bouder dances a brief quotation from Giselle, it makes one wish that City Ballet had Giselle's second act in the repertory. So far Bouder has only performed the role in Italy. With a few judicious cuts it would make a strong and highly marketable anchor to a repertory program. It's time to bring Gelsey Kirkland back and have her stage it on City Ballet. That would be something wondrous to see. Bouder is a refined artist at the very peak of her powers and not to be missed any time she performs.

The women of the corps de ballet were terrific, one and all. Serenade offers the opportunity to do a lot of flying and flowing dancing and they moved buoyantly with the music in a curiously individual unity. The men are not given much to do in this ballet for and about women but Jared Angle and Adrian Danchig-Waring were both perfect partners in service of these three romantic icons.

Mozartiana is mostly about feet, in this case specifically Maria Kowroski's feet. There is a great deal of intricate footwork for the other dancers that conjures impressions of old court dances but this is really a showcase for a great ballerina. Beginning with the opening Preghiera, Kowroski ran a marathon of bourrées while surrounded by four adorable young girls. She scarcely comes off pointe the entire time she is on stage. Hers are long, beautiful feet and her experience shows in the way she deftly presents those feet as objects of art. She is clearly the heiress of Suzanne Farrell in this role.

Anthony Huxley's turn in the Gigue was a high point in this ballet. It is a deceptively difficult variation in that it doesn't look like the individual steps are complicated, but there are very many of them requiring very fine footwork and Huxley tossed them off with just the right balance between ballet dancer and court dandy.

Partnered by Tyler Angle in the Theme and Variations section, Kowroski showed off a playful and wittily coquettish side while her partner displayed terrific command of his own feet. This is one incredibly long pas de deux that has the two dancers alternating variations that individually are not the the most difficult but when added up become a real test of endurance. The male part involves a great deal of batterie including more beats than anyone could count. A pair of entrechats-quatre followed by an entrechat-six, repeated several times does test a dancer's stamina and resilience. Angle tossed them all off with ease and indefatigability along with his brisk turns. Kowroski, holding up her end of the pas de deux, was an elegant joy to watch. She reaches the fullest of her extensions with riveting effortlessness, always with those perfect, long feet presented as if on an elegant platter.

Rounding out the program was Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 2, capably played by pianist Susan Walters under the direction of Daniel Capps. No real surprise, the sound of the piano was a bit muffled by being down in the orchestra pit but that can't be helped.

The long-limbed Teresa Reichlen was partnered by Ask la Cour and this ballet suits her perfectly. For all her long legs, she moves with the great speed that is required here and takes tremendous space with her leaps. Notwithstanding one small glitch in this performance, Reichlen is at her best when being partnered. Somehow there is an alchemy that occurs that raises her performance another notch when she's doing pas de deux. It brings out the fullest expression and feeling in her movement.

Ana Sophia Scheller turned in a terrific performance as the second female lead. If not for that, the soloists Lauren King and Brittany Pollack would both have been excellent choices for the part. Pollack in particular gleams with cheerful energy and precision. But in this final offering of the all Tchaikovsky/Balanchine programs, Scheller just ran away with it. Her performance, beyond being full of crisp turns and perfect balances, was radiant and second only to Ashley Bouder on this program.

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