Lincoln Center's fountain was on fire and spewing ash last evening like a volcano begging to erupt as the sleds, skis, and skates pulled up for the opening night performance of New York City Ballet's Winter Season. Oh, not really – the snow, wind, water, and fancy lighting just made it look that way.
Haglund rolled in extra early to experience the brand new art installation on the Promenade Level of the theater. The mysterious Paris-based street artist, JR, was selected as this year's artist to collaborate with NYCB in the company's second annual Art Series. The self-described photograffeur (photo + graffiti) who specializes in pasting large black and white photos in public places is known only by his initials and is never seen in public without his sunglasses. He's also the recipient of a $100,000 TED prize.
The exhibit is neat indeed – best viewed from both Promenade Level and above. You may have watched the video on the NYCB website which explained that the photographer had the dancers - all clothed in white - interacting with each other and with huge sheets of crumpled white paper. The end product was a huge black and white picture of an eye comprised of life-sized NYCB dancers. As you can see, it covers the floor of the Promenade Level and reveals its beauty under the uneven lighting.
It was very interesting how some people carefully walked around the dancers' bodies while others stepped blithely on their heads. Soon after the theater opened last night, it became obvious that the Number 1 photo op was going to be the audience member standing in the middle of the eye's pupil.
At intermission, a certain critic stood around with his arms folded across his chest trying to ignore it all. Haglund had some trouble reading his stiff little lips from the 4th Ring but it appeared that he bleated something like, "What next? Are they going to clutter the whole place with Christo orange flags?" Well, maybe they will.
This is a terrific exhibit. If you go, you will probably find yourself walking around looking for specific dancers. As yet, there doesn't seem to be an identity-key flyer available at the brochure desk. Maybe it's in the works.
So on to the dancing which was as hot as it was cold outside in New York last night.
Concerto Barocco opened the evening. Maria Kowroski, Sara Mearns, and Tyler Angle led the cast that included a tack-sharp corps de ballet who rejoiced in some of Balanchine's greatest phrases. The match-up of Maria with Sara hit a sour note with Haglund because of their vastly different physical makeups and responses to the music.
It's hard to think of anyone who makes a more perfect shape when standing en pointe in fifth position or when lifting an arabesque than Maria. Every performance hammers home how lucky we have been to witness this artist over nearly two decades and how unusual her physical gifts are in the dancer population. Her lines are long, strong, and clear without being muscley or revealing the physical effort needed to create them. These are attributes that will always be coveted in ballet regardless of the deluge of PR that some other companies' women dancers broadcast that tries to sell how their bulky muscles should be perceived as beautiful by the ballet audience. Last night as Maria calmly collected each perfectly turned-out passe retire, smoothly unfolded each long and narrow penche arabesque line, and effortlessly lifted flawless battements, the harmony in it all was unmistakably right and beautiful. And yes, her beautiful and serene face added much to our viewing pleasure.
The middle of the evening's program was devoted to Kammermuski No. 2 – not one of Haglund's favorites. Where Barocco celebrates with a corps of women, Kammermuski utilizes a corps of men. The ballet seems to repeat so many of Balanchine's earlier ideas from Stravinsky Violin Concerto and The Four Temperaments without improving on them. Then there is the matter of the men being costumed in tights and shoes that were the exact gray color of the Marley floor which made it all look especially uninteresting. Rebecca Krohn, Abi Stafford, Amar Ramasar, and Jared Angle gave the ballet all the energy it deserved and probably more. It was a very spirited performance with nice chemistry among the four principals, but the best parts of the choreography look better in the other Balanchine ballets.
The evening ended with one of those cannot-believe-they're-doing-this performances of Who Cares? When Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild danced together in this ballet two years ago, Haglund described them as a spark and accelerant flirting beneath the kindling. Little did he know....
Last night their interpretation of Gerhwin's The Man I Love was the equivalent of an entire evening of entertainment. The chemistry and coordination between the two was as perfect as it gets. When Robert extended his arm toward Tiler who was in the downstage corner, it was an invitation, a pleading, and a dare for her to run at him and hurl herself over his back. To end her own magnificent solo variation, Tiler sped off the stage turning like a cyclone, and threw her arms up into a final whirl and her head back with such crazy abandon that one hoped there was someone in the wing ready to catch her.
With his first step onto the stage last night, Robert Fairchild conveyed glamour, grace, good manners, and gorgeous musicality that brought back a flood of memories of Astaire, Kelly, O'Connor and all their great movies. A deep bend of the knees, a quick stop with a look out at the audience, a swivel of the torso - all with a nod toward and inflection of a past era when George and Ira Gershwin ruled the day. And if his performance was charged more than usually last night, it may have had something to do with the role's originator, Jacques d'Amboise, sitting front row center in the audience. Jacques' face was beaming as he strode up the aisle at the end of the performance.
Ashley Bouder looked smashing in the purple costume and gave a superb performance as the turning girl. Teresa Reichlen, in blue, was at once frisky and vivacious in I'll Build A Staircase To Paradise.
The demi-soloists delighted with their pluck and verve. The women were a very wide range of sizes, but the drop-dead gorgeous Emily Kitka, who looked like an Amazon when dancing next to the much smaller Erica Pereira, Brittany Pollack, Lauren King and Ashley Laracey, worked her feet and legs at their speed. Ashley Laracey with Sean Suozzi and Lauren King with Devin Alberda stood out for their spunk and sharp dancing.
What a relief last night's performance was from the unkind wintery weather that bore down on New York City yesterday. The dancers showed such warmth and hospitality that some people wanted to curl up in their seats and spend the night rather than face the elements and try to skate home.
For this opening night, the H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Robert Fairchild for his exceptional performance in Who Cares?