BWW Dance Review: Balanchine, Peck, Wheeldon and Bournonville/Martins.
An admission. I didn't go to the New York City Ballet fashion gala. Why? Because I didn't care. The New York City Ballet is probably the only company in the world that never had to pander to an audience seeking couture thrills, at least when Balanchine was alive. I know that's changed and the company has to bring in the bucks, but when the draw seems to be clothes and not choreography, it gets me thinking. What's in store for us?
Time will tell.
The company, with all its major management and dancer upheavals, is facing a bigger challenge: talent. It is bursting with it. What's the future for these dancers? Of course, some will be promoted to soloists or principals. The rest will stay in the corps and then move on to careers as teachers, choreographers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors. It's just that we'll only see a small fraction of them really shine.
Thus is life.
The performance on October 3, 2018, began with Balanchine's 1956 Allegro Brillante, which, as Balanchine described it, "Contains everything I knew about classical ballet-in thirteen minutes."
Led by the impeccable Tiler Peck, partnered by Roman Mejia, a corps member who has been with the company for two years and is already dancing lead parts, the ballet offers so many opportunities for the ballerina to shine. It is a part that demands such speed and precision, such lightness and dramatic thrust, that it's become almost a benchmark for all the company's female dancers.
Peck seemed to toss off the assignment with such effervescence and command that one can say it belongs to her. (Not really the truth, the part belongs to the company.) Right now, she is supreme. But even as I say that I know others will come along.
The one thing that I don't like about the ballet is the music, set to the one existing movement of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 75, It is tuneful, swift, but it just lumbers on into monotony. A friend I know who was once a member of NYCB told me that she finds the music highly engaging. As I imagine Balanchine did.
I see her point, but I see mine. Isn't that what critical minds are for?
Before moving on, I must mention the wonderful ensemble of dancers that backed up the leads: Sara Adams, Laine Habony, Megan Mann, Lydia Wellington, Devin Alberda, Aaron Sanz, Andrew Scordato and Daniel Appelbaum. At the end of these thirteen minutes you must all be exhausted, but happy. You were great!!!!!
Justin Peck choreographed Easy for the Jerome Robbins Centennial. The music by Leonard Bernstein had once been written for the Village Vortex Ballet in the 1953 musical, Wonderful Town, a favorite of mine. This was later cut and new dance music was used. For all those who know Wonderful Town, this incorporates music from the show's other numbers, including Conquering New York and Conversation Piece, the latter posing the great Moby Dick line. I don't have time to go into that, so listen to the Rosalind Russell recording. I hope you'll find it amusing.
With colorful scenery by Stephen Powers and costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, the ballet seems-or is, I'm not sure-a throwback to the 1950s. It is nice, fast, and it ends quickly. There is really nothing of merit in it, it just unfolds without rhyme or reason, but if you want a nice relaxing time, this could surely be a ballet for you. It tries to recapture the Jerome Robbins feel of a time that most of us know little about, except in books, movies, lectures, etc. It's not so easily captured in movement, one exception being Robbins West Side Story. But that delves deeply into character, and this ballet has none. As in Allegro Brillante, there was a wonderful cast, including soloists Unity Phelan, Indiana Woodward and Sean Suozzi, and corps members Preston Chamblee, Peter Walker and Claire Kretzchmar.
Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance), hints at the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, without examining it in detail. For all those who saw the recent revival-that includes myself-there was a great deal of internet dissent as to its merits. That's only to be expected. Let me say that I enjoyed it.
Arranged and orchestrated by William David Brohn, incorporating the Carousel Waltz, Soliloquy, and If I Loved You, the ballet explores what can be perceived as a budding romance by a young woman just awakening to her sexual needs and a man already in knowledge of his. The woman starts off a bit evasive, the man ever so gently overtakes her and soon they are both awakened to a love that they have never known. There is some tension, problems can be foreseen. Nothing is literally expressed; it is all in the movement, and the music. Such beautiful music, that only Richard Rodgers could compose. How extraordinary was this composer? Melody just flowed from him.
A carousel? People do dance in a circle, women with sticks in their hands are hoisted on the shoulders of men, and these could be the carousel figures. In the end, it really doesn't matter, because the dance movement sweeps us along. We often read that music is one of the best antidotes to depression. The same can be said about Carousel (A Dance). Its punch can be felt long after the ballet has concluded.
Both Lauren Lovette and Tyler Angle were superb in the two leading roles, Angle has always been a concerned and able partner, but we do not often see his ardor. And Lovette really surpassed herself. In the beginning of her career, I was not especially taken with her. She was technically sound, but she lacked personality .There was no projection. With a bit of age, a lot of maturity has set in.
Peter Martins' production of August Bournonville's La Sylphide, first produced for the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1985, was supposed to be the grand centerpiece of the evening, yet never seemed on firm ground. A staple of the Royal Danish Ballet, it did not seem like a natural fit for the company's repertoire, even though it has staged its own Bournonville Divertissements, still intermittently seen.
The Bournonville style can be a stumbling block for the dancers, especially the men. There is no preparation for the male steps-as someone wrote, it's as if they are suddenly ignited to dance. The women have to be very ethereal, weightless almost, yet with a spring to their footwork, easier to do for those who are familiar with the Balanchine technique.
The story? The story tells of James' love for the elusive sylph, which reaches a peak on his wedding day to Effie, who is secretly loved by Gurn. A witch, Madge, appears looking for warmth from the outside, and the aggressive James almost hurls her out of the house, infuriating the witch, who then concocts a poisonous scarf that kills the sylph.
Perhaps that's enough. For all the hilarity this kind of outline can evoke, the story brims with romanticism, yet one tinged with loneliness, betrayal and death.
Ashley Bouder as the sylph is not an ethereal creature. She is of the earth and very commanding. This was not the natural fit. Anthony Huxley was in a great frenzy hurling off his steps, yet he was devoid of character and pathos. There was absolutely no chemistry between the leads, and without that there is really no ballet. Marika Anderson was a glamorous witch, Megan LeCrone an effective Effie, and Harrison Ball a very likeable Gurn, but can someone please tell him that you don't have to overemphasize a sylph's movements for cheap laughs?
A good evening that could have used some pruning--and a lot of serious coaching in style.