New York City Ballet’s All Balanchine program on Wednesday and Thursday was made up of two of the master’s best and one of his least best of those in the active repertory. We’ll dwell on the best and pass lightly over the other.
Allegro Brilliante has become just another vehicle that exemplifies how Tiler Peck’s allegro skills, which are fortified with an unparalleled quick-thinking ability to find time within the speed for lush musicality, stand apart from most everyone else in Balanchine’s sizzling Brilliante, Ballo, Dewdrop, Who Cares?, and many other of his works. Imagine the ballets that Balanchine might have conceived if Tiler had come along during his lifetime. Or Kowroski. Or Bouder. Or any of the other stylists in the company who thrill us in 2017. While we are entirely, unquestionably satisfied with watching these ballerinas work their magic within the Balanchine repertory, it is a shame to witness the dreck that today’s choreographers continue to come up with for their talents. As we said last week, Balanchine was a 100-year event, a once in our lifetime occurrence; so we’ll just have to try to tell ourselves to get over it. Not an easy task.
In Wednesday evening’s performance, Tiler, with the aid of a very pleasant and polished Andrew Veyette, plucked her pointes as if she were pique-ing across the ivories on the piano. As Tschaikovsky’s notes rapidly rolled up the scale, Tiler met his challenge by accelerating her chaine turns to a blur. Where in some ballets she might hold a balance or slow a renverse to an extent that it crosses over into a too-showy moment, here the pace of the music eliminated any temptation she might have to do that. The tricky section in the pas de deux in which the pair holds hands and makes full turns under and backwards with the ballerina ending in penche arabesque was silk-smooth.
On Thursday night, there was a last minute cast change. Megan Fairchild came down with a bug and couldn’t dance. So Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle danced Allegro Brilliante – it was his debut in the role – while Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen danced Balanchine's Swan Lake, both making their debuts in this one-act version. All the debutantes were ready and eager, but Sara seemed unhappy throughout Allegro, even given the benefit of slower tempi than the night before. We didn’t observe any meaningful mistakes at all - not one, but she was morose much of the time and seemed concentrating on trying to get through the ballet. Meanwhile her partner, Tyler Angle, who was making his debut several days early, danced with the excitement and relish for the challenge that he nearly always does.
On both nights, the four pairs who comprised the corps danced with energy, abandon, and precision. Cameron Dieck, who has killer-lines in his long legs in addition to new strength and articulation, along with Devin Alberda, Daniel Applebaum, and Aaron Sanz made up the handsome crew who partnered Megan Johnson, Meagan Mann, Gretchen Smith, and Lydia Wellington. The women were a little haphazard in the arms during the initial moments of Wednesday night but then snapped to ensemble exactitude very quickly. Thursday night’s slower pace was mostly limited to the principals' choreography, and the ensemble was even more impressive in its effort.
The Four Temperaments, one of Haglund’s favorites, received outstanding performances from everyone on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Lydia Wellington with Peter Walker, Brittany Pollack with Daniel Applebaum, and Megan LeCrone with Aaron Sanz gave their Themes the importance they deserved. Megan and Aaron, in their debuts, revealed details that we hadn’t noticed before by creating harmonies with their long arm and leg lines.
Anthony Huxley's Melancholic was pensive with a touch of sad resignation without being gloomy. As he repeatedly jumped to his knee and bent backward with arms splayed, he conveyed that there can be ardent strength in surrender as well. Ashly Isaacs who was paired with Tyler Angle on Wednesday and Jared Angle on Thursday in the Sanguinic variation has made progress in the role but doesn’t yet have the technical command of more recent interpreters such as Jennie Somogyi or Ana Sophia Scheller. She had her generously lipsticked mouth under control more than in the past but still there was a tendency to want to open it and coo alluringly.
Ask la Cour in the Phlegmatic section was appropriately cool and placid. His isolated movements in which he broke the lines of his wrists, elbows, and shoulders were at once nonchalant and ultra-defined. Ashley Bouder’s Choleric was a tour de force – angry, but not so angry as to get in the way of her determination. Her opening pirouette sequences to the knee had a different quality to them. Instead of spinning as fast as she could and dropping to the floor, she spun less angrily but then gave the drop to the knee more of an impetus and significance. It was an interesting exercise in the control of temperament, so to speak.
Also on this program was Balanchine’s one-act Swan Lake. This ballet was created at the request of City Center officials in 1951 in exchange for Balanchine being allowed to create another more modern ballet to his liking. At times, the choreographer seems to be upbraiding the City Center officials for their bad taste: “You want wing-flapping swans? This whole story is stupid, but I’ll give you wing-flapping swans.” And so the hideously black-costumed swans flap and flap and flap - there certainly is nothing beautiful about it. The one swan costumed in white is Odette. She flaps, too. On Wednesday night, Sara Mearns came out of the Swan Lake starting gate with enough emotional hysteria to make us wonder if we had suddenly happened upon a horrific accident. She created some lovely poses, but her method of barrelling from one pose to another left a lot to be desired. There were many beautiful lines, just no lines of poetry. Haglund really believes that he could love Sara’s Odette if he ever saw it in a legitimate Swan Lake production complete with at least a hint of legato in places. We hope this is on her ballerina bucket list.
On Thursday night, Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen debuted their roles several days early. Afterwards, Haglund wondered if perhaps Tess had left out some of the wing-flapping because her performance did not look half as frantic and frenetic as Sara’s the night before. There was a softness and gentle sadness in her predicament that, once again, made Haglund wish to see this artist, who so beautifully embodies an ideal Odette physique, in a legitimate production. Russell Janzen simply stunned in his handsome lyricism and ability to convey both strength and empathy. His every step as Siegfried was believable and quite beautiful including a gorgeous manège of coupés jetés. Together, these two dancers could be the Odette/Siegfried fairy tale of our dreams in a legitimate production.
The HH Pump Bump for these mid-week performances, a stiletto of glistening diamonds accenting a lyrical shape, is bestowed upon Tiler Peck for her glorious performance in Allegro Brilliante.