New York City Ballet’s Winter Season Week One concluded on Sunday, George Balanchine’s birthday, with an interesting choice of All-Stravinsky programing that featured (1) young novices who are advancing through the company’s feeder school, School of American Ballet, (2) a Robbins ballet about an insect novice coming of age in a rather brutal way, (3) a Martins ballet that threw the spotlight on each of three young, promising corps women all within the first three years of their NYCB careers, (4) a ballet by a youngish still novice choreographer, and (5) concluded with one of Balanchine’s greatest black & white creations, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, danced by the four company principals who today hold the highest authority in that ballet. The program conveyed the progressive nature of the NYCB dancer’s journey and the huge shadow that hovers over any choreographer who aspires to create work worthy of this institution.
Christopher Wheeldon’s charming Scènes de Ballet from 1999 for about fifty students from an array of levels at SAB revealed more than just impressively trained novices. We could not help but notice the seriousness, ambition, and sense of honor that the students had as they performed as students in a studio in front of a barre and mirror. There was no mirror, however. A complementary group of students stood on the opposite side of the barre and perfectly performed a mirror-image of everything the other set of dancers did. Already in these very young ones, we witnessed their budding obsession with achieving perfection.
Obsession takes a dark turn in Jerome Robbins’ The Cage. The tiny novice insect (with apparently a big appetite) is thrust into the world through the legs of the adult insects. It stumbles, falls, exercises its jaws, explores, and captures unfortunate prey who meet their grisly end between the insect’s knees. Love this ballet…
Lauren Lovette was terrific and horrifying in her stealth and aggression. How could such a little spidery bug do such dreadful things to her big prey? Possibly Lauren was modeling her insect off of the infamous Titan Beetle which can snap a pencil in half with its jaws or rip through human flesh. Whatever was her inspiration for her bug, it gave Haglund the shakes. The corps women were just fantastic as the adult insects rampaging and raging while they encouraged Bug Lauren to dispatch her prey.
Peter Martins’ Eight Easy Pieces to piano music by Stravinsky featured Rachel Hutsel, Olivia MacKinnon, and Alexa Maxwell cavorting in school-ish ensemble and solo work. The duo-pianists seated on stage at a single piano were Nancy McDill and Alan Moverman. The piece was light – and lite on substance, but it gave the three young corps women an opportunity to be singled out. We’ve had our eye on Alexa Maxwell for a couple of years – thanks to the Bouder Project that featured her along with Indiana Woodward back in 2015. But Rachel and Olivia have been harder to spot in the ridiculously talented corps de ballet.
Scherzo Fantastique received its New York City premiere on Sunday. Justin Peck’s latest dance for his home company didn’t offend our balletic senses and even included some lovely moments of lyrically imaginative pas de deux between Brittany Pollack and Taylor Stanley. There was also the requisite fiery solo for Anthony Huxley who danced it supremely but who now can pretty much predict what Peck is going to make up for him to do: he emerged from a circle of dancers and became the lone man out while performing remarkable allegro. The ballet was brief and harmless.
Finally we got to the meat of the afternoon’s program, and boy, were we ever hungry for Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto. It is a classic that still seems futuristic. Sterling Hyltin with Robert Fairchild and Maria Kowroski with Amar Ramasar created warmth, romance, and tension out of Balanchine’s sharp angles and slow curves. These forms have never lost their humanity as has happened in the post-Balanchine era of tortured geometry. How great it was to see Maria in one of her most important roles again. Her stamina, a little lacking, will continue to improve as the season progresses, and we have our fingers crossed that this summer we will have the opportunity to see her in Diamonds during the Lincoln Center Festival’s Jewels Celebration with NYCB, Paris Opera Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet. (It seems that every week the LCF folks ask Haglund for $5K to help out with the Jewels Celebration. Are they kidding?)
The HH Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon the cast of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto who danced the work like it was an honor and privilege to do so. You know, that’s how many of us feel when watching it.