BWW Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET Triumphs With 'La Sylphide' and 'Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2'
Peter Martins's reconstruction of the 1836 tragicomedy "La Sylphide" and Balanchine's 1972 update of "Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2" proved to be a particularly felicitous pairing for a February 12th to 18th run at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center during New York City Ballet's Winter Season 2016. "La Sylphide", with choreography by the Danish icon August Bournonville to a score by Herman Lovenskjold, is a masterpiece of campy humor plus gorgeous "white ballet" ensemble work for the ladies. (For the uninitiated, this is not the same as "Les Sylphides", a ballet with no narrative that was choreographed by Michael Fokine in 1909 to the music of Chopin.) After the high jinks and character dancing in "La Sylphide" during the opener, the audience is warmed up and ready to settle down for one of Mr. B's most ingenious plotless treasures.
For "La Sylphide" on the evening of Friday, February 12th when I saw this program, Andrew Fayette replaced Joaquin De Luz in the role of James, the Scotsman smitten with an elusive Sylph. He did a fine job of both the mime and the dancing. So did Sterling Hyltin as the winged temptress, with fluttering bourees and liquid arms that made her a convincing otherworldly presence.
Yet the true star of the show was Georgina Pazcoguin, a soloist since 2013. She transformed her youthful self into the aged sorceress, Madge, who lets James's fiancee, Effie, know about his wandering eye and eventually uses a magic scarf to trick James into causing the Sylph's untimely demise. If I had not looked at the casting listed in the Playbill, I would have thought that an older character dancer was portraying Madge. Kudos to Pazcoguin for her believable performance, complete with a doddering walk aided by a cane.
A tip of the hat also to Daniel Ulbricht - always an audience favorite - in the role of Gurn, James's rival for the hand of Effie. Ulbricht elicited outright guffaws from the dancegoers when he mimed his insistence that he had seen the Sylph. He pointed dramatically to his eyes and then flailed his arms in a flying motion like a Swan Queen gone berserk. The second time he did this drew even more laughs than the first.
One of the most delightful moments in the ballet is the Scottish dancing by the Wedding Guests with company members joined by talented School of American Ballet students led by Natalie Glassie. Another highlight is the impeccably rehearsed dancing by the corps de ballet of sylphs in the forest. How wonderful that Martins, who explained in a program note that he grew up with "La Sylphide" starting when he was a student at the Royal Danish Ballet School, has created this faithful staging of one of the most beloved story ballets of all time.
The Balanchine offering was also satisfying, although a bit ragged during some of the group passages. One section that was clean, however, was an especially inventive maneuver involving two long lines of ladies holding hands and flanking a gentleman while they alternately fold in and out with a rippling effect. This is something you have to see to fully appreciate, and I highly recommend that you do exactly that if you'll be in town until February 18th. You'll also be treated to the excellent rendition of the concerto by pianist Susan Walters with the New York City Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Andrew Litton. The ballet, first created in 1941 for the American Ballet Caravan as "Ballet Imperial" with costumes and sets evoking Imperial Russia, has stood the test of time. The work entered the repertory of NYCB in 1964. Then in 1972, Balanchine decided to strip away the visual references to Russia so that the choreography, according to a program note, "could stand on its relation to the music alone". That wise choice constitutes yet another example of Mr. B's belief that we should "see the music, hear the dance".
Photo by Paul Kolnik