New York City Ballet returned to “big house ballet” on Wednesday evening. The large (paying) crowd was enthusiastic about the program’s three masterpieces: Balanchine’s Prodigal Son sandwiched between Robbins’ Fancy Free and West Side Story Suite.
Fancy Free, which was originally made for American Ballet Theatre in 1944 and first danced by NYCB in 1980, is one of the few ballets that ABT and NYCB share regularly, and it is always interesting to watch the companies’ collective casts to see which company currently fields the strongest performances. Opinions goes back and forth with, perhaps, a consensus being that a contemporary high bar was set by Carreno, Corella, and Stiefel at ABT a long, long time ago. These days, the scales tend to tip in favor of NYCB. Last spring its newly minted cast of Roman Mejia, Harrison Coll, and Sebastian Villarini-Velez knocked our white Dixie cup hats off. Villarini-Velez, who is riding atop a huge wave of successes this season, stepped into last night’s performance as a substitute for Sean Suozzi. He along with Daniel Ulbricht, Joseph Gordon, Mary Elizabeth Sell, Sterling Hyltin, Miriam Miller, and Giovanni Villalobos delivered the heat of a summer night in New York and the charm of unsophisticated sailors meeting up with the experienced city girls for a night on the town and a little bit of fun as a distraction from the uncertainty of the future. Terrific performances from one and all.
Saturday evening Joaquin de Luz will dance in Fancy Free for the last time on the eve before his retirement. Joaquin is among a small handful of artists who danced in Fancy Free as a member of both ABT and NYCB. Robert LaFosse and Mikhail Baryshnikov are the only other ones that come to mind although dancers have guested on occasion – Marcelo Gomes made an appearance in NYCB’s Fancy Free ten years ago and there have been collaborations among artists of both companies at festivals and on small tours. Saturday night is not to be missed.
In last evening’s performance, Joaquin and Maria Kowroski, with 84 years between them, burned through the 89-year-old Prodigal Son with the glow of blue flames. This was a towering performance from both artists. Maria, in top slinking predator form, chased after Joaquin’s Son like a python chasing after prey, eventually wrapping herself around him with a python’s smothering satisfaction. Joaquin’s Son – wayward, privileged, petulant, impertinent – was asking for trouble from the outset. He found plenty of it in Maria’s Siren whose control over her trailing red cape symbolized her complete control over her realm of grotesque little beings and the debauchery that the Son aspired to experience. Joaquin’s Son’s repentance and the slow, painful walk on his knees toward his father, portrayed perfectly by Ask la Cour, revealed a vulnerability and desperation not present in any other roles danced by him during his long, storied career. What a pity we could not have seen him as Albrecht.
West Side Story Suite closed out the evening with such powerful dancing that it looked like a do-or-die audition for many of the performers. How many of them will show up in Spielberg’s remake of the movie which was originally choreographed/directed by Jerome Robbins? Georgina Pazcoguin, certainly. She’s been dancing the role of Anita for ten years. It’s hers. She owns it. There’s no one better. Everyone in the cast seems to have been working on their singing since last time. They should keep working - every day. It was much improved, but not good enough for the movies. Peter Walker, another corpsman who has bolted to the forefront and is now someone who we look for in the castings, performed the role of Tony. There’s lots of depth and color to whatever he puts on stage. Justin Peck as Bernardo, a mostly walking around role: No, just no. His stage days were over before they ever got past meh. Andrew Veyette is past his Leader of the Jets years. He has been minimally convincing in the past, but no longer. Brittany Pollack made a sparkling debut in the singing/dancing role of Rosalia, and Mimi Staker met the typecasting requirements for Maria and danced charmingly. We need to see more of her in some taxing pointe roles. It was encouraging to see Ashley Hod back in the lineup. She has been missed during her very long injury rehab.
Our H.H. Pump Bump Award, a diamond encrusted gold stiletto which was introduced in Dubai last month as costing $17 million for the pair, is bestowed upon Joaquin de Luz and Maria Kowroski for their pure gold performances in Prodigal Son: