Last evening NYCB presented its first ever program devoted solely to the work of its former resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Single choreographer programs are usually reserved for the works of Balanchine and Robbins. When the first full evening of a dancemaker's creations is presented, it should be a signal that he has "arrived" so to speak – that his work is of such weight and importance that it can carry an entire evening at the NYCB. Tonight there was less a sense of "arrival" and more a question of what has arrived and whether the journey was worth it.
The program included the premiere of Les Carillons to Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suites 1 and 2, Polyphonia, and the NYCB premiere of DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse which was created for the Royal Ballet and first presented in New York City by the Corella Ballet a couple of years ago. All three pieces registered the same positives and negatives. Each was clearly organized from a choreographic standpoint; the large group elements were far more interesting than the solos and PdDs; the costumes were always vivid, interesting and sometimes pretty; the music was danceable. But it all didn't add up to a fulfilling whole because the ballets over-relied on too few choreographic ideas.
The music for Les Carillons was used by Roland Petit almost forty years ago for his dramatic ballet L'Arlesienne that was based on the play by Alphonse Daudet for which Bizet composed the music. Most of Petit's ballet is on YouTube in pieces; it is riveting, imaginative, and grabs your attention the way Petit had a tendency to do. Wheeldon's creation was described in the Playbill as plotless. It was, unfortunately, also charmless. Why? Well, mostly because it pretty much looked like a lot of what we have seen before. You know the saying: same soup, different bowl. It was one grand rond de jambe en l'air after another for the women, developpe, promenade, pick her up, put her down, split the legs, penchee. The one who should really be awarded the Pump Bump for last night is the official NYCB bikini waxer who had her work cut out for her on this Wheeldon program.
The large group work was the most interesting aspect of the piece and was enjoyable. Wheeldon likes to move big horizontal sections of dancers in opposing horizontal directions, and it can be interesting to watch. But it was too little an offering when compared to the mundane, faux-ballet acrobatics employed in so much of the piece. Too much of the time when Wheeldon ran out of ideas for the legs and feet, he fell back on quirky arm movements that were unrelated to what the feet and legs had been doing.
As usual, the dancers overcame the deficiencies in the choreography and were a joy to watch. Sara Mearns, Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, Ana Sophia Scheller, Tiler Peck, Amar Ramasar, Robert Fairchild, Tyler Angle, Daniel Ulbricht, and Gonzalo Garcia put the old game faces on and gave it all they had.
Costume designer Mark Zappone created beautiful dresses of mid-calf length in a variety of rich reds for the principals – violet for Scheller – and aqua-teal for the corps ladies. The fronts of the dresses were opened to reveal brown skirts underneath. The men were costumed in brown with a diagonal splash of color down the front. Each man wore one sleeve while one arm remained bare. The scenery backdrop by Jean-Marc Puissant looked like a water color abstract design which was linear on the left and more circular on the right. The design changed hues throughout the piece, a typical element seen in other Wheeldon ballets.
Polyphonia to music by Gyorgy Ligeti has always been difficult for Haglund to enjoy for many of the reasons cited above. Tonight's performance was an especially big downer because Jennie Somogyi suffered an injury during her PdD with Gonzalo Garcia and ended up hobbling off the stage in intense pain. After a few counts of music, Gonzalo followed her off and the pianists played the rest of the variation while the stage remained eerily empty until the next pair of dancers appeared. Shortly thereafter, Tiler Peck, fresh from Les Carillons and starting to prepare for her role in DGV was substituted for Jennie for the remainder of the ballet.
The final piece of the program, DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse (high speed dance), looked much better on NYCB's stage than on the small stage at City Center where the Corella Ballet presented it. It also got a better reading from the dancers, especially the women who were clearly more charged in their movement and exploited the choreography to create a performance. Teresa Reichlen & Craig Hall, Ashley Bouder & Joaquin De Luz, Maria Kowroski & Tyler Angle, and Tiler Peck & Andrew Veyette led a corps of 16 in maneuvers much like what had been seen in the first two-thirds of the evening. Splitzeography, handeography, PdDs that didn't dance from point to point but mostly remained in one spot while the man manipulated the woman around him - same soup, different bowl.
The minimalist score for DGV was by Michael Nyman who was commissioned to write the music for the celebration of the opening of a Northern European line of the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), France's high speed rail system. Nyman's composition is titled MGV Musique à Grande Vitesse (high speed music) and bears the recurrent rhythms like those heard from a train traveling down its tracks. It's a stirring composition, but last night its orchestral components seemed terribly out of balance – at least in comparison to Nyman's recording. The extra drummers stationed on the side apron sometimes overwhelmed the winds in the orchestra pit. But it was exciting to hear this unusual music played live in the theater.
So, it wasn't such a great night at NYCB mostly because the works chosen to celebrate this young choreographer's first dedicated evening were not his best. However, maybe by showing a whole evening of his choreography, Wheeldon will observe that he needs to reacquaint himself with the rich vocabulary of ballet.
The evening's Pump Bump Award, a Guiseppe Zanotti military chic sandal, is bestowed upon Tiler Peck in recognition of the triple trooper duty she performed - exquisitely, as always.
So who needs a bottom of the top-tier or top of the middle-tier male ballet dancer who disrespects the company that gave him his profession and his colleagues to the point of walking out on them without giving professional notice, who publicly suggests that he's a heroin user, who publicly muses about just not showing up for a big performance, whose public behavior suggests that while he may have artistic talent, he does not possess the maturity and professional ethics expected at the world's top ballet companies? Who needs someone like that? No doubt, Kevin McKenzie thinks he does. And he'll probably even use ABT donors' money to sponsor a stint at Hazelden for the kid. Think of the media coverage it would bring. Maybe ABT could even spin it into another "defection" story - the artist defected from his contract for monetary freedom.
Thanks to Haglund'eeler, Robin, for bringing these awesome new clips of Herman Cornejo to our attention. Now we can actually see why his picture was splashed across the front pages of the Spanish newspapers when he debuted as Prince Siegfried in Angel Corella's Swan Lake for the Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon. It's hard to believe that at the time of these videos, Corella's company was only a year and a half old.
Everyone knew that Herman would kill the Black Swan PdD, but in these videos of the debut performance he is just as remarkable in the White Swan PdD. His partnering is superb, and he added little touches that give it all such a nice finish – like between minutes 3 and 4 when he lifts the lovely Adiarys Almeida who then splits her legs, Siegfried steps back to the side and then releves with his arms outstretched and his weight falling forward as he is drawn toward Odette.
It remains one of Kevin McKenzie's greatest crimes not to allow Herman Cornejo to dance the role of Prince Siegfried.
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!
NYCB closed its Christmas season of The Nutcracker only to open the Winter Season last evening with a big Christmas tree on stage surrounded by children's presents and soldiers. The Steadfast Tin Soldier was a nice segue to what promises to be six weeks of diverse programing that will include gems like Donizetti Variations, Firebird, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Russian Seasons, and Allegro Brilliante.
Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbricht portrayed the paper doll and tin soldier in Steadfast who found love among the Christmas trimmings – without succumbing to acute cuteness or over-reaching for sweetness. It was all well-danced and the dancers' spontaneity tickled giggles out of the audience. Ulbricht's tin soldier's slow falls to his knee landed just within reach of the paper doll's hand which he then tenderly kissed. Fairchild's doll erupted into applause when the soldier performed his tricks that included neat double tours with perfect finishes. After dancing joyously, the paper doll opened the window to let in fresh air which promptly blew her around before whisking her into the flames of the fireplace. The soldier retrieved the doll's heart from the ashes, but his own was now broken.
Le Tombeau de Couperin for eight corps couples to Ravel's Baroque-inspired music may not be a reason on its own to buy a ticket, but it is always a welcomed sight to see these corps dancers seize the stage and demonstrate with their beautiful formations and patterns that they are the true heart and soul of this company, and who, on any given night, can engage and captivate the audience without so much as a single soloist level or principal dancer leading them.
Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux received a mostly superb performance from Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette. Ashley inserted into the choreography a coupe tombe sur la tushy at the beginning of her variation which caused the audience to gasp but she recovered to finish the performance with confident balances and fleet footwork. Let's talk about Veyette! He had the strongest performance that Haglund has seen from him in a long time. There is still that problem with his front arabesque arm that is perennially too high; even when he throws his head to the ceiling, the arm is still too high to achieve any sense of parallel with his profile. But the guy's turns and leaps and beats were terrific - not thrown together with reckless force as sometimes we have seen, but assembled with controlled energy and coordination. Veyette was relaxed and confident, looked rested, and was a pleasure to watch. His catches of Bouder's fishdives with her extended arms crossed at the hands were thrilling.
Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in The Man I Love PdD from Who Cares? set to Gershwin songs were the highlight of the evening. Talk about romance and glamour. Talk about showbiz. Talk about sweeping the audience right into your dream. The chemistry between the two was as grand as that of Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly. Beautiful sweeping lifts that were cinematic in scope combined with exquisite solo work from each made this a truly wondrous performance.
Peter Martins decided to feature corps dancer Emily Kikta in the center of the pink demi-soloists section which afforded her the opportunity to step out for a few steps on her own. However, she stood out for her broad-based statuesque size more than for her dancing which was in places plodding and unclear. Performing in a line with the quicksilver feet and flexibility of the much smaller Amanda Hankes, Faye Arthurs, Rebecca Krohn, and Ashley Laracey, she had trouble keeping up. She is an eyecatcher, however, and it will be good to see her dancing along side dancers closer to her size, like Kaitlyn Gilliland and Savannah Lowry. While Ms. Gilliland still appears on the NYCB website's roster as of this moment, her name was missing from the corps listing in last night's Playbill.
Sara Mearns and Teresa Reichlen in solos to Gershwin's to Paradise and My One and Only were also fine, but the evening belonged to Peck and Fairchild as does the modern vintagePump Bump Award by Gucci:
Can't wait for NYCB to open the winter season on Tuesday, January 17th with Bouder & Veyette in Tchai Pas and R. Fairchild and Peck in Who Cares? There are lots of great performances on the schedule, but Haglund's attendance totally depends on the behavior of NYCB Management toward the 4th Ring Society members - as we shall forever be known.
February 4th, Old Hag is trucking down to Washington, D.C. for the magnificent Part/Gomes/Abrera evening performance of ABT's La Bayadere.
March 14th officially opens the Paul Taylor Dance Company's inaugural Lincoln Center Season of 20 performances, but of course, EVERYONE will be at the special just-added March 13th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION of Aureole. Tickets for $3.50 (no service fee) go on sale tomorrowMonday at 10:00 a.m. for that special performance.
March 25th will mark the historic debuts of Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews in ABT's Giselle. So it's in Chicago. So what. Haglund will be there, and he's not coming alone. After yanking away ABT's 2011 Golden Circle donation due to the company's irresponsible use of guest artists instead of its own dancers, it appears that the remote possibility for any 2012 donation will be further reduced every time Haglund has to travel to another city to see what he should be able to see on the home stage.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company's fabulous inaugural season at Lincoln Center runs from March 14 through April 1. As you know, ticket prices begin at an astonishing $10 plus facility fee. The season is an ambitious one with premieres and major revivals.
Just announced minutes ago:
PTDC will add a special performance on Tuesday, March 13 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Taylor's Aureole. EVERY ticket in the house will cost – hold on to your hats – $3.50 which was the top ticket price in 1962. In honor of the celebration, the theater is waiving all of its extra facility and convenience fees.
The March 13 program will include Aureole, Troilus and Cressida (reduced), Brandenburgs and Piazzolla Caldera.
Tickets for this special performance go on sale at the box office, by phone (212-496-0600), and on the theater's website on Monday, January 9th at 10:00 a.m.
We want this inaugural season to work in a big way and guarantee PTDC will return year after year with its great dancers and wonderful dances, not to mention the realization of the seductive whisperings of collaboration with NYCB.