In case anyone is having trouble clearing his or her mind of the puppymonkeybaby that danced through the pet-door last evening during the Super Bowl, don’t worry, we won’t remind you of it. Puppymonkeybaby, puppymonkeybaby, puppymonkeybaby. Just let it be and it will go away on its own –– after it licks your face three times.
Enough lightheartedness. It’s time to get back to the serious business at hand. Haglund caught some brilliant performances at NYCB last week that he wants to share.
Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina returned this season after a lengthy absence. Originally made for the fleetness and long legs of Merrill Ashley, Ballo has received extraordinary performances from different types of dancers over the years including the luminous and dazzling Kyra Nichols. This season New York City ballet fielded two casts, one led by Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz during the first week of the season; the other led by Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia on this past Saturday afternoon.
Megan began the evening performance on January 21st with a studied tone and surgical precision but eventually relaxed and let the joy of her dancing shine through during the later parts. Within the first minute or two of this performance, it became evident that the technical level, speed, and clarity that were the extraordinary exception among a few dancers three decades ago, are now common characteristics that run throughout the principal, soloist and corps de ballet ranks at NYCB. It was no less than astonishing to see the finely finished ballerina quality of soloists Ashley Laracey, Erica Pereira, Ashly Isaacs, and Lauren King.
This past Saturday afternoon (Feb. 6) Tiler Peck debuted in the role and also started out a little studious. But that didn’t last long. Like a tennis pro who unerringly finds the sweet spot on his racket strings, Tiler blazed through the allegro, possibly on a single breath, and found those moments where she could make winning shots by stamping her own musicality with indelible ink on the choreography.
One such moment came in the diagonal phrase where the ballerina performs pique turns and finishes by popping out a strongly accented arabesque, all of it at a blistering pace. There is no room for error or hesitation or thinking twice. Somehow, Tiler found room in the music to finish those arabesques with arms in wide open second position turned to the audience – and then paused there in a completely stopped position to twinkle her eyes and smile at us.
The matinee’s demi-soloists Sara Adams, Alexa Maxwell, Emilie Gerrity and Brittany Pollack were superb, also. Brittany looked ready to take on the principal role just like she has, this season, looked ready to take on Theme and Variations.
At the Jan. 21st performance Joaquin De Luz was in fine form while on Saturday Gonzalo Garcia offered some of his most polished dancing of the season.
Kammermusik No. 2 as executed with the vibrant energies and sharp attack of Rebecca Krohn and Abi Stafford with partners Ask la Cour and Adrian Danchig-Waring on Saturday afternoon was much more satisfying than the depleting energies of Teresa Reichlen and Sara Mearns on Jan. 21st when it looked like they might pass out before finishing this non-stop sprint that goes on for twenty minutes. Even Amar Ramasar’s vitality and spirit couldn’t lift the quartet (completed by Jared Angle) past exhaustion.
Both performances of Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 were gold. Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette on January 21st and Megan Fairchild with Joaquin De Luz on Saturday Afternoon delivered the goods in spectacular style. Veyette gave perhaps the best turning performance of this ballet that we have seen from him. Also remarkable was Zachary Catazaro who danced the Elegie opposite Teresa Reichlen on Saturday afternoon. We may have mentioned before that Catazaro owes us a Siegfried from last year when he had to cancel his Swan Lake debut due to injury. We were reminded of that throughout this section as we watched his sorrow haunt him, as we watched him search through the lovely ladies on stage for his one & only, as we watched him plead with her.
The HH Pump Bump Award, a Regina tango shoe, is bestowed upon Tiler Peck for her brilliance in Ballo della Regina.
Thanks to our Haglund'eeler in far off places for alerting us that filmmaker Greg Vander Veer uploaded to Vimeo last week his 2010 film Keep Dancing which follows Donald Saddler and Marge Champion around town and through the years. It includes footage of the two of them, both 90 at the time, rehearsing in the 8th Avenue Midtown studios that they rented a couple of times each week to keep their moves fresh, so to speak. The film won many awards during 2010. Ms. Champion is 96. Mr. Saddler died a little over a year ago at age 96.
Vander Veer noted that it would only be available for free viewing for a limited time.
Keep Dancing It never gets old.
Starts at 9:00 am Eastern time; 3:00 pm Lausanne time – tomorrow.
The jury includes Julio Bocca, Jan Broeckx, Lucinda Dunn, Viviana Durante, Marcelo Gomes, Luca Masala, Elisabeth Platel, Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Ruheng Zhao. Just seeing the names Viviana Durante and Marcelo Gomes next to each other gives us goosebumps. Imagine what they would have been like in Mayerling or Manon.
Here's the link:
If this link proves difficult, try navigating through the front page of www.prixdelausanne.org. Their YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/PrixdeLausanne may only be showing pre-recorded sessions, but you may want to check anyway if the above links aren't functioning for you.
Benjamin Millepied has resigned, been removed, been relieved, been accommodated, whatever, from his position at the Paris Opera Ballet. All of the players will put the best face on this situation, but the reality is that his appointment was a threat to the POB's classicism from the git-go.
Here's Millepied's Twitter resignation and here is an interesting take on it from The Guardian including "it was clear that all was not well after he lambasted the ballet’s hierarchical structure in a French television documentary."
And this is fabulous: Aurelie Dupont takes over as Director. True class. We love the Paris Opera Ballet. Love, love, love.
The first Art Night of the 2016 season brought out an enthusiastic crowd of hip newcomers to New York City Ballet. As soon as one walked through the double doors of the theater, you could feel the difference in the energy. There was more noise, more jostling, more shoulder bumping, more clubby behavior than Lincoln Center manners. Comp tickets were spotted throughout while most paid the special $30 price for the performance.
This Art Night program was designed to appeal to visual artists. Unlike the first few years of Art Night, NYCB didn’t try to impress by bringing out Balanchine’s big guns - Serenade, Agon, Symphony in C. Nor did it go the other direction and present a mixed-bag evening where the only theme was no orchestra in the pit, as it did in 2014. This year’s selection was all about the costumes and scenery. Christopher Wheeldon’s Estancia featured the imaginative wild horses of Carlos Campos and stunning backdrop and front curtain by Santiago Calatrava. (His magnificent NYC subway hub that suggests a huge flying bird is scheduled to fully open next month.) Robert Binet’s The Blue of Distance with its exquisite blue and white tutus by Hanako Maeda was on the program as were Myles Thatcher’s Polaris (costumes by Zuhair Murad) and Troy Schumacher’s Common Ground (costumes by Marques/Almeida).
This year the costumes for Justin Peck’s premiere The Most Incredible Thing (barely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale), were designed by Brooklyn artist Marcel Dzama. The execution of the designs were by NYCB’s brilliant Director of Costumes, Marc Happel, who also managed all of the productions mentioned above.
So, it was a feast for design-sensitive eyes, but unfortunately, not for choreography-sensitive eyes except in the case of Wheeldon’s Estancia from 2010 which may mark an important transformation point in his choreographic path that had been aimlessly wandering through plotless abstraction for several years.
You can’t fault someone for trying. So we won’t. And given the reduced ticket price for the performance, we are further reluctant to complain. But it’s our responsibility to complain when pretentious goop is passed off as the most incredible thing in ballet these days. And we’re not just talking about Justin Peck’s new ballet that premiered last night – 75% of which was disappointing.
After a Trump-sized media campaign that promoted the connection between the Andersen folktale and the choreography, it turned out that Peck told little of the story and explored hardly any of its themes. Rather, he took a small part of the tale that described the protagonist’s incredible clock and ticked off the hours. Then he inserted a battle scene. This was Wheel of Fortune ballet where the viewer had to fill in the blanks and guess what was going on. Here’s the story. You can read it in about sixty seconds, and it is jam-packed with meaning, most of which was absent from the ballet.
The good news is that we know exactly how to fix the problem and get everyone back on track. Yes, we have the most incredible answer. Because, you see, no matter how badly an artist's work is bashed or destroyed by everyone, the creativity within the artist will survive. Incredible, but true. (We picked up on that Andersen theme last night.)
So let’s start with what was good.
The costumes were outlandishly incredible. In fact, they were the story, not the choreography and certainly not Bryce Dessner’s uninspired music that droned on and on like background music to a bad movie. Some how, some way, Marcel Dzama’s crazy imagination was translated by Marc Happel into a mostly fabulous collection of fairytale sized costumes some of which can be seen at this link. Best costumes: The Four Seasons which had Brittany Pollack sporting a huge brown empty nest - an eagle-sized nest, Andrew Scordato transformed into a glistening winged summer grasshopper, Gwyneth Muller as the spring redbird with gigantic flag-like wings, and Marika Anderson’s wicked black crow.
Other great costumes were The Seven Deadly Sins/The Seven Days of the Week: each an orange/red unitard with different designs painted on it. The tutus for principals Sterling Hyltin (Princess) and Tiler Peck (Cuckoo bird) were gorgeous. We wanted to imagine a whole stage full of each one. There was a “miss” or two, however. Daniel Ulbricht’s black & white shorty shift with black trunks underneath that represented gambler’s dice allowed him the freedom to dance some challenging steps but without dignity.
As far as the actual choreography was concerned, it was bland, classroom assignment stuff augmented by running around and pedestrian nonsense. We've seen most of it before to the point where it is now mundane. Only Taylor Stanley (the artist who built the clock) was able to create drama out of his movement, but he did so with his unique theatrically emotive face and distinctive style, not the steps created by Peck. Tiler Peck as the Cuckoo Bird nearly made something out of her steps, but it was all totally predictable. Ditto with Sterling Hyltin's choreography. There was too much predictable re-hashing with a very limited vocabulary.
Here’s our solution. Justin Peck should commit himself to broadening his education in Petipa, MacMillan, Ashton, Fokine, Neumeier, Grigorovich, Cranko, Yacobson, and others who made their great works and reputations without the prophylactic advance media campaigns designed to steer the tone of criticism. For the next year, he should sit in theaters in other parts of the world watching live performances of these masters. He must concentrate on using more of the classical ballet vocabulary, not just saute arabesque, finger pirouettes, and developpes augmented by what he thinks is his own brand of genius.
There would be no shame in adopting Merce Cunningham’s practice of randomly selecting steps and forcing oneself to design choreography to at least include them. Peck's greatest weakness right now is his limited use of the vocabulary and his lack of intense exposure to the great works of the art form's masters other than Balanchine and Robbins. And NYCB should stop creating wild expectations. It angers the core audience when it then fails to even come close.
The HH Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Marc Happel’s costume department for – once again – saving everyone's asses by making nothing into something.
Punxsutawney Phil said it best this morning, “Shadow, shmadow. Let’s get on with planning the spring planting and primaries. The rest of the winter is going to be hot, hot, hot.” Then he bit the hand that feeds him and waddled back into his hole. Phil should get a cameo appearance in Justin Peck’s new ballet, The Most Incredible Thing, that premieres on his special day tonight at NYCB, but we doubt that he will. We’ll keep an eye out for him though.
It seems that Haglund failed to meet expectations of readers when he didn’t report on ABT’s Sleeping Beauty at the Kennedy Center this past week. Unfortunately, life got in the way of traveling to the ballet. He’s very sorry and also disappointed.
We’ve noticed some screwy casting on the Detroit Opera Theater’s website for ABT's visit there in a few weeks. No Aurora is listed for April 1st and several Prince Desires are missing. Herman Cornejo is not listed as Prince Desire, so that leads us to assume that Sarah Lane won’t get the respect she deserves. Nor does it seem will Stella Abrera, since she is listed as Princess Florine for April 1st, the performance with the missing Aurora. Is McKenzie really thinking about hop-scotching a brand new soloist over a brand new principal who should have the opportunity first and foremost to ready her Aurora in the spring? Is that why the casting is absent on the ABT website? He’s afraid of the complaints right at the time when he’s trying push Trio subscription sales and right before single ticket sales begin.
How funny to see Herman Cornejo listed as Bluebeard, that wife-murdering aristocrat in Perrault’s folktale, instead of Bluebird. Ya think they need to see a little more ballet in Detroit?
Update 2:45pm: That didn't take long for ABT to get to work fixing the casting but it's still a mess. Herman (now Bluebird instead of Bluebeard) is still listed on the front page as having two dates of Bluebird but no Desire while under his bio he is listed as Desire and two dates of Bluebird. We want to know who is the April 1st Aurora and why is there hesitation to disclose that information particularly when there is a convenient little square in which to place another picture? The people dancing the leading principal roles need to be disclosed to the buying public. Period.
Sad to report that a respected municipal ballet company, Madison Ballet, in Wisconsin has had to cancel the rest of its season due to lack of donations. Come on, Madison, step up and support your arts! You are prettier than Milwaukee and have nearly just as many private equity firms with oodles of dough.
Finally, New York City Ballet corpsman Joseph Gordon is old enough to walk into a bar for a beer. Though he still retains a youthful hint of Opie Taylor in the eyes and cheeks, his U.S. Navy dress whites now pump up his confidence with the ladies. Last night, when he tried to set himself up with the oh-so “experienced" Tiler Peck in Fancy Free, it initially looked like she was a cat who had found a new mouse to toy with rather than a mature sailor who would show her a nice night on the town. But Gordon, a corpsman since 2012, quickly swayed her thinking – and ours – with his slick, effortless partnering and big, big solo dancing in an awesome debut.
Andrew Veyette and Daniel Ulbricht, who made up the other two-thirds of the sailor trio, clearly had more experience with the ladies – which we will not, under any circumstances, go into on this blog. Veyette’s very American Rumba, accentuated by a slight rip in the back seam of his pants, was pretty darn close to what one finds in establishments along 9th Avenue in New York where sailors in uniform always get special drink and room rates during Fleet Week. Daniel Ulbricht’s high-flying, split-landing antics were brilliant and hilariously augmented by his appeals to the bartender to “keep ‘em coming.” In addition to Tiler Peck, the other ladies dressed for a good time were Gretchen Smith and Laine Habony.
Of late, NYCB has had better male casts of Fancy Free than ABT for whom Jerome Robbins originally made the ballet – probably ever since Jose Manuel Carreno retired his Rumba. The addition of Joseph Gordon sees that trend continuing in the near future. We wonder how much longer it will be before Harrison Coll will be old enough to walk into a bar.
Georgina Pazcoguin stole the stage in her debut in Peter Martins' Barber Violin Concerto. Stole. It. Her unrelenting effort to convince her balletically-inclined partner, Russell Janzen, to throw form to the wind, was as intense as it was clearly modern dance in this choreography that sets a pair of ballet dancers in motion with a pair of barefooted modern dancers. Janzen succumbed – sort of – his natural elegance and danseur noble bearing are hard to shake off. Jared Angle and Teresa Reichlen completed the quartet. It is, for Angle, an excellent role that both highlighted his strengths and made his weaknesses unimportant. Teresa Reichlen managed all of the technical matters efficiently, but is not expressive from the waist up, despite extreme exercising of the eyebrows.
There were some fabulous performances in Balanchine’s Who Cares? last night — heck, most everybody was fabulous including the men’s demi-soloist ensemble of Harrison Coll, Cameron Dieck, Ralph Ippolito, Lars Nelson, and Peter Walker. Savannah Lowrey reprised her sultry performance from last Sunday. Ashly Isaacs smoldered like hot ash ready to start a fire anew in her blue costume. An outstanding technician, she now toys with the steps hinting of another Ashley Bouder and Tiler Peck to come. We are very excited to watch this dancer develop.
Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar as the lead couple may not have had the sensuality of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fairchild in these roles, but they brought crackling electricity to their PdD and solos mostly through strong dynamics, fabulous musical punctuation, and an appetite for risk-taking. There's a little bit of Fosse percolating in Ms. Hyltin. Theirs is a performance not to miss going forward.
By the way, we are so totally over missing the original Karinska costumes in this ballet. Santo Loquasto's designs are sharp, sassy, and jazzy. We like them – except for the men in blue who look like they're in sanitation department uniforms.
With much thanks to NYCB for an energizing evening of beautiful dancing, we bestow the H.H. Pump Bump Award, someone’s glittery tribute to the U.S. Navy that includes a gold anchor on the toe which is not seen in this image, to Joseph Gordon for his outstanding debut in Fancy Free.
New York City Ballet could make hundreds of thousands of dollars by hooking up with Proctor & Gamble for a Pantene Shampoo brand that features the finale of Walpurgisnacht Ballet in a commercial. The hair, the music, the wild dancing, the purple - it all screams "buy me, buy me." Even bald guys would be lining up to buy it.
So good was the cast tonight that at the end of the ballet, members of the audience were doing their own Iggy Azalea hair flips while cheering. It wasn't just the ladies' hair -- no, no, no. Adrian Danchig-Waring had some of best looking swinging locks that we've seen on a man in a long time.
Sara Mearns, Danchig-Waring, and Erica Pereira led the cast along with demi-soloists Alina Dronova and Kristen Segin, who P&G might also want for a toothpaste commercial. Twenty corps ladies joined them.
Oh, it all started safely enough with the ladies in neat ponytails, except for Sara who had her secure ballet bun which she needed in order to do a marvelous diagonal of about three different kinds of pique turns including a complete swivel with the foot to the back of the ankle. But when that Charles Francois Gounod music from Faust ramped up into full force, Satan took over everyone's hair. The ladies were flying in arabesque sautes and saute de chat. Such good fun, all of it.
Sonatine received a lovely reading by Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Luz with pianist Cameron Grant on stage playing the music by Maurice Ravel. What is this ballet about? Who knows. Two French people kicking around with each other, answering each other's steps, allowing their romance to blossom -- maybe. It doesn't matter. At times the choreography seems to be Balanchine answering Robbins, but it is all quite beautiful.
Mozartiana was the highlight of the evening with the luminous dancing of Sterling Hyltin, Daniel Ulbricht, and Anthony Huxley. When Sterling Hyltin was promoted to principal in 2007, Haglund was not yet a fan. In fact, she was very low on his list of preferred performers. But 9 years later, she is one glorious ballerina who can honestly run the rep at NYCB: from an insect in Robbins' The Cage with tentacles so real you can feel the sticky oozing out of them to a magical sylph who breaks your heart when she dies in La Sylphide to a tornadic force in Symphony in Three Movements. We cannot wait to be surprised with what she does in the Second Movement of Symphony in C shortly. Tonight her Preghiera and Theme et Variations opposite Huxley were utterly divine. The expressiveness of her arms and head, the twinkle in her eye, the smile of slight amusement, the crystal clear footwork were a sight to behold. Huxley was superb as well in his variations and partnering. This man is serious about becoming one of the greatest artists of his generation. Every appearance on stage shows growth and new understanding. He is clearly past the wiz-kid stage. Daniel Ulbricht was outstanding in the Gigue. His vitality, musicality, and consistency never let up. He's always on his A-game.
Symphony in C was okay, but it loses some of its brilliance when viewed from the orchestra level as it was tonight. This is one of those ballets, like Serenade and Concerto Barocco, that is best seen from the rings. Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia danced the First Movement. Her every movement sparkled while he had a fair debut. Gonzalo is not a pirouette specialist, and this role calls for that. His partnering was superb, however, and included a very nice save of one of Megan's pirouettes.
Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle delivered a flawless Second Movement. Erica Pereira and Antonio Carmena needed to strengthen their jumps for the Third Movement, but showed great vitality nonetheless. Brittany Pollack was outstanding in the Fourth Movement opposite an engaging Taylor Stanley. Brittany etched out the shapes and turns with ease and time to spare. We would love to see her take on Theme and Variations.
The HH Pump Bump Award, a stiletto of diverse creativity that maintains its fine gold structure, is bestowed upon Sterling Hyltin for her beautiful Mozartiana.
On Wednesday night no fewer than eight dancers debuted in two long established ballets in the repertoire and all brought freshness and individuality to their roles. Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer premiered 55 years ago with Diana Adams, Melissa Hayden, and Violette Verdy among the first cast members. Glass Pieces, a groundbreaking piece by Jerome Robbins whose choreography helped make the Philip Glass minimalist style of music accessible to additional masses of people – the composer likes to call it “music with repetitive structures” – arrived 23 years later with a cast that included Heléne Alexopoulos, Lourdes Lopez, Joseph Duell among others.
Repetitiveness in our society during the era of the premiere in 1983 had long been seen as the scourge to creativity and to a life worth living. Whether on the assembly line in an auto factory, toiling over a sewing machine in a crowded room in the Garment District, or hand-washing dish after dish in a restaurant’s kitchen, repetitiveness killed the joy of life eight or more hours a day, everyday for years, decades, entire lives. Every day millions of people got up at the same time, walked the same routes to the bus or train, performed the same work tasks, and left to go home at the same time.The working class life was rigid and predictable as if pre-plotted on a piece of single quadrant graph paper like the one that hangs as the backdrop for Robbins’ Glass Pieces.
Robbins and Glass each captured the positive energy in the repetitiveness and rituals of everyday life. Robbins’ opening section Rubric had masses of dancers walking individual straight paths across the stage, crisscrossing, avoiding collisions, moving at the same speed. They were a living, breathing collection of y=mx+b against the graph squares behind them – people representing the little equations that make up life’s big formula. Their energy suddenly stopped, recalibrated, and then continued. All the while, the pulsing of Glass’s rhythms never varied except to grow more dense and more crowded.
Our soloists in this section (Ashley Hod, Daniel Applebaum, Meagan Mann, Joshua Thew, Laine Habony, and Cameron Dieck) delivered the energy if not always the preciseness that was expected.
The middle section PdD, Facades, was danced by Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring. Of course, they performed all of the adagio acrobatics extremely well, but Sara didn't convey the clear lines and the arc length of curves as have the many others who danced this before her. She looked fine in the bright blue unitard but the ratio of legs to torso wasn’t as appealing as we have seen in other interpreters.
The final section of Glass Pieces is set to an early section of Glass’s opera Akhnaten wherein the Egyptian Pharaoh has just died and the Scribe announces the ascension of his soul. For the ballet, only the instrumental is used, not the lyrics. The rhythmic drumming and chirping scales of wind instruments accompanies a corps of men who on this night filled the stage with a collective driving force that was electric. As if in contrast to the Scribe’s unsung words of ascension, these dancers drove their energies into the ground. At the conclusion of the ballet, a man behind Haglund said that it made him want to look up every opera that Philip Glass has ever written and run to see it. The music and the movement had tapped into his inner sense of ritual, something we tend to try to control and suppress these days but which is still very much a part of being human.
Where Glass Pieces challenged the viewer to see the beauty and uniqueness in so much repetitiveness, Liebeslieder Walzer challenged the viewer to find the beauty and uniqueness in choreography that was arguably minimalist since it did not include massive pirouettes, grand jumps, skittering allegro or any of the other things that we have come to depend upon in ballets we love. This was just fancy waltzing, mostly in character shoes and massive Vienna-style costumes, although the ladies did change into pointe shoes for a period of time. This ballet did not speak to Haglund thirty years ago, but now the atmosphere created by the simpler dancing, elegant costumes and scenery, and gorgeous on-stage singing of Johannes Brahms' songs from Opus 52 and 65 is a much richer experience.
Megan Fairchild, Rebecca Krohn, Lauren Lovette, Tiler Peck, Jared Angle, Chase Finlay, Russell Janzen, and Amar Ramasar seemed to be truly enjoying themselves in this ballet. Several of them were debuting in roles, and this ballet appears to be one that dancers can’t wait to be handed, like Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. Each woman was beautifully exactly who we expected her to be. There was no acting, only honesty. Maybe that was one of the ballet's main attractions. Rebecca’s deeply expressive upper body and Lauren’s just-coming-of-age beauty and confidence were particularly lovely. The gentlemen all personified elegance and fine manners. Chase Finlay was nearly busting out of his shoes with energy; it’s been a while since he’s done any real moving on this stage due to injury.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a gold Egyptian style sandal that any pharaoh would be thrilled to wear, is bestowed upon the men’s corps de ballet in Glass Pieces for their driving force in Akhnaten.