New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
June 12, 2011
Dancers’ Choice: “Apollo,” “Liturgy,” “Agon”(excerpt), “La Stravaganza”(excerpt); “Rubies”
-- by Jerry Hochman
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 foget 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,” was another knock-out. 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 on stage 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.