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New York City Ballet

Dancers' Choice: 'Apollo', 'Liturgy', 'Agon' (excerpt), 'La Stravaganza' (excerpt), 'Rubies'

by Jerry Hochman

June 12, 2011 -- David Koch Theatre, New York, NY

For the past two years, New York City Ballet has concluded its Spring season with what
it calls a “Dancers’ Choice” performance to benefit the Dancers’ Emergency Fund,
which, as the program notes indicate, was initiated in 1980 by Jerome Robbins to assist
individual dancers who have had personal emergencies or unexpected hardships. The
entire show is run by the dancers, who select the pieces and the performers. With lower
than usual ticket prices and a house abundantly populated by dancers, the evening had the
feel of a gala for the common balletomaniac.

This year’s program, principally supervised by Amanda Hankes and Adrian Danchig-
Waring, focused on the significance of the “Muse” in inspiring the creation of ballets.
While not an overwhelming artistic success, the program was notable on many levels, not
the least of which is that it provided the audience with an opportunity to see pieces not
frequently performed, and dancers in roles they have not previously attempted. For that
reason, the evening was most notable, at least to this viewer, for “Apollo,” and
specifically for its debut performances: Craig Hall as Apollo, Tiler Peck as Terpsichore,
Ashly Isaacs as Polyhymnia, and Lauren Lovette as Calliope.

In a review of a NYCB program on May 4, 2010, I wrote that based on the ferocity and
intensity of his performance in “The Four Temperaments,” in my mind’s eye Craig Hall
would make a superb Prodigal Son. I still see him in that role, but his Apollo was a bit
disappointing – perhaps because I expected too much. Mr. Hall did a fine job – he had
the requisite intensity, and the mere fact that he was given the well-earned opportunity to
assay this role is noteworthy on its own. But to this viewer he was unable to convey the
command, the innate nobility, and the sense of power (including the perception of upper
body strength) of the nascent god. But I don’t doubt that he will develop into a superb
Apollo.

On the other hand, the three muses were spectacular. I’ve never seen Ms. Peck give less
than a stellar performance in anything, and her Terpsichore was no exception. Ms. Isaacs
was a pleasant surprise – her Polyhymnia was crisply and powerfully performed. But Ms.
Lovette’s Calliope made the performance, and the evening.

I’ve always considered Calliope to be a sort of second-fiddle role – easy to acknowledge
when competently executed, and then equally easy to forget and move on to discuss the

more ‘important’ performances. But Ms. Lovette made Calliope important.

As she demonstrated in her stunning debut in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” last
season, Ms. Lovette has an innate ability to be strikingly expressive without adding
anything to the choreography that isn’t already there. At the time, I observed that she
appears small and pretty enough to be a cute soubrette, but has the potential to be much
more than that. Based on her Calliope, she already is. Perhaps she’s not even aware that
she’s doing it, but to this viewer Ms. Lovette was able to mine nuances not previously
seen in the role just by the clarity of her execution and a perceived different emphasis to
choreographic punctuation points. If I were able to deconstruct her performance, it might
show slightly different angles of her head or upward thrusting of her arms at certain
points; or more vigorously executed speech gestures, or similar seemingly minor but
significant changes of accent as she attempted to convince Apollo to select her has his
chosen muse. It was thrilling to watch her nail it, and to a long-established balletomaniac,
the anticipation of being able to witness Ms. Lovette grow as a dancer is intoxicating.

The second ballet of the evening, Christopher Wheeldon’s “Liturgy,” choreographed to
Arvo Part’s “Fratres,” featured another knock-out performance. Created in 2003 for
Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, I had not had the opportunity to see “Liturgy” previously,
but being able to watch Sara Adams and Jared Angle dance it at this performance more
than compensated for the omission. “Liturgy” is a striking piece of work, and it was
stunningly performed.

Mr. Part is known for the mesmerizing spiritual/religious passion of his music. Mr.
Wheeldon has distilled this passion into a duet of overwhelming emotional intensity.
Although the two bodies on stage wrap around each other in multiple complex
permutations that at times make them appear to be one corporeal entity, and as a result
the action carries an inherent sensual quality, this was not a duet of romantic passion, but
an expression of sacred spiritual passion. At times, I saw the two bodies, each facing
toward the audience, assume a crucifix-like pose, with Mr. Angle standing with his body
solidly placed and his arms horizontally outstretched, and with Ms. Adams draped over
him. [I suspect there was other religious imagery in the piece that I was unable to
recognize.] Although this description may make the images that Mr. Wheeldon created
sound contrived, in performance they were naturally and effectively thrilling, and
through it all the audience was deathly quiet – as if the piece was a collective religious
experience, a physical expression of the force of prayer (as opposed to the act of prayer),
and when it concluded, the entranced audience greeted Ms. Adams and Mr. Angle with
the longest series of curtain calls of the night.

Ms. Adams and Mr. Angle were awesome, in the true sense of the word. Mr. Angle is a
known quantity, but his seamless partnering – essential to make the short duet work –
displayed ability beyond anything I’ve seen him do previously. For Ms. Adams, who was
selected for the role and coached by Ms. Whelan, ‘extraordinary’ isn’t a strong enough
word to describe her performance – she was the embodiment of naked spirituality. [Ms.
Adams’s costume was a leotard that appeared transparent except for strategically placed
covered areas. The resulting appearance was not at all salacious – on the contrary, the

costume emphasized the purity of the force that she embodied.] I concede that I have not
previously noticed Ms. Adams – I expect to pay more attention to her performances in
the future.

The balance of the program was not quite as remarkable. I have a bias against
seeing ‘excerpts’ of pieces (with the possible exception of classic pas de deux), and the
remainder of the program consisted of excerpts from greater wholes: the pas de deux
from “Agon;” a pas de deux from Angelin Preljocaj’s “La Stravaganza,” a piece with
which I am not familiar; and “Rubies,” a free-standing gem from “Jewels.”

Amar Ramasar and Megan LeCrone, another of NYCB’s extraordinarily talented
members of the corps, danced the “Agon” pas de deux to perfection. The pas de deux
from “La Stravaganza” appeared to be well-performed also (by Gretchen Smith and
Robert Fairchild), but other than displaying some sort of mysterious attraction to each
other and rolling on the stagefloor, out-of-context it was meaningless to me – not because
it didn’t have a meaning, but because it obviously had one that was not comprehensible
from the pas de deux alone.

The evening concluded with “Rubies,” led by Janie Taylor, Sean Suozzi (in his debut in
the role), and Teresa Reichlen (Sara Mearns was scheduled to debut in Ms. Reichlen’s
role, but did not perform). Ms. Taylor and Mr. Suozzi danced their roles well, but
without the pizzazz I saw in the cast I reviewed previously. But Ms. Reichlen’s
performance somehow was even better than her performance the previous week. Perhaps
because it was the final performance of the season, but Ms. Reichlen was noticeably
more relaxed, and more sensual – though that hardly seems possible. It was a jewel of a
performance, and a perfect way to end the evening, and NYCB's Spring season.

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