New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
October 12 (M&E), 2013
- by Jerry Hochman
By way of an update to my previous review, and for those interested, I saw two additional performances of New York City Ballet yesterday (matinee and evening) that repeated two of the same programs I had previously reviewed (“Contemporary Choreographers” and “Balanchine Short Stories”), but with certain cast changes.
The most significant cast change was in “La Sonnambula.” Robert Fairchild was “The Poet,” a role he has performed previously, and Sterling Hyltin danced “The Sleepwalker.” Ms. Hyltin debuted in the role the previously night.
Mr. Fairchild, whom I had not previously seen in the role, was extraordinary. In every role I’ve seen him dance that requires a dramatic component, Mr. Fairchild gives it an edge, an extra dimension, which no one else does. This “Poet was not simply impassioned, or bewildered – he was possessed.
Since the role of the Sleepwalker has no facial expression or extraneous body movement, It’s curious and revealing how different dancers can give different nuances to a role solely by their appearance and demeanor. I’ve seen Janie Taylor dance The Sleepwalker many times previously, including last week. It is a role she does very well. Her ‘Sleepwalker’ comes across as ethereal and ghostly, a lovely moving spirit, but vacant. The only part of the Sleepwalker’s brain that appears to be functioning is that which allows her to move and to sense the presence of an obstacle in her path.
Ms. Hyltin’s performance was not ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than Ms. Taylor’s – just different.
Although the choreography is the same, Ms. Hyltin gave the role a slightly different character just by her appearance. Through her performances, it’s clear that Ms. Hyltin doesn’t just dance a role – she thinks it, and I doubt that she could look ‘vacant’ if she tried. Accordingly, her ‘Sleepwalker’ was very different. This was a woman whose brain, as well as her body, was functioning as she walked in her sleep. You could see it in her face. Just that small difference carries huge significance. Ms. Hyltin’s "Sleepwalker" is a more complete person, not just a presence. She’s not just ethereal (indeed, Ms. Hyltin didn’t convey the incorporeal sense, of being a leaf blown by a breeze, as Ms. Taylor did). She’s curiously strong and fragile at the same time, but not weightless. And perhaps as a consequence, instead of just observing the Sleepwalker do what she does, and wondering where she came from and how she can sense obstacles in her path, with Ms. Hyltin's Sleepwalker you wonder about her – who she is; what happened to her; what will happen to her. It's more real.
With the same choreography and no facial movement, some of the ‘different character’ I sensed in Ms. Hyltin’s portrayal must be subjective. But enough people I spoke with after the performance shared my impression, so it’s clearly something about ‘her’, rather than something about any particular audience member’s idiosyncratic response to her.
The first “La Sonnambula” performance I saw featured Allegra Kent in the role of the ‘Sleepwalker’ late in her career. Ms. Kent attended last night’s performance. I would love to have heard her impression of Ms. Hyltin’s performance, but was unable to speak with her. [During intermission, Ms. Kent was monopolized by someone taking notes as she spoke with her, and who remained glued to her throughout intermission. So if Ms. Kent had any comments about Ms. Hyltin’s performance, I suspect we’ll see it soon.]
There were two other notable cast changes, though not in roles as prominent as the Sleepwalker.
In “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement,” Rebecca Krohn performed the ‘slave-girl’ at yesterday aftenoon’s performance (she debuted in the role on Thursday). [That charachter title is mine, based on the story; the role is not identified in the ballet.] While not as technically refined as the other dancers I’ve seen in the role, conveying a sense of character is something I’ve found lacking previously. Ms. Krohn’s portrayal provided an appropriate air of vulnerability to the role, which helped distinguish her character from other featured ballerinas more than simply because her tutu, unlike the others, is pure white.
The other significant performance yesterday, also in “La Sonnambula,” was Lauren Lovette (partnered by Craig Hall) in the pas de deux that is included in the divertissement during the masked ball. She, too, debuted in the role the night before. Both she and Mr. Hall, who has previously danced the male role in the pas de deux, were superb. In this pas de deux, the female dancer must perform the stylized choreography, but be believably seductive at the same time. Ms. Lovette cut through the exaggerated choreography with razor-sharp precision. More than that, however, other dancers I’ve seen in this role have the sensuality grafted on – they perform it well, but they’re performing. With Ms. Lovette, it comes from within.