At NYCB's Sunday matinee, which was the official celebration of the giant genius of George Balanchine on the occasion of his birthday, the audience was treated to performances by 13 – that's 13 bonafide company principal dancers. And a 14th appeared on stage before the curtain rose to introduce the program to the audience. That is astonishing depth of company. Not a guest artist in sight - just honest, bonafide, promoted-from-within principal dancers.
The afternoon started exactly like every birthday celebration should – with party favors. Upon entering the theater, each member of the audience was given a gift of a packet of picture postcards of historic rehearsal photos of Balanchine with giants Stravinsky, Kirstein, Farrell, Robbins, Karinska, Martins, Mitchell, and many others. Then Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette stepped out from behind the curtain to chat with the audience about the significance of the day and to prep everyone on the two ballets which they were about to see. Haglund wishes he could have gotten a better look at Ashley's very significant high heels - were they Jimmy Choos or maybe Michael Kors? There was no credit in the Playbill.
When the curtain opened and the dancing began, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild repeated their too-much-romance-for-a-weak-heart performance in Who Cares? Haglund got positively weepy during their PdD. Granted, Gershwin's The Man I Love can warm even the coldest of stone hearts. But Peck and Fairchild were like a spark and accelerant flirting beneath the kindling. Superb dancing, superb theatrical output.
Sara Mearns in I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise gave a much softer, less punchy interpretation than on Tuesday when she was a little too saloon-girl inspired. Teresa Reichlen was playful and sexy in My One and Only.
Following the intermission came Union Jack – a long ballet – nearly an hour long. The initial section with the various regiments parading in their stunning kilts is always enjoyable to watch. It could end right there and everyone would go home happy. But the middle section with the sequined Costermonger PdD followed by a long final segment of sailor-outfitted ballerinas and men skipping about can tax the attention span. Yesterday at about the time the cuddly donkey pulled the cart across the stage to end the Costermonger section, a lot of people were probably thinking about how fast they could get home to a certain cuddly pigskin. Nevertheless, Joaquin De Luz, Tyler Angle, Jared Angle, Janie Taylor, Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, Andrew Veyette, Megan Fairchild, Abi Stafford, Adam Hendrickson, and Sean Suozzi kept the minds of the audience from wandering too much with their high flying batterie that was impressive even under sailors' bell bottoms.
Following the performance, Peter Martins hosted an abbreviated lecture/demo on stage using advanced SAB students. The theme of his lecture was that "this is how we do the exercises" as opposed to the "rest of the world," which he half-amusingly implied was wrong. Haglund, a firm believer in the values of the rest of the world, cringed a little at the students' initial demi plies at the barre which casually allowed the heels to raise significantly from the floor, the intentional over-crossing of many basic academic positions and exercises, and the intrinsic messiness of the port de bras. But the school produces dancers designed to execute Balanchine choreography; so this is all fine and dandy, if that's what they want to do. The problem with this type of training surfaces when the dancers put on classical tutus or try to dance Petipa-inspired or Petipa-derived choreography where knowledge and respect of the traditional technique from which these classics were born is needed and often badly missing. One of Martins' comments in particular flipped Haglund's stomach upside down for a second or two. For an allegro combination in the center of the stage, he asked the pianist to play music from Giselle. Thankfully, the pianist came up with something more appropriate, but here's praying that Martins' comment wasn't a subtle hint of anything to come.
All in all, it was a day to celebrate giants. Here's a Jimmy Choo Big Blue Pump Bump Award for Tiler Peck, Robert Fairchild, and Eli Manning for delivering such stunning performances on Sunday!