New York City Ballet
'Who Cares' and 'Union Jack'
by Colleen Boresta
January 22, 2012 (m)-- David Koch Theatre, New York, NY
January 22nd is George Balanchine’s birthday. This year New York City Ballet gave the audience the special present of two of Balanchine’s most delightful ballets – Who Care? and Union Jack.
“Who Cares?” is a valentine to the music of George Gershwin and New York City in the 1920s and early 30s. The first part of this ballet features ten corps female dancers and ten soloists – five girls and five boys. As renowned dance critic, Arlene Croce, noted in the Dancing Times soon after the premiere of Who Cares? (February 5, 1970) “The ballet suddenly…finds its own life – when the boys and girls start dancing out in pairs to ‘S Wonderful’, ‘That Certain Feeling’, ‘Do, Do, Do’, and ‘Lady Be Good”; the dance invention tumbles forth, so does the applause.”
Then the lights are lowered and the second part of Who Cares? begins. This section of the ballet has often been compared to Balanchine’s Apollo. There is one boy and three girls. Each girl dances once with the boy and once by herself. Then the boy dances a solo. The ballet ends with the entire company performing to “I’ve Got Rhythm”.
All the dancers are wonderful, but the real standouts are Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. Fairchild’s timing, his rhythm, the snap of his fingers – all remind me of a young Fred Astaire. Tiler Peck is just perfect as the girl in pink. The first time I ever saw New York City Ballet perform (February of 1980) Who Cares? was on the program. I was totally blown away by Patricia McBride’s solo to “Fascinatin’ Rhythm”. Her quicksilver footwork and dizzyingly fast series of turns left me gasping in disbelief. I saw McBride in Who Cares? many times. After she retired from NYCB, I hoped to find a ballerina who could equal her rendition of “Fascinatin’ Rhythm”. Some dancers came close – Nichol Hlinka, Janie Taylor, Jennifer Ringer – but they just could not match my mind’s eye image of Patricia McBride performing that solo.
On Sunday, however, Tiler Peck nails “Fascinatin’ Rhythm”. Her precision, her musicality, her phrasing – all are beyond compare. Peck’s whiplash turns are danced at a breakneck pace. In their pas de deux to “The Man I Love” Peck and Fairchild are magical. The radiant yearning of their love brings tears to my eyes.
As the girl in blue, Teresa Reichlen is demurely coy in her duet with Robert Fairchild to “Embraceable You”, but shows her steely technique to great effect in her solo “My One and Only.” Sara Mearns seems miscast as the girl in red. In both her duet with Fairchild to “Who Cares?” and especially her solo “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” she lacks the coltish playfulness needed for the role.
“Who Cares?” is a gorgeously joyous ballet. As Ira Gershwin once wrote, “Who could ask for anything more?”
The afternoon ends with Union Jack, a three part salute to Great Britain. It uses regimental military tattoos, Scottish ballads, British folk music, music hall ditties and sailors’ hornpipes to set the desired moods. The score is provided by Hersey Kay.
Part I is a tribute to the Scottish and Canadian regiments. 70 members of these clans, clothed in their tartan best, parade onto the stage in intricate patterns. Then the marching evolves into phenomenal dancing. The highlight of these is the MacDonald of Sleat variation, where the lead performer dances a very quick paced solo to a staccato drumbeat. Wendy Whelan has owned this solo for years. On Sunday the 44 year old ballerina performs it flawlessly. Obviously Whelan is ageless.
Part II is the Costermonger pas de deux. It is set in an Edwardian music hall, where a down on their luck husband and wife team perform. Andrew Veyette has a goofy charm as the Pearly King. Megan Fairchild, his wife in real life, is adorably hammy as the Pearly Queen. At the end of the pas de deux, their daughters, the Pearly Princesses, arrive in a pony cart. Then the whole family dances together, with the Pearly King and Queen still trying to upstage each other.
Part III is a salute to the Royal Navy. All the dancers join in the highflying hijinks. My favorite part of Union Jack is the second section of the Royal Navy tribute. In my mind’s eye I still see former NYCB principal, Damian Woetzel, performing the solo. He always made the endless leaps and turns look so light and effortless. On Sunday Tyler Angle is fantastic in this role. He doesn’t quite have Woetzel’s happy swagger but that will come in time.
As usual, Union Jack ends on a joyous note. As the orchestra plays “Rule Britannia”, the cast uses hand flags to signal “God Save the Queen” and the Union Jack rolls down the back wall of the David Koch Theatre. It was a wonderful afternoon at the ballet.
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