BWW Review: New York City Ballet's ALL BALANCHINE PROGRAM, Winter 2017
George Balanchine said that "Allegro Brillante" contained everything he knew about classical ballet in 13 minutes. I would say a bit more, depending on the tempo the conductor is taking for the evening. But putting tempos aside, "Allegro Brilliante" offers a ballet so rich in form and steps that it's hard to take it all in. I've been watching the ballet for over 30 years, and I still marvel and its invention and the sheer stamina it takes to perform the work.
"Allegro Brillante" has one thing going against it: the music. The first movement of "Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 3 " undercuts the ballet with the music's incessant wind-ups and repetitions. Tchaikovsky was a great composer, but not everything he wrote was great. "Allegro Brillante" demonstrates just this. Balanchine could make gold of dross, even when using his favorite composer's less than wonderful music.
The ballet was led by the phenomenal Sara Mearns. By this time, everyone in the dance world knows that Sara Mearns is the real thing: a true ballerina. I should try to use other adjectives when describing her, including powerful, magnetic, a whirlwind. She breezes through the role without a blink. It's like a common day occurrence, very much like brushing your teeth. Is there anything that Mearns cannot undertake? I'm waiting to see it.
Tyler Angle was her partner, and while he is a very stylish dancer, the ballet belongs to the ballerina. Balanchine puts her on a pedestal and never allows her to fall off. The corps was outstanding, backing up Mearns like an orchestra supporting a great soloist performing a concerto. I can't think of higher praise.
Balanchine's version of "Swan Lake" has always been considered something of an oddball. Choreographed in 1951 to add a popular title to the repertoire, Balanchine stripped the ballet of almost all emotional resonances, turning it into an elegiac tone poem. Those looking for high romanticism might have to search elsewhere. But if you're seeking sublime dancing, this "Swan Lake" is for you.
Teresa Reichlen, one of my favorite dancers, performed the lead with great distinction. Never a warm dancer, here she brought passion to a Balanchine role that has baffled many ballerinas. The only problem I found with the performance had really nothing to do with Reichlen, but the magnificent technique she utilizes. Her extensions are so sky high that sometimes the famous pas de deux seems to resemble the second movement of "Symphony in C." Ms. Reichlen is so on top of her technique that she may not even realize that she is subsuming her role to pure technique. Perhaps she needs further coaching, or perhaps there is no way that this will ever change when a technician such as Reichlen assumes the role. Or anyone else. For all my quibbles, I admired Ms. Reichlen's performance. And to have Reichlen and Mearns on the same evening!
Russell Janzen was a fine Prince, and there were real contributions by Ashley Larceny leading the pas de neuf, and Savannah Lowery (who resembles the wonderful Gloria Govrin) leading the Valse Bluette. And, to use the jargon of the day, a shoutout to the female corps dancing the swans. There is such an abundance of talent in New York City Ballet that it's like drinking choice champagne and then reeling from the effect.
The evening concluded with "The Four Temperaments," one of ballet's twentieth century's cultural landmarks. Almost 70 years after its premiere, it never fails to astound an audience. Even now, it's hard to describe the ballet. Supposedly echoing the four elements, Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic, and Choleric, the ballet takes on its own meaning. It does not specify any of the elements, and if one walked in and watched the ballet, they could call it almost anything.
What the ballet offers is movement, almost cataclysmic in its sheer output. It's classical, acrobatic, off-balance, high kicking. It flies, it crashes, it rises. Rarely has one ballet had such a profound influence not just on the dancers, but audiences. It was, and is, unique.
One of the best things about "The Four Temperaments" is the two outstanding male roles, something which is rarely attributed to Balanchine. While he always said that ballet was woman, here the ballet doesn't always pivot on the ballerina. The males make a vital and lasting contribution by the movements Balanchine choreographed for them, using the male physique when depicting a collapsing body or a leggy gait. It is surprising, even in 2017.
Kudos to all dancing in the performance. Lydia Wellington and Peter Walker in the first theme, Brittany Pollack and Daniel Applebaum in the second theme, Megan LeCrone and Aaron Sanz in the third theme, Anthony Huxley in Melancholic, Ashley Isaacs and Jared Angle in Sanguinic, Ask LeCour in Phlegmatic and Ashley Bouder in Choleric. What performances you all gave. They could not have been bettered.
Nor could the program!
Photograph © Paul Kolnik