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New York City Ballet

Divertimento from 'Le Baiser de la Fée,' 'Friandises,' 'Union Jack'

New Gems and Vintage Jewels

By Cecly Placenti

February 10, 2006 -- New York State Theatre, New York City

The impeccable technique and dizzying speed audiences have come to expect from the New York City Ballet lit up the State Theatre once again on February 10 with two Balanchine pieces and a world premiere by Peter Martins. However, something subtle is missing from their style. I am a lover of Balanchine and the NYCB, and I often watch videos of past dancers whom I was not old enough to have seen. While the current City Ballet is full of superb dancers and exciting choreography, certain “Balanchine-isms” seem to be missing so that the company as a whole looks more and more like other world-class companies and less like the specialized company it was created to be.

Having said that, I did enjoy the evening’s performance very much. Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Fee” is a Balanchine gem of delight – playful, joyful, and bright. The dancers are quite at home with Balanchine’s crisp, witty footwork and his intelligent point/counterpoint with the Stravinsky score. What I most love about Balanchine’s choreography, and what is clear in this ballet, is the total sensitivity and understanding of music that allowed him to create an interplay between steps and sounds. He not only choreographed to the notes we hear but used the space between notes as part of his rhythms, some of which are dazzlingly fast!  Yet no matter how quick, the phrases in this evening’s performance were executed with pristine clarity. There were perhaps one or two awkward moments of partnering between principals Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz; perhaps they are new to dancing together. Some of their lifts and descents were a hair choppy or off balance, and their embraces were icy. Fairchild was a bit expressionless in her face, but her épaulement was gorgeous.

Second up was the world premiere of Peter Martins’ “Friandises.” A definite crowd pleaser, “Friandises,” meaning “bits” or “morsels” in French, was a fiery display of bravura technique and stellar athleticism. The sheer technical brilliance and seemingly impossible steps were not distasteful or out of place because they were done with artistry and musicality. The piece opened with a very ‘leggy’ section – women nearly kicking their ears and reaching the rafters with their toes. The second section slowed down a bit.  It is symmetrical and lulling, and I began to fear the whole piece would head in that direction. Then suddenly it was exploding again with lightning quick rhythms and unbelievable feats. In keeping with Balanchine’s musical trademark, “Friandises” made good use of contrast and musicality and kept the crowd enthralled with sections that went from dazzling to serene and beautiful. The piece employs twenty dancers, and all but one – Daniel Ulbricht – are corps members.  [Four of the dancers have since been promoted to soloist.] Tiler Peck, a corps member definitely on the rise, is a strong, confident, razor sharp and technically profound dancer, executing triple fouetté into triple fouetté effortlessly. Her energy and prowess is tough to beat and a perfect match for Ulbricht’s own intensity.

The ensemble work in “Frandises,” with all twenty dancers often onstage at once, was flawless.

Closing the evening with another display of the company’s impeccable ensemble dancing was Balanchine’s “Union Jack.” The crisp, neat formations and exact marching would have made any military proud! As each different regiment marched onto the stage in tidy formations, not one finger of one dancer was out of place. Ten dancers marched in time to look like one unit. Regiment upon regiment marched onstage until there were over seventy dancers crowding the stage. As impressive as the opening is, I do feel it is a bit drawn out. The Highland dances and quirky character steps the groups broke into were a fun and welcome diversion from the monotony. Damian Woetzel, as the leader of the Dress MacLeod regiment, somehow managed to stand out among the multitude of dancers. There is something about the way he carries himself, the coy and confident tilt of his chin, that makes all eyes (or at least mine!) turn immediately to him no matter what else is happening on the stage. His joy of dancing is infectious. Nilas Martins and Jenifer Ringer dancing the humorous vaudeville-type number were charming and funny.

Altogether, it was a very enjoyable evening at the State Theatre, although I would like to see the New York City Ballet put back on some of the stylistic jewels Balanchine had once set for them. 

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