Thanks to CMM for alerting us to the new casting for the premiere performances of Ratmansky's Whipped Cream in Costa Mesa in March. Stella Abrera, David Hallberg, Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin will star in the world premiere on March 15th and at the final Sunday performance. The second night and Saturday night boasts Herman Cornejo, Cassandra Trenary, Hee Seo, and Cory Stearns. Gillian Murphy, James Whiteside, Simkin, and Lane will dance at the Saturday matinee.
Haglund is approaching Whipped Cream exactly as he approached the Met Opera's Hansel and Gretel. On the surface, it will be for kids with all the fantastical scenery and costumes designed to appeal to their little imaginations. But it will also include enough impressive dancing to appeal to adults. Haglund loves the Met Opera's Hansel and Gretel. Hopefully, Whipped Cream will be good, too.
Seeing Hallberg and Abrera together for Whipped Cream will be nice, but it ain't gonna be no Giselle. Come on, ABT, fork it over. Get it on the schedule somehow, some way, somewhere -- and we are not talking about Oman, either.
In other good news, a brand new David Howard Foundation Scholarship has been inaugurated at Ballet Academy East in Manhattan. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a BAE student to help support tuition and housing. The first recipient is Tallison Costa from Brazil.
This is such good news. We all miss David Howard so much. Still today on the ballet stages of New York, Houston, San Francisco, and other places, one can see his positive impact on dancers. He did so much to help students understand the whys & hows of good classical technique. It's nice to see BAE, one of the top ballet schools in New York, create this opportunity for students.
Washington DC – This is a town where conspiracies – real and imagined – abound. Today at the Kennedy Center (whose name is this country’s surname most laden with conspiracy theories), the town’s inhabitants fully related to and appreciated the schemes, deceit, and treachery that the glamorous witchy-bitchy Odile was calculating in Act III of Swan Lake. The folks in the seats could identify with Odile's dishonesty and were charmed by it. She began her Black Swan variation with:
(triple en dehors pirouette + double attitude turn en dehors + stopped on a dime in plie on one leg) x 2
For those who can’t interpret that equation, don’t fret; it’s advanced balleculus. It may be easier to envision her tornadic blast of 32 fouettes that included 16 counts of multiple revolutions, her stunning balances that reminded one of the stillness of a cobra before it strikes, or her teasing smile.
In only her second performance of the role, Devon Teuscher made quite a statement about what it means to be a Petipa-qualified ballerina in Swan Lake. She is the first new one that ABT has introduced in a dozen years who possessed the technical, stylistic, and artistic qualifications for the dual role. That little description of her Odileness in the paragraph above was just a teaser. The soul of her Odette was the real story today. Her character's emotional depth was revealed with fine detailing via the use of the head, neck, eyes, and of course her beautiful port de bras. Her swan arms were not the fussy type that we see commonly today. Rather, they seemed to be part of her character's breathing mechanism. She told her story with urgency but was never rushed. And, oh, the mime at the lakeside was so heartfelt and clear - from the hand gestures that sculpted the waves of the lake water to Odette telling us about her mother’s tears and showing us how they rained from the tips of her fingers.
There were times during the afternoon when it seemed Devon’s swans had been imprinted with Nina Ananiashvili, especially her Odile in the way she threw an evil glance over her shoulder while walking away or in the way she teased Siegfried with her eyes. At bows, it was tempting to start bellowing “Deeeevon Assoluuuuuta!”— if you will recall Nina’s fan who did that for her at nearly every performance.
Of course, and we all know this – Devon’s performance was as much Marcelo Gomes’ as it was her own. The two had great chemistry, especially as Siegfried and Odile and clearly enjoyed the give and take of the Act III drama (she gave him a load of BS, and he took it lock, stock & barrel).
Marcelo has returned to his youth - at least today it seemed so. That 37-year-old arabesque was looking mighty 90 degrees-y. His battements even went beyond that. Do you remember that sweltering summer of 2011 when Marcelo owned the town with his magnificent performances as Siegfried, Armand, Albrecht, Prince Charming, and literally stole the limelight from Derek Jeter and his 3,000th hit? Well, that is how well he danced today. Devon could not have had a more perfect partner who selflessly did everything he possibly could to ensure that she gave her best performance. His effort started long before today, however. Last year he invited Devon to join a small group of dancers who performed in his home town in Brazil. Among them, Gillian Murphy and Stella Abrera. Marcelo assigned Devon the Black Swan PdD to perform several nights in a row opposite a talented ABT corpsman. It was in this low spotlighted environment that Devon was able to put her Odile on the stage for the first time. She probably never thought that it would excite people the way it did when video clips of her time in Brazil surfaced. But we suspect that was Marcelo's plan all along.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that New York will get the Devon/Marcelo pairing in Swan Lake this spring at the Met. Devon will dance very well opposite Alex Hammoudi instead, but Alex will have to work nonstop from now until June to come even close to Marcelo’s theatrical performance. Let’s hope he does, and let’s hope that someone knocks some sense into Kevin McKenzie’s head about the Met scheduling which rewards the underpowered, over-ballyhooed celebrina two performances of every ballet when she shouldn’t even have one. She was humiliated this week by her own lack of skill which was further highlighted by Devon’s remarkable performances, and the celebrina ultimately cancelled her second performance after claiming an injury. Ego bruises are serious injuries, too, we guess.
We’d like to be able to see this Devon/Marcelo matchup on the Met stage, and there should now be an opening created for it — just like there should be Kitri openings created for Cassandra Trenary and Skylar Brandt, and above all, a Giselle opening created for Abrera and Hallberg. This business of feeding double performances to the celebrina who can’t do the job is nonsense. Stupid nonsense.
Debuting at this Sunday performance as the purple-clad, handsome von Rothbart who escorted Odile around the ballroom was Calvin Royal, III. He got an excellent start on the role. His long legs made strong impressions with the grand sissonnes during his variation. He couldn’t do much with the balance in which the working leg raises to arabesque, but he covered it fairly well. In recent years, we have missed seeing the von Rothbarts throw the torso contractions the way Vladimir Malakhov did as he made his final pass around the crowd in the ballroom. That was exciting. We could also use a reminder of what Hallberg did with this role. That would be nice to see this spring at the Met. He was insane as von Rothbart - eyes bulging, fingers ready to kill, hair seemingly electrified. Loved it.
A few notes on other performances:
Tom Forster was ferocious as the swamp creature. Excellent job. Blaine Hoven as Benno has truly become Siegfried in Waiting. We don’t want to see him as Benno ever again; it is way past time for his Siegfried to be revealed. His two partners in the Pas de Trois, Zhong-Jing Fang and Stephanie Williams were a stylistic mismatch. Zhong-Jing’s hyper-accenting has mellowed quite a bit; she was quite lovely in her variation. Stephanie has always been a bit too mellow in her dancing and was so today. More dynamic is needed along with better entrechats. Today’s beats were generally not good throughout the corps. The Cygnettes (Rachel Richardson, Betsy McBride, Nicole Graniero, and Gemma Bond) nailed their two-minute dance. The Two Big Swans modified their jumps so that they were only at about 90-110 degree angles. The swan corps was well-drilled but without poetry. There are un-swan-y physiques in the corps that should be culled.
What in the world is McKenzie waiting for as far as advancing Marshall Whiteley into more meaningful roles? Given his size and capabilities, he should be doing much more. Yes, there can be improvements in his arms which today sometimes looked a little martial arts-like when they finished, but he is a fine dancer - much better than the vast majority of the corps men. Speaking of the corps men (and some corps women, too), what is this business of placing the hands like a tent overhead when doing pirouettes instead of using a classical fifth position? Where is this coming from? It looks dreadful. Also, this habit of bringing the sides of the wrists together to touch while the palms face downward when moving the arms from second position to first is awful. We even saw it in a preparation for a pirouette. Why are dancers suddenly touching themselves with their port de bras? Does it feel good? Is it stimulating? Well, it looks terrible.
In closing, of course the H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Devon Teuscher. She gave a truly incredible performance today, and we were very happy to see her and Marcelo dance so well together.
and it IS!!! (Just not to NY.) Our nearly decade long campaign of wishful thinking is about to pay off.
Houston Ballet will become the first American company to present Kenneth MacMillan's masterpiece Mayerling. Oh my gosh. Imagine our Jared Matthews as the crazed drug/sex addict Crown Prince Rudolf. Jared has always done "depraved" so well. And imagine our Yuriko as Mary Vetsera or Princess Stephanie.
September 21st to October 1st are the dates. Read about the rest of HB's fabulous 2017-2018 season here.
We're catching up on a few observations before reluctantly leaving this beloved sanctuary city for DC tomorrow to see the brand new Real McCOO in the early matinee - that’s the Real McCoy Odette/Odile, Devon Teuscher. Everyone should be careful out there in your travels for a while. As the saying goes, “Just remember – once you leave New York, you’re in America.”
We neglected to mention in our earlier New York City Ballet reviews how happy we were to catch sight of corpsman Joseph Gordon in the walk-on role of youth in pageboy wig taking small steps forward on the stage in performances of the Firebird. Being officially back on stage after a long absence is always a good sign, and slowly putting one foot in front of the other is the best way to start back. Let’s hope we get a glimpse of Adrian Danchig-Waring before long, too.
This afternoon Teresa Reichlen repeated her exquisite Firebird interpretation. There’s no denying that Tess specializes in the big bird roles. Her debut performances as Odette in Balanchine’s Swan Lake this season have been gorgeous even if The New York Times has refused to acknowledge them. It should come as no surprise that when other artists out-dance his favorite ballerina in Swan Lake, Allegro Brilliante, and La Sonnambula, Alastair Macaulay simply refuses to review the performances at all – or at least until he can come up with some alternative facts to float. It is just this type of refusal to face the facts that caused NYT to blow its election coverage. Now it is begging readers for anonymous news tips and pledging that it will somehow become “journalism that matters.” Yeah, right. Wake me when that happens.
Also repeated at today’s matinee was the riveting performance of the La Sonnambula ensemble of Rebecca Krohn, Chase Finlay and Sterling Hyltin. We can’t repeat enough how special Finlay’s stage talents are and how dramatically they have grown from season to season. There is intensity and imagination in his portrayal of The Poet that is unlike anyone else’s interpretation. Nothing he does seems calculated or staged. His impulse comes from within and he is completely convincing in his every gesture, expression, and movement. Haglund thought that Finlay was typically attractive and talented as a NYCB new principal, but now we’re seeing this artist start to set himself apart from the crowd. How exciting it is going to be to watch his career unfold in the coming years.
Rebecca has perfected the role of the glamorous Coquette who played nice-nice to everyone’s face at the party but then had a spittin’ hissyfit when their backs were turned — a jealous rage over a poet who she barely knew. It was a one-dance affair between them and then she waltzed off with the Baron leaving the Poet empty-handed. He unexpectedly encountered the beautiful Sleepwalker, became smitten with her wonderful weirdness, and followed her home. So that’s a capital offense? Apparently.
Tomorrow’s debut cast of Claire Kretzschmar as the Sleepwalker, Zachary Catazaro as the Poet, Ashley Laracey as the Coquette, and Aaron Sanz as the Baron will probably knock everyone’s socks off. It’s too bad that they’ll only get one performance of La Sonnambula, but you can bet that this crew will be h’bent on making it memorable.
Also at today’s matinee, Gonzalo Garcia had a company debut in Prodigal Son. There were many nice moments – all of the iconic poses in the air and on the ground were clear and forceful – but there wasn’t much heat between this Son and the Siren danced by Sara Mearns. Gonzalo showed dramatic strength in his knee-walk of shame and repentance back to his Father. His struggle and sincerity were both felt by the viewer.
Sara’s technical performance was fine, but she wasn’t the deadly seductress with allure that we needed to see. Nor did her arm shapes make strong statements. Today’s performance certainly did not compare favorably with her earth shattering debut in 2011 when her musical accents pierced the music. Tomorrow will bring Miriam Miller's debut as the Siren. She certainly has the look for the role, but as we saw this past week in Scherzo Fantastique, Miriam does not yet have control over her incredibly long limbs. Her jumps were weak and her turns were haphazard. We're going to have to be patient with this one as we were with the young Kowroski who also had limb control issues.
Friday night we enjoyed Sterling Hyltin as the Novice and Emily Kikta as The Queen in Jerome Robbins' The Cage. The Intruders, Justin Peck and Sean Suozzi, didn’t have a prayer against this tiny mantis who ambushed them, gripped their heads between her delicate knees, and wrung their necks.
Friday's alternate cast for Stravinsky Violin Concerto included Lauren Lovette with Ask la Cour and Rebecca Krohn with Amar Ramasar. Haglund thought that the music was too slow in many places, mostly during Lauren’s dancing but also to some extent during Rebecca’s variations. It really negatively impacted the performances. When Lauren would developpe or battement her leg, the force was way too casual, and she had to let gravity leisurely bring the leg down in order to fill the music rather than purposely lowering the leg. We also noticed in her penche arabesques that she would begin to lower the extended leg prior to lifting the torso. It looked academically and choreographically wrong but might not have been noticed if the tempo had been tighter. Where is Conductor Clotilde Otranto these days? She would never allow the tempi to lag in a Balanchine ballet. We really miss her spirited conducting.
The HH Pump Bump Award, an example of metallic poetry from Giuseppe Zanotti, is bestowed upon Chase Finlay.
Who remembers Crystal Pepsi? Not many. More importantly, who remembers what it tasted like? Fewer. It never was the “clear alternative” to what everyone was drinking. It was a bad idea that a great company couldn’t let go of; even today, its sales limp along on Amazon.
Last evening, New York City Ballet tried again to introduce a “clear alternative” to its unmatchable core product. The Shimmering Asphalt by Swedish modern dance choreographer Pontus Lidberg showed the company's willingness to make the same mistake over and over again while hoping for a different result. Indiscriminate reliance on choreographers from the non-ballet dance scene to save ballet from itself (we jest) has failed again. While there are exceptions, that is, contemporary choreographers who actually have new, imaginative ideas that dovetail effectively with ballet (e.g., Preljocaj and Bigonzetti), most do not. The best that most can come up with is an amateurish garage ballet or basement ballet that should stay in the garage or basement.
The Shimmering Asphalt was loaded with cliché-ridden movement accented by pretentious lighting and danced to a mind-numbing, dance-averse commission by David Lang. It began with Sara Mearns standing alone center stage under an ominous combination of light and shadow. The audience was being told that something was so very seriously important and that we were, at the outset, right in the middle of one of Sara's great dramas. Not. What followed was a group of highly individual principals working as a corps and then stepping out for pas de deux or solos which conveyed nothing. Why was everyone “acting”? Answer: They were “acting” because the movement was so empty that they had to fill it up with something. They were “acting” in an effort to mask shallow choreography. We can understand how Lidberg’s creations are appreciated by retired ballerinas who still want to perform on stage but whose techniques are no longer rigorous enough for ballet. Fine. But presenting The Shimmering Asphalt on NYCB’s stage does nothing, repeat nothing, but make the audience wish all the more that they were seeing a Balanchine work that night.
The costumes by Rachel Quarmby-Spadaccini were very attractive blue-gray short, strip-cloth skirted tunics for the women and short strip-cloth skirts for the men who were shirtless. Save the costumes. Ditch the ballet.
Justin Peck’s new work, The Times are Racing, was his latest retro-dance in an effort to appeal to our fondness for Robbins. Set to Dan Deacon's pounding pop score that you probably would hear at an Equinox aerobics class, this particular dance took us all the way back to the Joffrey era when that company was fielding Deuce Coup, Trinity, Light Rain, Sacred Grove on Mount Tamalpais and other California-type ballets. That is not meant to be a disparaging description; the point is that Peck’s piece was retro with an infusion of street dance and pop-tap in sneakers along with grunge-video costuming – cutoff jeans, tee shirts with pronouncements (DEFY, etc), hybrid trench coat/boxer’s robes, hoodies, a costume theme that conveyed “whatever". The dancers worked their tails off and seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. There was some entertainment value in the minute or so finale; but is New York City Ballet’s current mission to bring to the stage whatever entertainment it can sell or is it to expand its ballet repertory? Officially, it is the latter. But it seems that if they don’t have a good steak to serve to diners, they'll give us a good hamburger, and then try to convince us that it’s the most incredible thing. We. want. steak.
We wish the boss would be as demanding about the quality of new choreography as he is about the quality of new dancers whom he hires. If a new “ballet" is not worthy or ready to go on stage, don’t let it. Be brave and say no, or no, not yet or no, it’s not ready or no, it’s not close enough to our mission. Entertainment is not NYCB's formal mission. Expanding the ballet repertory is part of the formal mission, not expanding the repertory beyond ballet. Big difference in those two things; big, big difference.
Peter Martins’ own Fearful Symmetries to music by John Adams was the best crafted, most musical, most thoughtfully costumed piece on the program. We’ve always appreciated this ballet for its embrace of clear geometry of the limbs and the dancers formations. How thrilling it was last night to see them in all their eagerness come barreling down lighted diagonals at full speed as they created clear angles with their arms and legs. They personified the symmetries promised in the title with no fear at all. It showed off the dancers wonderfully and illustrated the characteristics that differentiate New York City Ballet artists from everyone else: speed, linear quality, energy, and a fearless approach to dance.
About five years ago, Martins featured Claire Kretzschmar and Ashly Isaacs in a little ballet, Mes Oiseaux, whose purpose was much like the purpose of his Eight Easy Pieces last Sunday afternoon: to highlight some of the many talented dancers in the corps. Claire and Ashly, principals in Fearful Symmetries, are very different dancers but equally appealing, Ashly has since had a few more opportunities to develop (along with a promotion) while Claire just began to receive plum roles a few seasons ago when she made an extraordinary debut in Balanchine’s Episodes. That wiry little Wendy body and Wendy profile with an inordinate amount of spunk and tomboyish charm has us smitten. Claire was electric - the C in ConEd. Ashly was energetic also, but in a more forceful, earthen way. Their partners, Russell Janzen and Zachary Catazaro, who are among the biggest guys in the company, also moved with impressive speed and brilliance. The third couple Alston Macgill and Harrison Ball were fearless in the way one has to be fearless when white water rafting down monster rapids; they just went for it and didn’t look back.
Ashley Hod, Megan Johnson, Cameron Dieck and Peter Walker were among the other dozen and a half dancers who made up the power surge in Fearful Symmetries. And wasn’t it nice to see the ladies’ legs in tights that matched their tunics as opposed to the obnoxious trend of choreographers wanting to illuminate women’s bare leg musculature instead of balletic lines.
The H.H. Pump Bump, a fierce red, wiry stiletto, goes to Claire Kretzschmar (not her first one, either) for her outstanding performance in Fearful Symmetries. We’re sorry to have to miss her debut this Sunday in La Sonnambula, but we’ll catch up with that later.
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.
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.
Dance on Camera Festival tickets go on sale to the non-member general public on Thursday morning (1-19 tomorrow). Opening the festival on February 3rd will be the long-awaited documentary on Marcelo Gomes that we recall includes some footage of him dancing with Veronika Part. There is so little in the way of a video record of their remarkable partnership. Whatever snippets we can get will always be treasured.
The cookies are here!!!
If you have been struggling (like Haglund has been for weeks) to find a legitimately uniformed Girl Scout in Manhattan in order to get your annual fix, worry no more. Here's a link to a page where – for a limited time – you and your swingin' partners can place your orders for the ever-popular do-si-dos without ever having to see the cheery face of a Girl Scout. Within a week or two you'll be allemande left-ing and allemande right-ing those peanut butter goodies right down the alimentary canal, as the Girl Scouts are fond of saying. You may be the Thin Mint type, though. Those and all the other flavors are available at the link. Shipping is expensive, but think of it as a donation to the Girl Scouts.
the masses flew toward the opening night of New York City Ballet for a program comprised of ballets that did not exemplify Balanchine’s prized esoteric black & white geometry – his unique left-brain creative output, if you will – but to a program that illustrated his imaginative storytelling and visualization of emotional themes – his right-brain creative output. We still marvel at what must have been an uncommon elasticity in Balanchine's brain – the ability for his creativity to cross from right to left to inform his linear-based artistry and also to cross in the reverse direction sending his linear and sequencing abilities to inform his feelings and daydreams as he constructed his ballets. Like Petipa, Balanchine was the equivalent of a 100-year ballet event — an artist of vision and execution so uniquely advanced that he only comes along once in our lifetimes.
La Sonnambula, from 1946, is arguably simple in its construction – there are no hard steps, no overly complex patterns, no tricky musicality – but there is a story that seduces the viewer to suspend disbelief and free his own imagination to consider a poet who encounters a fetching sleepwalker in a lovely nightie holding a candle who (seemingly) cannot return his love because, well, she’s sleeping. Perhaps, though, we are in her dream, not the poet's reality. It all may depend on whether the poet or the sleepwalker is the stronger artist in a particular performance.
In last night’s cast, both the poet, Chase Finlay, and the sleepwalker, Sterling Hyltin, flickered brilliantly at times in a very satisfying performance that left the viewer yearning for an Act II. Finlay, in a debut, emitted a cool intensity while placing an individual stamp on the role through the tilt of the head, the variance of his own breathing, and the articulate gesture of a hand. NYCB hasn’t seen a male dancer who fully understood and could harness the power of articulate hand gesture since Baryshnikov danced there. Finlay is still a young flame, but it’s clear that he has a natural affinity for the role of the Romantic poet and his eye is on the details.
Sterling’s Sleepwalker was compelling in part because it is such an unusual role for the dancer who we mostly identify by her more esoteric black & white roles. The blur of her bourrees beneath her still body created a surreal conflicting image as she traversed the stage with her candle.
Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar as the Coquette and Baron accomplished what was needed in these roles although Sara was not the intriguing flirt that we treasure in Faye Arthurs’ character. Within the Divertissements section of the ballet, Daniel Ulbricht pretty much cleared the stage with his Harlequin variation. Harlequins throughout ballet tend to do similar stuff, but Ulbricht always manages to make it look fresh, like we’re seeing it for the first time, and makes us want to see it again. Lauren King and Antonio Carmena performed a well-polished Pas de Deux. We remember Lauren’s debut in this role a few years ago, which was also enjoyable, but the strength and articulation in her feet and legs is so much more than it was then.
Prodigal Son, originally created in 1929, received a gutsy performance from Joaquin De Luz and Siren Maria Kowroski, who has had a challenging journey returning to the stage following the birth of her child last year. Maria’s legs may be another one of those 100-year ballet events, and are we ever glad to see them dancing again. A few excited nerves during Maria's early moments may have made the long red cape think that it could trip her up, but she seized control to deliver a powerfully seductive performance. When the Drinking Companion and Servant characters heaved her from the table to the men standing behind her, she finished seated with the front leg in an attitude position that was startling in its authority.
Joaquin’s Prodigal Son convinced us of his spoiled-rotten sense of entitlement, his sheer joy in binging on what he thought were the goods in life, his ultimate burnout and realization, and his quest for forgiveness from his father. It was an interpretation as outstanding dramatically as it was danced.
Balanchine’s and Jerome Robbins’ Firebird may be that unusual example of their choreography that runs third behind the music and scenery. It is among the better Firebirds that the ballet universe has come up with, however. Last evening in the care of Teresa Reichlen, whose exceedingly long legs wondrously propelled her into the air like they simply should not have been able to do, the ballet achieved its magic. But the performance was not helped by the hunched-shoulder pedestrian portrayal of Prince Ivan by Justin Peck, who should spend some rehabilitative time in SAB’s Level B.
Stravinsky’s Firebird makes such an emotional impact with its arc and resolution; but unfortunately, choreographers have never been able to match the impact of the music. Chagall did, though, with his masterful scene and costume designs. The audience can feel completely fulfilled simply by listening to the music and looking at the designs.
Last evening got us off to a very good start for the next two weeks during which we plan to see 12 out of the 14 performances. Unfortunately, we will miss the Sunday, January 29th debuts of Isabella LaFreniere, Silas Farley, and Emilie Gerrity in Firebird, Claire Kretzschmar, Zachary Catazaro, and Ashley Laracey in La Sonnambula, and Anthony Huxley and Miriam Miller in Prodigal Son. We’ll be in Washington DC for Devon Teuscher’s debut as Odette/Odile. It is the first time in twelve years that ABT has debuted a true ballerina in that role who actually was qualified to dance it. New Petipa ballerinas are a rarity at ABT - not that they don’t exist; they just don’t get the opportunities to dance.
Perhaps Ms. LaFreniere will have her Firebird feathers preened & ready by this weekend in the event that the Saturday evening’s scheduled Firebird finds herself unexpectedly birdcaged at the local precinct following an exciting afternoon of protest. Haglund will be marching for all the women in his life on Saturday, too, but plans to behave immaculately so that he can get to the NYCB matinee and evening performances with little trouble.
Oh, this world we live in …
The opening night H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Maria Kowroski who we are so happy to see return and who looked and danced gloriously and beautifully as the Siren in Prodigal Son.