CriticalDance Forum

New York City Ballet 2013-14
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Author:  David [ Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:15 am ]
Post subject:  New York City Ballet 2013-14


New York City Ballet has announced details of the 2013-14 season to include 159 performances across 21 weeks and feature 50 ballets in honour of the 50th Anniversary of NYCB’s home at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, which opened in 1964 as the New York State Theater.

Highlights of the season include world premieres by Angelin Preljocaj on September 19, 2013, Liam Scarlett on January 31, 2014, Peter Martins on February 21, 2014, and Justin Peck on May 8, 2014. The season will also include 22 works by Balanchine, 7 by Robbins, plus ballets from Mauro Bigonzetti, William Forsythe, Benjamin Millepied, Alexei Ratmansky, and Christopher Wheeldon; and additional works by Martins, Peck, and Preljocaj.

2013 Fall performances: September 17-October 13

The fall season opens with six performances of Peter Martins’ “Swan Lake”. The opening week of the season will also feature a Gala performance on Thursday, September 19, that will include a premiere by Angelin Preljocaj.

The remaining three weeks of the fall season will include five programmes featuring 15 ballets. These include an all-Balanchine Black & White programme (“The Four Temperaments”, “Episodes”, “Duo Concertant”, and “Symphony in Three Movements”); an all-Balanchine Short Stories programme (“La Sonnambula”, “Prodigal Son”, and “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”); a Contemporary Choreographers programme (Christopher Wheeldon’s “Soirée Musicale”, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Namouna”, “A Grand Divertissement”, and the Preljocaj premiere; and a mixed final programme (Mauro Bigonzetti’s “Vespro”, Balanchine’s “Duo Concertant”, and Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering”).

The fall season also includes a family programme to include the return to the repertory of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carnival of the Animals” alongside Martins’ “Jeu de Cartes”, and Robbins’ “The Four Seasons”.

“The Nutcracker”: November 29-January 4

George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” gets 47 performances from the end of November.

2014 Winter performances: January 21-March 2

The Winter season opens with an all-Balanchine program consisting of “Concerto Barocco”, “Kammermusik No. 2”, and “Who Cares?” with the second night devoted to the return of Balanchine’s full-length “Jewels”, which will be performed for six performances.

The opening week also sees “Saturday at the Ballet with George”, NYCB’s annual birthday celebration for George Balanchine on January 25, which will feature a day of all-Balanchine programming at both the matinee and evening performances, as well as a series of free pre- and post-performance events at the theatre.

Other winter highlights include a new ballet by young British choreographer Liam Scarlett that will debut as part of the Company’s annual New Combinations Evening on January 31.

The second premiere of winter will be a new ballet by Peter Martins in an evening of all-French music on February 21. Martins’ new ballet will be set to a commissioned score by the acclaimed French composer Marc-André Dalbavie, whose music Martins previously used for “Mes Oiseaux”.

The winter will also include six performances of NYCB’s full-length classic “Coppélia”, created by Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova in 1974. Other works returning to the repertory during the season include Balanchine’s “Union Jack” and “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”, as well as Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” and “The Four Seasons”.

Winter 2014 will also feature the return of NYCB’s Art Series. Launched in 2013, this is designed to produce annual collaborations between contemporary visual artists and the company.

The 2014 Art Series performances will take place on Thursday, January 23 (“Jewels”); Friday, February 7 (“La Stravaganza”, “Previn”, “Bernstein/Wheeldon pas de deux”, New Liam Scarlett ballet); and Thursday, February 13 (“Opus 19/The Dreamer”, “Barber Violin Concerto”, and “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”).

2014 Spring performances: April 29-June 8

Spring 2014 opens with a one-week festival of 21st Century Choreographers featuring 11 ballets by 10 choreographers: Mauro Bigonzetti, William Forsythe, Peter Martins, Benjamin Millepied, Justin Peck, Angelin Preljocaj, Alexei Ratmansky, Liam Scarlett, Richard Tanner, and Christopher Wheeldon.

The Spring Gala is on Thursday, May 8, and will feature a world premiere collaboration from choreographer and NYCB Soloist Justin Peck and the acclaimed American singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, who NYCB has commissioned to write a new score for the ballet. Peck and Stevens previously collaborated on the acclaimed Year of the Rabbit, which premiered in 2012.

Other Spring highlights include two all-Balanchine programs. The first, debuting on May 6, features “Raymonda Variations”, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, “Le Tombeau de Couperin”, and “Symphony in C”. The second, from May 14, features “Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze”” and “Union Jack”. The spring also sees an all-Robbins program (“Glass Pieces”, “Opus 19/The Dreamer”, and “The Concert”). Balanchine’s “Jewels” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will also be performed.


Subscription series packages are now available through the NYCB subscription office (212-496-0600).

Single tickets go on sale August 5 at the David H. Koch Theater Box Office (212-496-0600), and online at

Single tickets for “The Nutcracker” will go on sale in September.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Sep 13, 2013 7:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Roslyn Sulcas interviews Angelin Preljocaj about his new work for New York City Ballet.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Sep 19, 2013 10:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

Alastair Macaulay reviews the Tuesday, September 17, 2013 performance of Peter Martins' "Swan Lake" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Sep 19, 2013 4:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In Time Out New York, Gia Kourlas interviews NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin about the new Preljocaj work.

Time Out New York

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Sep 20, 2013 7:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

Brian Seibert reviews the Annual Fall Gala program for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Sun Sep 22, 2013 8:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

September 19, 2013
Fall Gala: “Capricious Maneuvers” (Peck World Premiere); “Neverwhere” (Millepied World Premiere); “Spectral Evidence” (Preljocaj World Premiere); “Western Symphony” (4th Movement and Finale)

-- by Jerry Hochman

A year ago, New York City Ballet fashioned its annual Fall Gala around a star of Fashion – Valentino. The costumes that Valentino created were less significant, for the evening, than the fact that the gala honored Valentino and linked ballet with haute couture (conveniently, steps from where Fashion Week in NY had just concluded). But the Valentino costumes, like the honoree, overwhelmed the ballets for which they were created.

In its continuing, and understandable, search for sources of funding, NYCB’s September 19 performance, its annual Fall Gala, reprised its effort to match fashion to ballet, and possibly convert fashionistas into balletomaniacs. After all, there’s money and publicity in haute couture. The good news is that with respect to the costumes, this year’s Fall Gala was far more successful than last year’s effort, in large part because the designers, who may be well-known in the fashion industry but are not household names, clearly knew that the purpose of costumes is to enhance (or at least not detract from) the dances for which they are created. The designers were Prabat Gurung, Iris Van Herpen, and Olivier Theyskens, and, without exception, the costumes they produced were either lovely or interesting or both.

The fashion designers shared the spotlight at this year’s Gala with world premieres of three new ballets, and in this respect the Gala was somewhat less than a complete success. The three ballets, in order of presentation, were “Capricious Maneuvers” choreographed by Justin Peck (costumes by Mr. Gurung); “Neverwhere” by Benjamin Millepied (costumes by Ms. Van Herpen), and “Spectral Evidence” by Angelin Preljocaj (costumes by Mr. Theysken). In summary, Mr. Peck’s piece is a delightful hit – but it’s comfortable, and relatively
inconsequential. Mr. Millepied’s new ballet is a lot like many of Mr. Millepied’s prior ballets – predictable, at times interesting to watch but at other times missing the mark, and except for the costumes by Ms. Van Herpen and a thrilling, if antiseptic, pas de deux, nothing new. Mr. Preljocaj’s ballet is, however, a major work. The piece wears its artistry on its sleeve. It is a dark, dramatic and theatrical piece, not without significant and serious flaws, but when you have essentially a completely conceptual piece, self-indulgent excess tends to go with the territory. Notwithstanding its flaws, “Spectral Evidence” is unusual, visually interesting, and haunting, with images that sear into the memory.

Although there is nothing in the program notes to indicate it, anecdotally (the impetus for the ballet was referenced in an interview with the designer that was screened prior to the ballet) “Spectral Evidence” is a distillation of the notorious late 17th Century Salem Witch Trials. Mr. Preljocaj, born in France, is well-known in Europe, with a significant artistic pedigree but limited U.S. exposure – he previously choreographed “La Stravaganza” for NYCB in 1997 – and is currently Artistic Director of Ballet Preljocaj in Aix-en-Provence. Why a European born and based choreographer came to create a ballet about a uniquely American historical event, basing his inspiration, apparently, on an assortment of unrelated excerpts from various compositions by John Cage, is not indicated. [There were witch trials elsewhere, including in Europe, but there is no indication that Mr. Preljocaj was attempting to universalize the theme of “Spectral Evidence” beyond Salem.]

Whatever Mr. Preljocaj’s imputus, “Spectral Evidence” is more than a balletic representation of mass hysteria and political/religious exigency and cowardice. And, to me, it is more than just a visualization of ‘spectral evidence’ – the type of evidence of witchcraft accepted in Salem. [Spectral Evidence is ‘evidence’ used in Salem to convict the accused of witchcraft. Essentially, the afflicted accusers testified that they ‘saw’ the image of the person afflicting them. In order for the accused to have been guilty of witchcraft, the accused must have knowingly and intentionally been the instrument of the devil. In Salem, the theological/legal determination was that in order for the devil to have made use of these images, the person whose image was used had to have consented to its use, thereby proving that that person was a witch.] Similar to the artistic license exploited by Arthur Miller’s 1953 play “The Crucible” and the 1996 film version, there’s more going on than just an examination of spectral evidence. [Curiously, the 1996 film was not the first cinematic version of “The Crucible.” The play was also made into a movie in 1956: A French movie – starring Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. Now why would a French director….] Mr. Preljocaj here connects the clergy’s acceptance of the truth of the accusers’ words (and the legal sufficiency of the accusations) to sexual temptation, desire, and tormented passion. The sexuality in “Spectral Evidence” isn’t explicit, and the girls’ movement isn’t suggestive per se, but temptation as an ingredient of the girls’ accusations and the clergy’s response is: It exists in every image, and both measures and tears at the moral fabric of the clergy’s subsequent actions.

The ballet is stunningly in its visual simplicity. There are five young women (the accusers – though they are also seen as the victims of the accusers, the point perhaps being that both accusers and accused are victims), and four men (clergymen, perhaps with other relationships to the accusers). The women wear soft white dresses designed by Mr. Theyskens. White is the color of purity – but these dresses are diaphanous and barely conceal the outline of the bodies underneath, and the garments exacerbate every alluring body movement. [The backs of some of these costumes also contain patches of deep orange color. Although the purpose of these patches seemed clearly to denote some physical manifestation of impurity, they were unnecessary and distracting. Some of these shapes look like partial angel wings (as if the ‘real’ angel wing had been ripped from the girl’s skin, leaving a garish blood-orange scab), some had no discernible shape, and one looked like an orange-soiled undergarment that had been glued to the dancer’s derriere.] The men are dressed in white-collared black clergymen costume.

The ballet unfolds in a series of concept scenes, with somber, portentously dark lighting permeating the stage atmosphere in each interconnected scene. There is no set, other than a series of white wood blocks that are assembled and disassembled into various shapes and moved to different locations on stage as the ballet progresses. These blocks serve as tables, inclined planes, coffins, frames, and pedestals. The accusing girls drape themselves alluringly across the blocks, like sinuous, serpentine sirens, silently spewing stories. In a series of dances, they arouse the clergymen, by their movement (not contact) seducing them both sensually and theocratically. The clergymen wrestle with the urge to respond to these girls, tormented by the attraction they feel both toward the girls and to the accusations that the girls are making. The clergymen/judges decide the fate of the accused, which is also the fate of the accusers, the girls are imprisoned inside the blocks that resemble coffins, then are burned at the stake (each girl within an upraised, open coffin, with lighting within each unit mimicking the look of flames). The image of the women within the pedestals being figuratively consumed by fire is frighteningly beautiful. In denouement, the girls descend from the pedestals/caskets to the void below (punishment for their false accusations? punishment for their witchery? punishment for their seductiveness?) as the already dim lights fade to black.

As strong as the images are, however, and for all its simplicity, the piece is plagued by wretched excess. It goes on too long. It is unwaveringly intense – obviously too intense and too long for many fidgeting audience members. The music chosen is a hodgepodge that conveys the mood, but does so in an incoherent manner, and when the sound becomes vocalized – at times sung in different languages – the sound becomes a distraction, particularly when the words are mouthed by the clergymen dancing and emoting to it. The scenes of the clergy wresting with the morality of the situation is overdone and too remindful of generic visualized torment in other ballets done more succinctly and more successfully (e.g., the solo dancing of the tortured soul in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Chamber Symphony”). And perhaps the greatest sin of all is that the choreography is lackluster. As haunting as the images are, the piece is all a series of concepts and images. But it makes you think – and I’m partial to ballets that have, or attempt to have, a significant cerebral component. That being said, the sigh of relief collectively expressed by the audience when the curtain went up on the evening's final piece, the excerpt from Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” (exuberantly performed by Maria Kowroski and Zachary Catazaro), would indicate that my partiality was not shared by the bulk of the Gala’s audience.

Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild led the cast, with Mr. Fairchild having the primary clergyman role. Ms. Peck was one of the accusers/accused, and the two of them danced the piece’s sole pas de deux. Whether the couple is supposed to represent a somewhat altered conception of John Proctor and Abigail Williams, as represented in the Miller play (portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder in the 1996 film) is unclear. The balance of the possessed and driven cast included Megan Fairchild, Georgina Pazcoguin, Gretchen Smith, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Chase Finlay, and Amar Ramasar.

Although more inventive choreographically, Mr. Millepied’s “Neverwhere” (to “Drones and Viola” by Nico Muhly), is a less significant piece than “Spectral Evidence,” which it preceded on the program. It is plotless, with no emotional undercurrents (except for the tiniest hint provided by inventive stagecraft at the beginning of the second central pas de deux), and to me it has a sterile, antiseptic visual feel common to Mr. Millepied’s other abstract ballets. Structurally, “Neverwhere” begins with corps work and varying permutations of the six dancers in the piece, then focuses on pas de deux, then returns to closing corps work.

What makes “Nevermore” unusual is its ambiance. It is a dark ballet with a striking look that is a particular consequence of the lighting (by Mark Stanley) and the costumes created by Ms. Van Herpen (apparently, from the filmed introduction preceding the performance of the ballet, a former dancer). The costumes enhance the appearance and aura of the ballet. Composed of a combination black rubber-like material and fabric, the costumes look sleek and otherworldly and would appear to inhibit movement – particularly the rubber/fabric boots. But move in them the dancers did – accompanied by screeching sounds as the rubber hit the road.

Of greater significance to the ballet as a whole were gold-colored objects that looked like oversized sequins imbedded in the black costumes. These objects caught what little light there was, and made the piece look like a sequence of interrupted staccato moving images as the ‘sequins’ picked up and then lost the light – like old silent moving images or the sensation of strobe lighting. It was difficult to watch, the ‘strobe’ sensation didn’t vary throughout the piece, and the result made the dancers look like animated drones (perhaps reflecting the ‘drones’ in the title of Mr. Muhly’s composition), but to me the lighting and play of the light off the costumes made the piece visually interesting. Indeed, Mr. Millepied’s choreography picks up on that ‘strobe’ sensation (or perhaps was the impetus for it). For example, in his introduction to the second pas de deux, Sterling Hyltin and Tyler Angle assume a series of poses at different locations on stage, with each pose interrupted by darkness – giving the impression of movement in between the poses that the audience is unable to see. Nifty. But the balance of that adagio pas de deux was not particularly exceptional choreographically. What was exceptional was the first, allegro, pas de deux. The quicksilver, staccato movement was executed to perfection by Lauren Lovette and Craig Hall, and was the highlight of the piece. Emilie Gerrity and Joseph Gordon completed the cast.

Justin Peck’s new ballet “Capricious Maneuvers,” which opened the dancing portion of the Gala, was exactly as titled. [The four ballets on the program were preceded by an opening orchestral overture – “Short Ride in A Fast Machine (Fanfare for Orchestra),” by John Adams.] Three women/two men dance capriciously, but highly entertainingly, to cello and piano accompaniment (the music, “Capriccio,” is by Lukas Foss). It’s a light, frothy piece of fluff that was a bright introduction to the evening. Enhanced with Mr. Gurung’s light, frothy, colorful costumes, the piece had the air of a fun afternoon in the park; dances at a more contemporary gathering. The piece may be insignificant in terms of any ‘overall message,’ but it is as welcome as a late summer breeze. My only criticism of it was that it ended too soon. Ashly Isaacs, Brittany Pollack, Kristen Segin, Taylor Stanley, and Andrew Veyette comprised the effervescent cast.

One note of extraneous criticism. Although decorated beautifully, with ersatz hot air balloons filling the vast gathering space and adding a fantasy air to the celebration, this was the least audience friendly of any of the formal Gala performances that I’ve recently attended. Most of the ‘Grand Promenade’ (mezzanine space outside the First Ring), as well as much of the stairwell space on upper floors, was closed off, leaving little room for audience members to maneuver, and what maneuvering they were allowed to do was confining, annoying, and potentially hazardous as the exiting audience was herded through narrow walking spaces. And the evening was without any intermission – just pauses separating the overture and the four ballets. Certainly there should have been at least one. The reason for no intermission? Probably because there was no space in the building for any of the hoi polloi to mass. And since no one could leave his or her seat without risk of being barred from reentering, the restroom lines following the performance were record-breakers. Surely there’s a better way to cater to the heavy lifters and make the rest of the audience not feel like uninvited guests at someone else’s party.

That having been said, NYCB deserves to be congratulated for devoting its Gala to new choreographic directions, particularly when the ballets make you think, are unusual looking, or have significant entertainment value. And with the past two years devoted to costumes by Famous Fashion Designers, a prior year to music composed by a Star Musician (Sir Paul McCartney), and a few years ago, to sets designed by Renowned Architects, will next year’s Fall Gala feature lighting by Celebrated Lighting Artists? Stay tuned.

Author:  balletomaniac [ Tue Sep 24, 2013 11:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

September 20, 21M, 2013
“Swan Lake”

-- by Jerry Hochman

Although criticism of Peter Martins’s production of “Swan Lake,” which opened New York City Ballet’s Fall, 2013 Season at the David H. Koch Theater with a series of six performances, includes objections to his decision to eliminate most mime, to limit the opportunity for character development for the principals, and to change certain iconic choreography, the most universal condemnation focuses on the scenery and costumes by Per Kirkeby and the negative impact that these sets and costumes impose on the production as a whole. Except for a few costume exceptions, to this viewer and other reviewers, they are hideous, and detract from the performance.

As I've written previously, in this version the story is transported from its usual idyllic setting to a cold and dreary mountaintop swan aerie (there’s no ‘lake’ in sight), as if Scottie had beamed up the production to a planet where no dancer has gone before. The scenery (and act curtain) feature jagged and elongated white zigzags that look like exaggerated nerve endings that had been struck by lightning and spread vertically across various irregularly-shaped blocks of muted colors. While these images may be striking works of abstract art (Mr. Kirkeby is a contemporary artist renowned in Denmark, where Mr. Martins’s ballet premiered in 1996), the dominating ‘electric-charge’ images, which are replicated on many of the sets and costumes, carry with them a perception of angularity that the choreography mirrors. More importantly, the sets and costumes clash with the conception of “Swan Lake” on its most basic levels – it visually conflicts with the score (increasing the orchestral pace only makes the performance move faster; it doesn’t change the character of the Tchaikovsky music), and wrests the story from its central European roots and plops it in the middle of nowhere.

Repeated viewings of Mr. Martins’s production this past week have not changed my overall impression. But I now see positive aspects of Mr. Martins’s choreography (‘after Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, and George Balanchine’), and one particular benefit to the Kirkeby style that I had previously overlooked.

The opening scene, Prince Siegfried’s birthday party, is often staged as a relatively stodgy celebration by villagers and aristocrats, with dances that frequently are, at best, uninteresting. In Mr. Martins’s version of Act I (this production merges the usual Acts I and II into one act, and Acts III and IV into a second act; for ease of reference, I’ll use the usual ‘Act’ delineations here), following the breakneck pace of the orchestral overture, the dancing explodes from the first second until the hunt begins at Act I’s conclusion. Led by the omnipresent and peripatetic Jester character, the stage is in non-stop motion. Even the pas de trois (and its dancers) is thoroughly integrated into the action rather than being a choreographic parenthetical aside. The scene is exhilarating to watch, and may not have been possible in this form had the set been the usual palatial setting, with its concurrent behavioral expectations. Indeed, the exuberance mirrors the electrically charged sets and costumes, and the costume color cacophony somehow adds to the excitement. By removing the action from its usual venue, Mr. Kirkby’s sets and costumes (credit for the original design of the costumes is shared with Kristen Lund Nielsen) frees the scene from its usual stylistic underpinning and lets it breathe, NYCB style.

But when the hunt begins, and the swans emerge at Act II’s beginning, the stark sterility of Mr. Kirkeby’s artwork has the opposite effect, and hopelessly clashes with the music, the steps and the story. The only way to watch the balance of the production is to attempt to ignore the sets or at best to suspend disbelief. Either way, the production suffers.

Aside from the increased appeal of Act I, the other major positive choreographic impact of Mr. Martins’s version is the Act III divertissement. While the placement of these divertissement in the context of the act is not extraordinary, the dances themselves are generally a significant improvement over the ‘standard’ lackluster character dances that mark time between Odile’s entry and the Siegfried/Odile black swan pas de deux. Here, Mr. Martins’s choreography shines. He includes in the divertissement a pas de quatre for three ballerinas and a danseur that doesn’t really ‘fit’ with the rest of the dances, but that provides an opportunity for greater choreographic variety and expertly executed performances. He has converted the ‘Russian Dance’ into a sensuous pas de deux that echoes ‘Ballets Russes’ sensitivity (and integrates it with the aroma of Balanchine’s ‘Coffee’). Even the ‘straight’ nationality dances (Hungarian, Spanish, Neapolitan) have been imbued with greater visual variety and flair, and are a far cry from the dutiful representations that usually clog the stage until the main Act III choreographic event begins.

However, neither the ebullient Act I nor the revitalized Act III divertissement rescue this production. The Act II and IV staging, largely as reimagined by Balanchine in his one act “Swan Lake” (which NYCB included in its repertory last winter), cuts too much. Nearly all the mime has been dumped. The Tchaikovsky score has been chopped. And most significantly, the opportunity for character development has been restricted.

This brings me to a brief discussion of the two performances I saw last week, led by Teresa Reichlen’s Odette/Odile, and Sara Mearns’s performance in the same role at Saturday’s matinee. The performances were significantly different. Ms. Reichlen’s clean line and crisp execution, which her long legs emphasized, dominated her portrayal in both roles, but her ability to communicate the pathos in the role of Odette was transmitted monochromatically. She was a regal swan queen, an essential ingredient in the role, but needs to emote more. More character display would help her Odile as well, but Ms. Reichlen is naturally physically irresistible and a well-placed smile, which Ms. Reichlen provided at strategic intervals, is obviously sufficient to believably entrap her Siegfried.

Odette is Ms. Mearns’s finest role. Ms. Mearns naturally emotes sorrow, at times pushing the pathos over the top. On Saturday, however, her portrayal was relatively restrained and completely under control. She was a victim, but not a pathetic one. While to me she was not as technically clean as Ms. Reichlen (poses tend to run together, perhaps a product of a more compact and broad body structure that naturally deemphasizes line), and at times looked like a frightened animal (abetted, perhaps, by make-up that made her look unnaturally vacant when directly facing the audience), her portrayal of Odette was generally superb. Her Odile was less seductive than the character must be for my taste, but given that being a siren is not part of Ms. Mearns’s natural stage character, Ms. Mearns portrayal of Odile was more than adequate. Given the hype that has accompanied her performances, I found it surprising that she was not able to convert her inherent strength into the role’s pyrotechnics (her fouettes, for example, were solidly executed and did not waiver horizontally, but she traveled upstage to downstage, far downstage, throughout), but to me such technical benchmarks are not critical. Overall, it was a stellar performance.

As the respective Prince Siegfrieds, Tyler Angle and Jared Angle each gave their usual commendable portrayals, with Tyler Angle being somewhat more engaged and animated.

At Friday’s performance, Harrison Ball, in his debut as the Jester, was wonderful. Mr. Ball’s height provides a very different stage image than the more compact Daniel Ulbricht, who reprised his portrayal on Saturday. While Mr. Ulbricht was the consummate technician and jester-of-all-trades, Mr. Ball was less comfortable-looking, but in a way, less forced and more natural. From a distance, he was a Jester geek, a Jim Parsons of a Jester. At Friday’s performance, in the pas de trois, Taylor Stanley (Benno), and Ashly Isaacs did fine jobs in their debuts. But Lauren Lovette, also in a role debut, took her performance in the pas de trois to another level. Impossibly, Ms. Lovette added unexpected flair and phrasing to her performance, embellishments that normally must await some passage of time to attain a comfort level with the choreography. For Ms. Lovette, remarkable debuts have become the norm. On Saturday, Erica Pereira, Anthony Huxley (Benno), and Brittany Pollack were the effervescent dancers in the pas de trois.

While a detailed listing of other performance credits is not possible here, highlights include Megan Fairchild, Tiler Peck, Abi Stafford, and Joaquin De Luz in Saturday’s pas de quatre (with Ms. Stafford back to form I haven’t seen in many seasons); Ms. Lovette (partnered by Antonio Carmena on Saturday and Devin Alberda, in his role debut), at both performances of the Neapolitan Dance; Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramassar in Saturday’s Russian Dance; Likolani Brown as one of the Six Princesses on Friday; Gretchen Smith and Justin Peck leading Friday’s Hungarian Dance; and, in one of those performances of a ‘small’ role that demands that the audience wake up and take notice, Meagan Mann’s startlingly good performance in the Spanish Dance on Friday.

Mention must also be made of the extraordinary work by the young dancers of the School of American Ballet who were integrated into this production: the three ‘Small Jesters’ who accompanied the Jester in Act I (Colby Clark, Lleyton Ho, and Maximilian Brooking Landegger, all, as I recall, veterans of “Nutcracker” performances as well), and sixteen other SAB students (8/8) who enlivened Act I’s village dances. They were fabulous.

Finally, the NYCB Orchestra demonstrated yet again that it is incomparable. Daniel Capps led a blistering pace on Friday, and Andrews Sill a somewhat more moderated pace on Saturday (but still faster by far than the pace of other productions). Although there were a series of minor off-notes at each performance, overall the orchestra was concert-level brilliant, and a vital component of the audience’s experience. Indeed, notwithstanding the sets and costumes, at each of the two performances I saw (and, based on information, at the other performances as well), the full-house audience was engaged and responded enthusiastically to every aspect of this production. As I have previously observed, regardless of faults any particular production may appear to have, “Swan Lake” is bulletproof.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Sep 25, 2013 6:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Tuesday, September 23, 2013 performance of "Balanchine Black & White." The all Balanchine program: "The Four Temperaments," "Episodes," "Duo Concertant" and "Symphony in 3 Movements."

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Fri Sep 27, 2013 3:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

September 24, 26, 2013
“The Four Temperaments,” “Episodes,” “Duo Concertant,” “Symphony in Three Movements”
“Vespro,” “Duo Concertant,” “Dances at a Gathering”

-- by Jerry Hochman

After an introductory week consisting of six “Swan Lake” performances and its Fall, 2013 Gala, this past week New York City Ballet got down to doing what it does best – presenting ballets from its repertoire by Founding Choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, as well as more recent creations by contemporary choreographers.

The first two Fall, 2013 repertory programs featured masterpieces by Balanchine and Robbins that are frequently presented and always welcome: “The Four Temperaments,” “Duo Concertant,” “Symphony in Three Movements,” and “Dances at a Gathering.” The relative novelties were the infrequently seen Balanchine black and white ballet “Episodes,” and Mauro Bigonzetti’s “Vespro.” Although having four ‘black and white’ ballets in one program, and three ‘piano ballets’ in the other, was a bit too much of a good thing in both cases, each was an excellent program that in large part demonstrated Balanchine’s and Robbins’s genius in crafting pieces that go beyond simple creativity. Of these, “The Four Temperaments,” perhaps less familiar than the other three, is an incomparable celebration of the human spirit, and its stirring and inspirational concluding segment is one of the most extraordinarily moving in all ballet.

This review will focus primarily on the less frequently-presented pieces.

I once described Balanchine’s “Serenade” as the choreographic equivalent of caviar for the soul. If “Serenade” is caviar, “Episodes” is choreographic castor oil: It may be good for you, but it tastes awful. The piece, which premiered in 1959, may be demonstrative of Balanchine’s genius in generating movement quality that can complement and enhance almost any sound accompaniment (for example, “Variations Pour une Porte et un Soupir”), but it is a difficult piece to watch despite the inventive choreography.

“Episodes” is choreographed to an assortment of orchestral works by Anton Webern. Webern was a student of Arnold Schoenberg, and although not in exact date order, the four compositions that Balanchine here used loosely track Webern’s progression from Schoenberg atonality through twelve tone serialism: “Symphony, Opus 21” (1928); “Five Pieces for Orchestra,” Opus 10 (1911-13); “Concerto for Nine Instruments,” Opus 24 (1935); and “Ricercata in six voices from J.S. Bach’s ‘Musical Offering’ [Fugue No. 2]” (1934-35). Regardless of its underpinnings in music theory, and even though the exaggerated sounds have a purity to them, to a casual listener and to my untrained ear, the music, particularly in the first three pieces, sounds strained and grating, academic rather than pleasurable.

Balanchine’s choreography in “Episodes” comes across as similarly academic: snippets of movement to Webern’s snippets of musical ‘episodes’. This doesn’t make it poor workmanship – on the contrary, much of “Episodes” is a brilliant visualization of Webern’s music that doesn’t just mimic it, but expands its impact. But it’s as tedious to watch as the music is uncomfortable to hear, and looks more like an experiment in technique; a ballet meant to educate, rather than entertain, its audience. The initial three Webern pieces, though well-performed respectively by Abi Stafford and Sean Suozzi and corps, Teresa Reichlen and Ask la Cour, and Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici and corps, featured unfeeling bodies in motion glued to Webern’s unfeeling sounds. In particular, Ms. Reichlen and Mr. la Cour were exquisite as their bodies visualized the purity and sterility of the score.

But the piece ended well, most likely because the Webern music in this segment, based on Bach, was more accessible. Balanchine’s accompanying choreography was less ascetic, and created an appearance of contemporary classism thoroughly in keeping with the other ‘black and white’ ballets on the program. Maria Kowroski and Jonathan Stafford led the segment, with Ms. Kowroski particularly outstanding. Clotilde Otranto conducted the NYCB orchestra’s crystalline performance of the Webern pieces.

“Vespro,” the novelty on last night’s program, is a contemporary ballet by Mauro Bigonzetti, created for NYCB’s 2002 Diamond Project to a commissioned score by Bigonzetti’s frequent collaborator, Bruno Moretti. Perhaps because I was instantly put off by the garish costumes that made the dancers look like human racecars, and by the initial images of one dancer repeatedly interrupting the relatively gentle-sounding piano music by coldly crashing his feet into the piano keys, in the end I was pleasantly surprised. Although dated (as ‘contemporary’ pieces often are beyond the time when they are ‘contemporary’), Mr. Bigonzetti’s piece is a stimulating and reasonably entertaining exploration of movement to sound.

‘Vespro’ is Italian for ‘vespers’, prayers or hymns. Nothing in the program notes indicates any relationship between Bigonzetti’s choreography or Moretti’s composition and sacred music, but titles usually aren’t selected indiscriminately, and Moretti’s music does convey a sense of simple purity and repetitive, chant-like warmth consistent with reverential prayer. And I found myself thinking, as I watched the piece evolve, that the ballet’s central character, the dancer who sits or stands atop the piano that is centered upstage (surrounded by an assemblage of worshipful corps dancers and the two lead couples) and occasionally disrupts the musical flow with his body creating sounds resembling cacophonous thunderclaps, is a sort of ‘god of the piano’ figure who controls the flow of the music and the congregants’ response to it – an aloof, impulsive, restless Apollo who enjoys being in control but finds the reverence tiresome. For example, as the dancers (predominantly the lead couples: Maria Kowroski, Ashley Bouder, Amar Ramasar, and Gonzalo Garcia) move to the music’s current, this sole male figure (Andrew Veyette) directs them, interrupts them, interferes with them, and watches over them, occasionally blocking their movement with barrier arms, breaking into pas de deux, and controlling the musical and choreographic ebb and flow.

At times I found the choreography exasperatingly annoying and tiresome, as well as unnecessarily intense. For example, Bigonzetti’s repeated image of the ‘controlling’ male dancer’s arm swinging in its socket (with the arm either straight or bent at the elbow), as if this were the visualization of his ability to control the action, comes across odd and forced - and if I’m right about the god-like force that the character is intended to represent, it pales in comparison to similar movement quality created by Balanchine in his “Apollo.” Also, the ‘contemporary’ angularity that permeates the piece conflicts somewhat with Moretti’s placid composition, and the repeated image of women being lifted up by the neck is repugnant to me. On the other hand, the intricate partnering of the paired couples is glorious, and the choreography that accompanied the saxophone is intriguing. Overall, I found “Vespro” to be an interesting piece, with performances of exceptional clarity and dynamism from all five lead dancers (a role debut for each except Ms. Kowroski). And although I’m not familiar with Moretti’s music, his live presence (he was the pianist for his own composition) added an invaluable personal quality to the musical presentation. Meg Bragle was the mezzo-soprano; Allen Won the soprano saxophonist.

“Symphony in Three Movements” and “Duo Concertant” have been recently reviewed, and don’t require extensive elaboration. In the former, Sterling Hyltin, Rebeca Krohn, Ana Sophia Scheller, Amar Ramasar, Mr. Veyette (his role debut), and Daniel Ulbricht led the ensemble with their usual brilliance. In the latter, Megan Fairchild and Jared Angle (replacing the injured Chase Finlay) were the couple on Tuesday, and Ms. Hyltin and Robert Fairchild reprised their roles last night. All four dancers were splendid, both technically and in character, with Ms. Fairchild presenting as the adorable kitten you took home and fell in love with, and Ms. Hyltin the ballerina next door who stole your heart.

“Duo Concertant” visualizes the dancers’ relationship with the two stage instruments as well as their relationship to each other. To cement the significance of this relationship choreographically, in the piece’s initial choreographed movement the dancers are briefly seen mimicking the physical act of playing the violin. Until Thursday’s performance, I had thought that that was the only such direct reference. Thanks to Ms. Hyltin’s clarity, I now see another. In the final mutual reverence segment, danced in relative darkness, I always considered the ballerina’s upraised arm at the ending simply to be a visualization of joyous love. However, in Ms. Hyltin’s performance last night, I noticed that the hand of her upraised arm was turned in, and for the first time saw that her arm and hand mimics the arm/hand position of the violin player as he holds the instrument. In effect, she is saluting the violin, her musical partner, as she celebrates her relationship with her partner in dance. Brilliant and subtle choreography; brilliant and subtle execution. Kurt Nikkanen was the violinist at both performances; Susan Walters was on the piano on Tuesday, and Cameron Grant last night. Each gave accomplished and spirited performances.

It’s been awhile since I’d seen “Dances at a Gathering.” Piano dances have become somewhat of a choreographic cliché since Robbins created this piece in 1969, but “Dances at a Gathering” remains the iconic masterwork, the mother of them all. Given contemporary sensibilities, it may feel as if it goes on too long, but for me, each dance is more beautiful than the next, and the notion of cutting one to shave time is the equivalent of forcing a mother to choose between multiple children. Each of the dancers was sublime: Ms. Fairchild, Ms. Kowroski, Ms. Krohn,Tiler Peck, Brittany Pollack, Mr. Angle, Antonio Carmena, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Joaquin De Luz, and Mr. Ramasar. The rendition of the magnificent Chopin pieces was performed with equal magnificence by Ms. Walters.

“The Four Temperaments,” the ballet that opened the repertory season on Tuesday, is a fitting piece upon which to focus the concluding words of this review. The ‘four temperaments’ reference the ancient belief that the human body was comprised of four different ‘humours’ (bodily fluids), representing different ‘temperaments’ – melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric – and the ballet is divided into an opening theme, a conclusion and internal variations that may be seen as roughly matching the temperaments. But “The Four Temperaments” is more than the sum of its parts, as a human is more than the sum of his or her temperaments. In its conclusion, with ballerinas sequentially lifted, Balanchine’s and Hindemith’s reverence for the human spirit, for the ‘human’ in humanity, is the equivalent of a soaring prayer – a quiet, understated, song of joy.

Listing the large cast is prohibitive, but the sterling performances by Mr. Fairchild (‘Sanguinic’), Mr. Danchig-Waring (‘Phlegmatic’), his debut in the role, and Ms. Bouder (‘Choleric’) must be highlighted. Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan led the NYCB orchestra’s stirring performance (as well as “Symphony in Three Movements” later in the evening).

The first of these programs will be repeated again during this Fall season, and “Vespro” and “Dances at a Gathering” will be repeated in Winter, 2014. Missing the opportunity to see the Balanchine/Robbins masterpieces, or to see them performed again with new bodies and faces, is unthinkable.

Corrected 10/4 to correct typos in the spelling of Mr. Bigonzetti's first name.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Sep 29, 2013 8:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Friday, September 27, 2013 program of Christopher Wheeldon's "Carnival of the Animals," Peter Martins' "Jeu de Cartes" and Jerome Robbins' "Four Seasons."

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Oct 05, 2013 1:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

Tobi Tobias reviews the annual fall gala for Arts Journal.

Arts Journal

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Oct 07, 2013 11:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

Principal dancer Chase Finlay broke his fifth metatarsal during a September 20, 2013 performance of Swan Lake. He will be out until Winter Season. Felicia R. Lee reports for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews a triple bill of Ratmansky's "Namouna," Wheeldon's "Soiree Musicale" and Preljocaj's "Spectral Evidence" and a second all-Balanchine triple bill: "The Prodigal Son," "La Sonnambula" and "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue."

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

Robert Greskovic reviews a large swath of the Fall Season for the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal

Author:  balletomaniac [ Tue Oct 08, 2013 4:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet 2013-14

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

October 3, 5M, 6, 2013
Contemporary Choreographers: “Soiree Musicale”; “Spectral Evidence”; “Namouna, A Grand
Balanchine’s Stories: “La Sonnambula”; “Prodigal Son”; “Slaughter on 10th Avenue”
Family Fun: “Carnival of the Animals”’ “Jeu de Cartes’’; “The Four Seasons”

-- by Jerry Hochman

New York City Ballet used to present seasons in which one evening of repertory programs was rarely comprised of the same ballets as another. While on one night the company would present a program consisting of Ballets A, B, and C, for example, the next time ballet ‘C’ was performed it may have shared the stage with Ballets ‘X’ And ‘Y’, and with ballets ‘A’ and ‘Y’ next time, and with ballets ‘X’ and ‘Q’ the next time. If you cared, you could pick a program containing all the ballets you liked, and avoid those you preferred not to see.

In recent years NYCB has shifted to more predictable, and more economical, programing, with ballets grouped according to a particular ‘theme’ (even though certain ballets can fit within multiple theme categories). These ‘theme’ evening are then repeated regularly throughout the season, with the only variation being possible cast changes.

I disliked losing the power to choose what I wanted to see. But with a repertory as strong as that of NYCB, and dancers worth seeing in almost any ballet, even programs that wouldn’t be on my ‘preferred’ list merit a trip to the DHK Theater. The first of these programs, under the rubrick “Contemporary Choreographers,” is one such program.

Contemporary Choreographers

I reviewed “Soiree Musicale,” following its company debut at last Spring’s Gala. It still looks like a workshop piece (it was initially choreographed in 1998 as a workshop presentation for the School of American Ballet, NYCB’s affiliated school), and I still see it as more pleasurable than memorable. But any opportunity to see NYCB’s young dancers in featured roles is worth seizing. The cast was the same as last Spring except that Zachary Catazaro, in a fine role debut, replaced the injured Chase Finlay.

“Spectral Evidence,” Angelin Preljocaj’s take on the Salem Witch Trials, premiered at the company’s Fall, 2013 Gala. I reviewed it two weeks ago, and this second viewing has changed my opinion only to a limited extent. I now see the piece’s central pas de deux with Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild to be more detailed and compelling than I did before, and recognize that Mr. Fairchild’s subsequent solo is brilliantly performed. I still think the choreography for this solo, with the accompanying eerie vocalization, is overbaked. However, the juxtaposition of the pas de deux and the solo serves to emphasize the connection Preljocaj makes between the possessed sensuality of the girls, and the possessed torment of the clergymen seduced by the girls and their theological message. The piece is too long and suffers from avoidable excess, but “Spectral Evidence” is a stunning theatrical ballet. This performance also marked the role debut of Taylor Stanley (replacing Mr. Finlay) as one of the clergymen. Mr. Stanley’s natural intensity is a perfect fit for the role.

The final piece on this program was the most eagerly awaited – the return to the repertory of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement.”

When I reviewed the piece following its premiere at the Spring, 2010 Gala, I found it pointless; a ballet that looked good but was indecipherable, a potpourri of clichés in search of a purpose. I now see Mr. Ratmansky’s choreographic motivation more clearly, but doing so doesn’t change my opinion.

‘Namouna’ was a full-length ballet choreographed by Lucien Petipa (Marius’s brother) to a score by Edouard Lalo that premiered at the Paris Opera in 1882. The ballet told the story of Lord Adriani, who loses his favorite slave-girl in a bet, and spends the next few hours – or however long the ballet took – to search for and find her. None of that story is present in Mr. Ratmansky’s piece (although at times there’s clearly a typically Romantic ‘search’). Rather, Mr. Ratmansky’s intent is not to present the story en toto, but to isolate a series of dances, a ‘grand divertissement’ that might have been comprised the final act of the original M. Petipa production – except these dances are updated with an abstract and somewhat irreverent vision, and are presented as a standalone ballet. The fact that each ‘scene’ may be only tangentially related to another is intentional: They’re supposed to be relatively independent dances, tied to the missing core story by a concluding ‘unity dance’. Imagine a complete ballet consisting of a kinky reimagining of the final act of “The Sleeping Beauty” (or “Coppelia”). Instead of one dance in a series of divertissement that is part of a celebration, the celebration being the culmination of the core story, here one strange-looking dance is part of a series of strange-looking divertissement, all of which are lopped off some unknown core story. And just as the last dance in Romantic ballets featured the union of the lead characters, “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement” concludes with the union of the lead characters, blessed by a Puck-like faun assuming the role of the Lilac Fairy.

It’s certainly a unique, interesting looking ballet, but what makes it interesting is that it’s strange. It’s all choreographic glitz that looks like a collection of staged production numbers culled from depression-era movie musicals. There is an introductory promenade of women with hair helmets that make each of them resemble Louise Brooks, followed by choreography that alternates dizzying rapid-fire movement with intricate corps patterns with wonderful character dances with comic vignettes with quirky scenes that make no thematic sense (Bacall exhaling cigarette smoke at Bogart?). Then dancers suddenly appear wearing short, pale, and wavy plastered locks that make them look like moving statuary. Through it all, Mr. Ratmansky mines one Romantic choreographic source after another. It’s Petipa (Marius) reimagined by Busby Berkley.

Sterling Hyltin, in a role debut, was a more crystalline in her execution, and more sympathetic as a slave-girl, than I recall from the original cast. Tyler Angle, whom I had not seen previously in the lead male role, danced with his usual elan, but lacked the charisma that Robert Fairchild lent to the original cast. And Ashley Bouder, in a role debut (replacing Jenifer Ringer) was fabulous as the smoke-blowing pseudo-sophisticated lady.

Balanchine Short Stories

“Namouna, A Grand Divertissement” is a glamorous-looking ballet that appears to be excised from a larger whole. “La Sonnambula,” is also a glamorous-looking ballet that appears to be part of a larger whole. But while ‘Namouna’ looks incoherent, George Balanchine’s classic short story ballet is clear as a bell. That you can’t quite figure out what’s going on is your problem, not the ballet’s. It may be a gothic love story, or a gothic ghost story, or a murder/mystery, but its enigma is part of its brilliance, and part of its charm. Based on a story by Vittorio Rieti, and on musical themes from a variety of operas by Vincenzo Bellini (including “La Sonnambula”), Balanchine’s ballet is as gorgeous, alluring, and mysterious as a beautiful hothouse flower that has never breathed fresh air.

The ballet takes place at the darkly enchanting but somewhat claustrophobic and atmospherically sinister home of a haughty aristocrat who is hosting a masked ball attended by opulently dressed couples. The “Host” is escorting a girl identified as “Coquette.” We do not know the relationship between the Coquette and the Host, only that there is one. A man identified as the “Poet” enters the ballroom, and there is an immediate attraction between him and the Coquette. The Host leaves the room, and while he is absent the Poet ardently pursues the Coquette, and the Coquette circles the Poet as if she were a bird suddenly released from captivity and the Poet was her prey. The Host subsequently returns to the ballroom, invites the guests to dinner, and separates the Coquette from the Poet and removes her to the dining area. Now alone in the ballroom, the Poet suddenly sees a woman in white emerging from an area of rooms outside the ballroom, holding a lit candle. The woman moves like an apparition, as if sleepwalking, but she somehow senses any obstacle in her path. His curiosity piqued, the Poet plays with the Sleepwalker, manipulating her as if she were a dandelion flower in the breeze. The fascination turns into something more, and when the Sleepwalker leaves the ballroom, he follows her. After hearing of the infatuation from the jealous Coquette, the Host storms after them, returning knife in hand. The Poet reenters the ballroom, mortally wounded. As the guests watch awestruck, the Sleepwalker cradles the Poet in her arms, and carries him off to wherever she lives in the house.

We don’t know who these people are (other than their character identities), the nature of the relationships between them, why the Sleepwalker is imprisoned (or if she is), and what she does with the Poet’s lifeless body. But none of this matters. Balanchine’s exquisite and clever choreography is unforgettable.

Janie Taylor was a perfect Sleepwalker, with Sebastien Marcovici her bemused and bewitched Poet. Amar Ramasar (the Host) and Faye Arthurs (dancing the Coquette like a coiled viper) were both excellent. The pas de deux (within a series of divertissement during the masked ball) was danced engagingly by Lauren King, in her role debut, and Antonio Carmena.

“Prodigal Son,” an early (1929) and indisputable Balanchine masterpiece, remains as compelling as ever. Although I would have appreciated more power from Joaquin De Luz, and more of a siren from Teresa Reichlen, both have grown in their roles since I saw them previously. Jonathan Stafford was the commanding but loving patriarch. And displaying once again that there are no small roles, Marika Anderson and Likolani Brown were vibrant Daughters.

I reviewed “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” last Spring, and Balanchine’s classic, lifted from the Broadway musical “On Your Toes,” is as skillfully staged and performed as it was then, with the same extraordinary performances by Maria Kowroski and Mr. Angle. And seeing ‘Slaughter’ immediately following ‘Prodigal’ enabled me to see a connection, both thematically and choreographically, between the Siren in ‘Prodigal’ and the Stripper in ‘Slaughter’ that I had not previously considered. The connection tickles, but it’s a thesis for another day.

Family Fun

While an evening of Balanchine short story ballets may have been too much of a good thing (like the evening devoted to Balanchine Back and White Ballets the previous week), an evening entitled ‘Family Fun’ might cause one without children in tow to run the other way. That would have been a mistake. Each ballet on this program was enjoyable, and one was extraordinary. I’ll discuss them in reverse performance order.

Jerome Robbins’s “The Four Seasons” is one of his classic pieces. It is not insubstantial, but it has a light mood, and is punctuated by humor throughout. The ballet is based on music by Giuseppe Verdi (“I Vespri Siciliani,” augmented with music from “I Lombardi” and “Il Trovatore”), and was intended to replicate the form of a third act opera ballet divertissement to accompany “I Vespri Siciliani.” The snowflake-like dancers in Winter try to stay warm, the dancers in Spring move tentatively at first and then explode with vibrancy as the season progresses, the Summer dancers are sultry and seductive, and the Autumn dancers celebrate the refreshing air and the promise of the beginning of a new yearly cycle. Erica Pereira led the Winter dancers (abetted by Troy Shumacher and Ralph Ippolito); Ms. Hyltin, accompanied by Mr. Angle, was the breath of Spring; Rebecca Krohn, partnered by Adrian Danchig-Waring, danced sultry Summer, and Ms. Bouder and Andrew Veyette (with Mr. Carmena the sprightly faun) were superb embodiments of refreshing autumnal energy.

“Jeu de Cartes,” choreographed by Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins in 1992 to a 1936 score by Stravinsky of the same name, is somewhat of a puzzlement. It’s entertaining, but, except for the colorful costumes for the principals and the strikingly simple costumes for the corps (by Ian Falconer), it doesn’t have any particular relationship to a game of cards, nor does it sufficiently distinguish between segments of the score (shuffles of the deck). Since I was luke warm to the other version of “Jeu de Cartes” I’ve seen (choreographed by John Cranko) for the same reason, I suspect that my problem is more with the score’s relationship to a ‘game of cards’ than the choreography. But whether there are sufficient ‘card-game’ relationships inherent in the music and the choreography to support the thematic simile, there is no doubt that Mr. Martins’s choreography is vibrant to watch and was executed with flair. In the principal roles, Mr. Danchig-Waring was a somewhat low-key King of Clubs, Mr. De Luz an energetic Ace of Spades, and Mr. Taylor a dynamic and thrilling Jack of Diamonds. As the Queen of Hearts, Megan Fairchild was wonderful, blending personality coloration with sparkling technique.

But as good as these ballets and performances were, the highlight of the evening was Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carnival of the Animals,” and the highlight of that performance was Lauren Lovette.

At the end of last season, I complained that certain of the repertory choices for 2013-2014 had been poorly made, and with respect to Mr. Wheeldon’s choreography, I would have preferred something other than “Carnival of the Animals.” While I still would like to see again the other Wheeldon ballets I offered as alternative choices, my memory had dimmed as to how fine a piece “Carnival of the Animals” is. It’s everything a ‘family fun’ ballet should be, and much more.

Choreographed to “Le Carnaval Des Animaux” by Camille Saint-Saens, the ballet tells the story of a boy (‘Oliver’) who falls asleep while on a class trip to the American Museum of Natural History. While he sleeps, the animals in the museum come to life, and resemble characters in Oliver’s life. Fine, you say. So we have a bunch of dancers running around in animal outfits like the mice in “George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’”. Not exactly. The animals (and other inhabitants of Oliver’s memory) that come to life are recognizable dancers acting like animal characters in Oliver’s memory, most with minimal costume. Among others, Oliver’s classmates become weasels and rats, his teacher a lion, members of the school wrestling team morph into jackasses (it’s funny – not necessarily social commentary), an aunt becomes a swan, and a bookish librarian becomes a kangaroo who dreams of, and becomes, a mermaid in a sea of humanoid fish. The choreography is uniformly ingenious, and the dancing was uniformly wonderful. It was great fun – great, and fun.

It also was an excellent opportunity to watch NYCB dancers act. Every one of the dancers created an outstanding character that went beyond caricature. These were, after all, human animals. And they all seemed to be having a blast. While I cannot list each cast member here, I must highlight Ms. Kowroski’s remembered ‘Swan’, and Brittany Pollack and Georgina Pazcoguin’s tortoises. [I must also recognize Jack Noseworthy’s Narrator (reading the narration originally written and performed by John Lithgow), and the performance of Maximilian Brooking Landegger, an SAB student, as Oliver.] Most noteworthy, however, was Lauren Lovette’s kangaroo/mermaid. Ms. Lovette’s character(s) had the most intriguing choreography. The kangaroo as envisioned by Mr. Wheeldon wears eyeglasses and is somewhat frumpy-looking, but at the same time moves her legs like they were intricate and precision mechanical stilts. The legs go up and come down and then go up and come down again in slightly different positions on the floor, at lightning speed. And when the librarian/kangaroo becomes a mermaid, she’s not just any mermaid. Ms. Lovette floats through the imagined ocean like a waterborne sensual angel – which, in Oliver’s dream of the kangaroo’s dream, is what she is. Ms. Lovette has a remarkable stage presence, with the ability to combine sensuality with innocence, and to make the most intricate of steps look lyrical. But I never expected to see all these traits in the same performance. As I overheard one observer say, her performances are magical. This was, perhaps, the most magical of them all.

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