The second evening of the Winter Season and the second All Balanchine program included a wonderful sampling of his repertory but, unfortunately, some strained performances.
Divertimento No. 15, set to most of Mozart’s composition by the same name, offered challenging variations for soloists Lauren King and Ashley Laracey, here dancing principal roles with exceptional authority. Lauren’s sharp changes of direction of the leg from a front extension to a second arabesque and clear double gargouillades with the trailing leg’s circle just as articulate as the leading leg’s were all performed with the upper body projecting a sunny ease. Sterling Hyltin’s second variation included a lovely uninterrupted sequence of attitude turn-pirouette-fouette. Ashley's sissonne-ronde de jambe en l’air jumps in the third variation had a singing quality. Abi Stafford’s unassuming fleetness and the luxurious manner in which she pulled and lengthened musical phrases in the fourth variation were a joy to watch. In the sixth variation Megan Fairchild’s sparkling, always unpretentious allegro skittered across the stage with ease while her upper body countered with an elegant gracefulness.
Andrew Scordato and Daniel Applebaum, two tall corpsmen with very long legs, impressed with their abilities to meet the challenges of the tempi and provide the ballerinas with polished partnering. That brings us to Andrew Veyette. He danced as though he hadn’t bothered to practice an arabesque since last fall. Stamina was lacking. Feet were unpointed. His allegro was leaden. It was an embarrassment to this company. When we recently noticed that Veyette had been added to the list of permanent faculty at SAB – along with Abi Stafford, Joaquin De Luz, Marika Anderson, and Sterling Hyltin – we hoped it was a sign that he would soon be retiring from the stage, but we were also alarmed at his underwhelming quality as a role model for students. Veyette clearly is not putting in the work to maintain himself physically. To be blunt, he should not have been on the stage in this ballet on Wednesday evening.
The Four Temperaments included a thrilling performance of Sanguinic from Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle who emphasized the sudden stops within the furious pace of this electrifying work. The four backup Sanguinistas were not as charging and in sync as we usually see. The four dancers who backed up Ask la Cour’s Phlegmatic (Ashley Hod, Emily Kikta, Claire Kretzschmar, and Isabella LaFreniere), however, gave this section a dramatic heft that seemed to help Ask be a little more assertive in his own performance. Teresa Reichlen and Anthony Huxley gave admirable performances of Choleric and Melancholic.
Some of the major donors who left the performance without staying for Chaconne had the right idea. The corps included apprentices and new members who were not sure of their musical counts or were outright wrong on them. The Pas de Trois (Emily Kikta, Claire Kretzschmar, Aaron Sanz) also looked under-rehearsed. The Pas de Cinq led by Indiana Woodward was neat and energetic. Not only was Indiana superb but our eyes kept going toward the leggy power and swiftness of Mimi Staker.
Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring somehow made their Pas de Deux and variations look like nothing but a collection of steps. Adrian clearly is not back 100% from his injury and doesn’t have full range of motion in the lower legs and ankles or his customary power. Sara was simply powering through everything as hard as she could. No nuance. No musicality. No beauty in the dancing – just force. Please – let’s not allow Balanchine’s choreography to suffer the injustices of our time. He’s the one holding us up.
Last evening, Haglund slipped in to see Spectral Evidence - the riveting work that Angelin Preljocaj created for NYCB in 2013. Based on the Salem Witch Trials, Spectral Evidence is set to a sound score by John Cage, the longtime collaborator of Merce Cunningham. Preljocaj, by the way, studied with Cunningham in New York, and much of the French choreographer’s work reveals strong Cunningham influences. But back to the Cage sound score — sounds of whispers, sucking in air, exhaling, a noisy kiss, pounding drums, French text, and of course silence create a perfect environment in which to convey the mass hysteria of the time when ________ were accused of being ________, and in a flash were convicted by mobs and hanged, all based on discredited testimony. So there you go …
Amar Ramasar, stepping into the role created by Robert Fairchild, has room to grow but nevertheless was compelling in the role. Chase Finlay, who stepped into Amar’s role danced half-heartedly like he was having trouble remembering the choreography. Extreme modern technique is not his forte anyway, but it wasn’t the forte for any of the others either before they made the effort to command it. Sean Suozzi and Taylor Stanley rounded out the male cast — both incredibly dramatic and creating characters with the darkest souls imaginable. Hopefully, some day both of those artists will get the chance to put their marks on the leading role, too.
Tiler Peck, Megan Fairchild, Ashly Isaacs, and Megan LeCrone sent our senses into a tailspin. Half the time, we were convinced that they were indeed dangerous witches. The other half of the time, they seemed like a cluster of misunderstood sisters — but dangerous. Rubbing their elbows together, pulling their arms across their faces in a hyperflexion and suddenly letting their limbs fly back, all that sucking in of air, gasping, and those weird moments when they pulled one leg up across the knee and suddenly threw their hands out at us: witch stuff, indeed. No wonder they got into trouble. Alas, they were burned to death, but it seems like the flames in their death chambers have been dramatically cooled since the premiere season. The flames are no longer orange-red; they’re mostly white. Technically, white flames are hotter, but they look less hot on stage. We guess that the image of women amid the cooler orange flames was disturbing for some to see. Nevertheless, the audience understood the white flames. At the end, people around Haglund were raving about this dance. It is one of the best contemporary pieces that NYCB has commissioned over the past few decades. It is brilliant, imaginative, rings of contemporary themes, and gives new types of challenges to the dancers. All good.
That’s why all the performers of Spectral Evidence can share this witchy, thorny H.H. Pump Bump Award.