Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC was the title of a couple of eclectic programs at New York City Center this week with remixed results. The performances were a variation of the festival presented each summer in Vail which is directed by former New York City Ballet principal Damian Woetzel.
Herman Cornejo was supposed to perform Apollo for the opening night and an excerpt from Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody with Alessandra Ferri on the following night, but he withdrew due to injury. The Ashton excerpt could not be performed and there was no ballet substituted. Apollo was performed by Robert Fairchild who was also scheduled to perform it the second night. His performances turned out to be the highlight of the two days.
The first night, Fairchild performed Apollo in white tights as is the modern-day custom. The second night, he performed the role in black tights (with white top) which was a custom during the 1950s and ‘60s after Balanchine stripped down the originally ornate Greek garb for Apollo. Both nights the ballet began with Apollo’s birth, a scene that was restored from Balanchine’s original ballet but one which he later edited from the choreography. Even though NYCB today performs the revised Apollo according to Balanchine’s final wishes, the complete ballet with the birth scene has been performed at City Center by ABT. So, it is not something that has been lost and miraculously recovered by Woetzel or anyone else. It continues to be performed throughout the world although the abbreviated version is more popular.
Former NYCB dancer Kaitlyn Gilliland performed the role of Leto, Mother of Apollo atop the black staircase. While few have legs as long as Kaitlyn and while the wielding and splaying depicted what we might expect in archaic drawings of the mythological event, the movement did not convey Leto to be in childbirth agony. Perhaps that was Balanchine’s design and intent; this is just an observation. The two Hand Maidens, Unity Phelan (NYCB) and Amber Neff (Suzanne Farrell Ballet), entered the scene with grand jetes that showed great effort with little grace, the intent seeming to be to reveal the musculature of their bare legs as opposed to conveying the character of mythical hand maidens. They proceeded to unwrap Fairchild’s Apollo from his swaddling clothes which unleashed a powerful effort of a young god trying to find his first footing while making it clear that this was no run-of-the-mill baby.
We’ve probably seen every one of Fairchild’s performances of Apollo in New York, and they just keep getting better. The unedited version of the ballet enabled him to explore a new depth of drama, taking Apollo’s character from birth to adolescence to his ascendance to the god's rightful position atop Parnassus. Fairchild is dancing his best ballet technique these days, and what a relief it is to see. Common thought was that when Broadway beckoned, it would mean the end of his serious ballet efforts. To the contrary, it seems to have clarified and strengthened his classical and neoclassical resolve.
The Muses on the first night were Tiler Peck (Terpsichore), Isabella Boylston (Calliope), and Misa Kuranga (Polyhymnia). Devon Teuscher danced Polyhymnia during the second performance. Tiler who has frequently commanded the role of Polyhmnia impressively at NYCB, indulged in a little mystery with her Terpsichore. It suited her and the role well. It was interesting how the iconic finger to finger moment with Apollo that precedes the Pas de Deux was depicted. Rather than Terpsichore posing in a strong tendu derriere with her back to Apollo, she was more en face with her supporting leg more relaxed – a very interesting variation of the pose which conveyed a more Greek-inspired image rather than the acute angles of Balanchine’s final version of the ballet.
The first thing that was noticeable when the Muses arrived on stage was that Isabella Boylston was wearing a different shade of pink tights than Tiler and Misa Kuranga. And the reason for that was_____? Answer: Careless planning and a predictable lack of attention to detail which was also apparent in much of her dancing. When the Muses followed Apollo in single file to the mountain, it was Isabella who couldn’t keep her head up straight and needed to call attention to herself by looking down at the floor and bobbing her head. The second night she avoided dropping her head but in an odd twist or lapse of decorum, she decided to turn her head to the right away from the audience and look at the staircase. Egads, what is wrong with this so-called principal dancer that she continually displays such a lack of discipline on stage? When dancing with the other Muses, she was frequently late on the count as though she had to wait for the other two and wasn’t sure about what was supposed to come next. Her solo as Calliope was pathetically empty of expression and verve. These days, New York has two incredibly fine Calliopes in Ana Sophia Scheller and Stella Abrera. Isabella’s effort didn’t begin to measure up.
Misa Kuranga gave a very respectable performance of Polyhymnia and managed to match the style of Tiler Peck while always remaining on the music. The second night, Devon Teuscher, who also entered the stage with different color tights which now made Tiler look like the odd one out, was a revelation in the role of Polyhymnia. She, too, had no trouble whatsoever staying on the music or avoiding the headbobbing and lack of decorum of Isabella. Devon started her impressive evening with a gorgeous triple pirouette downstage while facing the audience. Her other double piques that ended in arabesque with her finger to her lips were strong and secure – an excellent all around effort. She’s really looking beautiful, confident, and is dancing at a much higher level than Isabella has ever approached. We can’t wait to see her Swan Lake.
Divertimento Brillante, a Balanchine Pas de Deux to Glinka from 1967 that seems to have dropped out of sight, was lovingly performed by Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. Originally made for Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, it echos other Balanchine PdD in rich classical form and content, but the dancers were able to bring their own unique brand of romance to the work. It was lovely to see.
Sara Mearns performed Alexei Ratmansky’s Fandango, originally made for Wendy Whelan, with superb flair and a range of intensity that really captured the audience’s attention. It was hard to believe that the role had not been made explicitly for her. The Boccherini music, played on stage by the Flux Quartet, was Spanish in theme. Sara frequently engaged the musicians in moments such as pushing one to the forefront for a solo or draping her shawl on another. We liked the dance and performers in it very much.
This Bitter Earth, Christopher Wheeldon’s PdD from Five Movements, Three Repeats for Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle to the mashup of Dinah Washington and Max Richter, was performed by Isabella Boylston and Calvin Royal III to live music by the Catalyst Quartet and singer Kate Davis. What a disappointment. First, Ms. Davis, who is a fine singer, simply didn’t measure up to Dinah Washington in terms of pathos and soulfulness. The quartet’s music was heavier in tone with an odd-sounding string balance, and unfortunately over-amplified. The amplification even picked up the musicians' shoe movements and an unintentional knock against something. And Egad, again – Isabella in another wardrobe problem. Instead of wearing one of the costume designs made for the ballet by either Reid & Harriet or Valentino, she wore a blue leotard with no tights (more like the concept of After the Rain) and apparently eschewed the fanny tape because her jiggling ass hung out of the leotard from almost the first moments of the ballet. It seemed an intentional effort to make people notice her ass, legs, and feet so that they wouldn’t notice how dreadfully unappealing her dancing and form were from the waist up.
Poor Calvin, he all but disappeared on the dark stage in his dark costume with poor lighting and a blackbox effect at the back and sides of the stage. It was nice to see him occasionally come downstage and stretch his beautiful long lines but the hoisting of Isabella around took a lot more effort out of him than hoisting Wendy ever would have. While we understand that Isabella has found a mentor and champion in Heather Watts, herself terribly problematic and erratic from the waist up during her career, we wish she’d concentrate on fundamentally educating her top half and getting rid of the goop in her dancing.
On the second night, Tiler Peck and Cory Stearns danced a PdD from Antony Tudor's The Leaves Are Fading. Well, Tiler certainly made the audience take note of and appreciate this Tudor work more than we've ever witnessed before. While she seemed to handle the choreography with a little more virtuosity at times than we are accustomed to seeing, it was definitely glorious and included the rich musicality that we eagerly look for in all of Tiler's performances. Unfortunately, she pretty much washed out Cory who did a wonderful job partnering her but really wasn't in the performance all that much.
Cara Korbes performed two solos, Balanchine’s Elegie and Martha Graham’s Lamentation, on the first and second nights, respectively. Elegie, originally made for Suzanne Farrell in 1982 and not performed in New York since its premiere, seemed like a very private conversation between Balanchine and Farrell. Perhaps it was like coming across an old personal letter between two people and reading it even though you knew that they would never have invited you to do so. Carla was lovely in the solo, dressed in a nightgown type of costume with flowing hair. We suspect she may have imbued the three minutes with more obvious drama than the original interpreter who was a little more internally oriented.
Graham’s Lamentation, on the other hand, holy moly what a striking couple of moments of dance theater! The tragedy and grief of the soul/person/body struggling against the skin – in this case a tube of fabric worn by the dancer from head to foot – was riveting. Cameron Grant’s playing of Zoltan Kodaly’s notes further stirred the audience’s emotions.
The final piece on each night’s program was Lil Buck @ City Center, A Jookin’ Jam Session with various artists including Kate Davis and Yo-Yo Ma.
The Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Robert Fairchild for his two Apollos, a ballet absent from the 2016-2017 NYCB season. Hopefully, it will return next fall.