The blue tulle was flying. The hair was flying. The Tschaikovsky music was glorious. Everyone seemed happy to be dancing in Balanchine’s early masterpiece and the audience was swept away by it all.
Kaitlyn Gilliland, as the dark angel, accelerated through the choreography with unusual abandon. Megan Fairchild’s debut performance was joyous and youthful. Jenifer Ringer conveyed both glamor and spirituality in the lead role. Among the demi-soloists, Lauren King continued to impress with her neat, unforced technique and sunny stage presence.
The new commission by Wayne McGregor, Outlier, was unfortunately a disappointment. The music, Thomas Ades' Concerto for Violin – Concentric Paths, is a moody piece for violin and chamber orchestra that is not especially suited for accompanying movement.
Anyone who has seen 10 minutes of McGregor’s Infra or Chroma made for The Royal Ballet, would have recognized most of the choreographic ideas and impulses he used for Outlier. In summary, it was the same soup in a different bowl. McGregor’s attempt to adapt to the ballet stage the types of head, neck and upper body waves that Michael Jackson made popular and are still pervasive in the worst music videos was neither fresh nor inventive nor did it serve the purpose of making ballet relevant to new audiences. We must be grateful that he didn’t have the dancers grabbing their crotches.
Contemporary ballet choreographers seem not to understand that Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowroski can actually dance – which must be why these talented artists are now mainly used for crotch-splitting aerial gobbledygook that emphasizes leg muscularity instead of movement. Yes, we had a lot of that in this piece as well.
Lucy Carter's stage lighting for Outlier, which included the suggestion of concentric circles on the floor as well as some linear effects, was pleasing to the eye. But McGregor’s efforts to make the dancers look as though what they were doing was somehow connected to the patterns didn’t work. Nor did it matter in the abstract overall scheme. In short, we didn't advance or extend the ballet art form this evening.
The audience, which was unusually sparse for a Friday evening, truly appreciated the terrific performance of Balanchine’s Cortege Hongrois set to the glorious, danceable music from Glazounov’s Raymonda. Rebecca Krohn and Sean Suozzi were on spot in the Czardas. Again, Lauren King was a standout in the Pas de Quatre. Sara Mearns and Jonathan Stafford, perhaps not particularly well-matched, conveyed the Hungarian spirit via the classical vocabulary with verve and enthusiasm in their lead roles.
Haglund is sorry that he had to go to the back of the closet for one of last year's Pump Bump Awards, but Outlier prompted him to think of this pile of crocks: