New York City Ballet’s All Bach program of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco and Jerome Robbins’ The Goldberg Variations opened last evening with a mix of inspired and flat dancing.
Concerto Barocco, which was led by Sara Mearns, Teresa Reichlen, and Ask la Cour, suffered from a lethargic pace and the two statuesque ballerinas' attempts to meet the speed sometimes looked effortful. In their defense, their legs are long and it takes more effort to get them up and down and around. Even considering that, the energy was low. Legs that extended to the back in low arabesques did not always have straight knees or uniform height. Coupes were not always in sync. The corps de ballet at times pushed like it expected a quicker tempo while at other times it seemed to luxuriate in not having to expend the customary wattage. This isn't how Concerto Barocco should be.
It’s time to up the amps in this ballet. We have yet to see Ashley Bouder and Tiler Peck dance the leads. Wouldn’t it be thrilling to see them take on this ballet together, and then in the following performance in the same week switch roles? Talk about the potential for electricity! While these two magnificent ballerinas are at their peaks, we need them to set as many new standards as possible. And we need to see them in Concerto Barocco before people start calling it Concerto Broke-oh.
Haglund wonders if Jerome Robbins might have been looking over his shoulder at Twyla Tharp when he set his ballet The Goldberg Variations in 1971 to Bach’s theme and 30 variations for piano. Tharp, a classically trained musician, had just tackled Bach with her curious Fugue (1970) a few months earlier. Fugue was comprised of 20 variations based on Bach’s The Musical Offering but performed without its accompaniment. It was also during this period that Tharp created The One Hundreds in which she had 107 dancers perform one hundred 11-second sequences of experimental choreography. Whatever she did at that time made news whether it involved getting crowds of non-dancers to try out her moves in an auditorium or performing in Central Park. Robbins would eventually approach Tharp, at the suggestion of Balanchine who had by then died, to collaborate on Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel. And of course, the two choreographers shared an admiration for Philip Glass; Robbins tickled the dance world with Glass Pieces in 1983 and Tharp rattled it with In The Upper Room in 1986.
So maybe The Goldberg Variations was Robbins’ effort to delve into Bach's architecture in the cerebral way that Tharp, the experimental force of the day in dance, had done so successfully. Ah, well. It’s a really long piece of music that doesn’t have much of an arc to help sustain choreography for an hour and twenty-four minutes. Cameron Grant played it beautifully, however, and there were a few times when Haglund was tempted to close the eyes and just listen instead of watching the ballet.
This was not choreography that thrilled, put you on the edge of your seat, or made you weep. This was “see the music” choreography that illustrated the circular evolution of Bach’s creation. It began with a theme danced by Faye Arthurs and Zachary Catazaro in court-like costumes. They also brought the ballet to its close having changed (evolved) into modern day dancewear - like the Uncola, the Uncostume of tights and skirted leotard.
Most of the dancers who performed the fourteen principal roles in this ballet were dancing them for the first time and exhibited great joy and energy. Abi Stafford with Daniel Applebaum and the charismatic Joseph Gordon, and Lauren Lovette with the brilliant Anthony Huxley and Taylor Stanley performed Part I. The men wore earth toned Uncostumes of tank unitards with shirts; Abi and Lauren wore skirted leotards in spring green and pinkish, respectively. The choreography wasn’t unappealing. It’s just that, like the Bach music, it did not vary in texture and intensity and it finally became tiring to watch.
Part II was led by Sterling Hyltin & Jared Angle, Maria Kowroski & Tyler Angle, and Tiler Peck & Gonzalo Garcia who were dressed in pastel dancewear. Lovely PdDs from everyone and sensational variations from Tyler and Tiler. All of the dancers eventually “evolved” into more sophisticated ballet costumes – the men in coats, the ladies in tulle. But even with these fabulous dancers on the stage, it became tiring to watch this ballet – we may have already said that.
All in all, it was an okay evening. We’re going to save the HH Pump Bump Award for a future performance.