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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2015 10:23 pm 
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Location: New Jersey
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

January 20, 21, 2015
“Serenade,” “Agon,” “Symphony in C”
“Symphonic Dances,” “The Cage,” “Andantino,” “Cortege Hongrois”

-- by Jerry Hochman

Any lingering doubt that New York City Ballet is the place to go for ballet breadth and performance excellence on a company-wide scale should have been dispelled by the two opening programs of its Winter 2015 season.

The opening night program consisted of three Balanchine classics, and any season that opens with “Serenade” is already a season to celebrate. But the second program, under the rubrick “Hear the Dance: Russia,” though choreographically uneven, was so excitingly performed that it must be considered up front. And the reason it was as exciting as it was were the performances by NYCB’s outstanding current roster of dancers, and particularly its young principals and soloists. The evening’s highlights were Lauren Lovette’s knockout debut as the Novice in Jerome Robbins’s “The Cage,” and the equally superlative performances by Sara Mearns and Georgina Pazcoguin (her debut) in Balanchine’s “Cortege Hongrois."

Nothing could have prepared the audience for Ms. Lovette's brilliant tour de force in “The Cage.” The qualities that comprise her stage persona include an engaging confluence of sensuality and innocence (a “killer combination” as I previously described it), and her ability, when appropriate, to express emotion and character full to the fingertips. It is that latter quality that she displayed in her extraordinary debut as the Novice. Nevertheless, even given that demonstrated talent, this performance took that talent to another level. Though still a soloist, Ms. Lovette is already one of the company’s most versatile ballerinas; this performance represents another artistic growth spurt.

In all his ballets, and aside from the exquisite craftsmanship common to each, Jerome Robbins created characters that display a natural, human quality. In “The Cage” a ballet that visualizes the rites of a colony of female insects (most people think spiders, but I see them more as killer ants) who devour their male prey, Robbins translates this into a remarkable characterization of an insect. It’s an electrifying, brilliantly gruesome piece, easy to appreciate as a work of art, but difficult to like. I’ve seen it several times over the years (it premiered in 1951), but found no way to connect with the lead character, the Novice, who emerges from a cocoon-like incubation and is trained by the nest’s Queen (who might have been Myrta in another life) to be a consummate killer. I watched performances of the Novice many years ago by Heather Watts and Wendy Whelan, and admired their powerful portrayals. Most recently, the performance by Janie Taylor impressed me, because her Novice was the most delicate, and the most accessible: a killer ant one could learn to love. But I’ve never seen a performance that displayed the sheer power, coupled with the ‘humanity’ of a killer insect, that I saw last night from Ms. Lovette – or one that was such a shocking reversal of stage persona.

From her first appearance on stage, even before she began to move, Ms. Lovette looked striking – tightly curled and imprisoned by her ‘cocoon’. When she emerged, under the Queen’s direction, she slowly uncoiled, and transformed her appearance from being an awkward ‘elephant woman’ of an insect, to a student soldier who took to killing the first entrapped man like a duck to water, emoting with her eyes, the angle of her head, her piercing silent wail (related to what she did so well as Calliope in “Apollo”), and her beautifully brutal contorted insect body.

Her encounter with the second ‘intruder’ who stumbles into the nest (or onto the web) is more complex, as it’s supposed to be. There’s an attraction between the Novice and this Intruder, and one could see Ms. Lovette’s hard edge soften – ever so slightly, but distinctly and emphatically. Her duet with this Intruder was an emotional nail-biter; the silence in the house was deafening. And then, when the sexual encounter with the Intruder ended, she transformed again, instinctively and mercilessly murdering her mate. With a wig of short-clipped black hair, Ms. Lovette looked vicious – but her characterization very carefully distinguished viciousness from evil. This Novice was a creature to respect and fear, and ultimately to admire in wonder and awe. Somewhere, Mr. Robbins must be smiling.

Contributing to Ms. Lovette’s successful portrayal was her stage relationship with the second Intruder, Craig Hall. Mr. Hall’s performance was necessarily understated, subservient as his character is to an amazon of an insect. But it was a masterful performance, and it reflects the level of trust that I’ve seen develop over the seasons between them, that enables Ms. Lovette to be the character she needs to be. The one casualty of the evening was Savannah Lowery, in her stage debut as the Queen. She danced her role capably, but Ms. Lovette was so powerful, so dominant, that Ms. Lowery couldn’t compete.

“Cortege Hongrois” is a curious, glorious ballet that Balanchine created in 1973 as a farewell gift for the retiring Melissa Hayden. It’s curious because it’s comprised of dances from Alexander Glazounov’s “Ramonda” that Balanchine previously used in his “Pas de Dix” and “Raymond Variations,” so watching it creates a sense of déjà vu on multiple levels, even though the choreography here is different. It’s glorious because it is interestingly structured, and a vehicle for superb dancing for a large number of company dancers.

In the choreographic architecture of “Cortege Hongrois,” Balanchine separates and distinguishes the two foundations of the score: there are sections that reflect an air of Hungarian ‘royalty’, and segments that are more ‘ethnic’. These complementary musical themes are here performed separately, by different groups of dancers who are costumed differently and move differently, and each focus has a different lead couple. (The ballet is a series of related dances; there is no narrative thread.) Ms. Mearns and Tyler Angle led the ‘royal’ branch; Ms. Pazcoguin and Ask la Cour the more ethnic ‘folk’ branch (e.g., the Czardas).

Ms. Mearns is a superb ballerina, but I have found her adagio dances to be too often infected with pathos, and her efforts at lightheartedness to come across as gratuitous and insincere. When she began the ballets central pas de deux with Mr. Angle with what looked like an Odette outtake, I feared another performance unnecessarily dominated by pathos, where only seriousness and a noble attitude was called for. But that segment ended quickly, and the balance of the pas de deux was delivered with exceptional clarity and strength, and when she lightened up to celebratory mode, she looked real. For me, it was one of Ms. Mearns’s finest performances – despite wearing make-up that looked like flour. Mr. Angle tends to be taken for granted: he always delivers a superlative performance, and is an excellent partner for Ms. Mearns. He demonstrated both qualities last night.

However, as fine as Ms. Mearns and Mr. Angle were, Ms. Pazcoguin’s debut as the ‘second’ lead was merely fabulous. She has a low company profile, and since her promotion to soloist I’ve seen her less frequently than others. But the stage came alive when she appeared in last night’s performance, not just because of the quality of the music and the choreography, but because of her spirited, smoldering execution.

In “Cortege Hongrois,” many company dancers are given the opportunity to shine. In their respective variations, Lauren King and Ashley Laracey danced superbly, with flair and panache to accompany the immaculate execution. And in the Pas de Quatre, Sara Adams, Likolani Brown, Alina Dronova, and Mary Elizabeth Sell excelled, as did the other two featured ballerinas, Meagan Mann and Gwyneth Muller.

“Symphonic Dances,” which opened last night’s program, is not one of Mr. Martins’s better ballets. Although it complements the Rachmaninoff composition, it doesn’t amplify it so much as mirror it, presenting a clash of styles (contemporary and romantic) in the process. And his decision to have only one lead couple, rather than to subdivide the featured dancing among different pairs, though an understandable effort to present differently, makes the ballet appear to have several ‘false endings’, giving the sense that it goes on much too long.

That having been said, “Symphonic Dances” is not an unpleasant ballet to watch, has intriguing and colorful costumes designed by Santo Loquasto, and last night featured an effectively assertive performance, with an edge, by Mr. Veyette, and a beguiling, romantic reverie, with an edge, from Ms. Hyltin. Both were smashing role debuts.

Mr. Veyette excels in roles that require him to display what appear to be mini-choreographic temper tantrums (pounding fists; thrusting legs), but this stage alienation masks what may be an underlying romantic. His role in this piece requires such character duality; he is at once angular and smooth, aggressive and charming. If a ballet were created that would include a James Dean-like character, he’d be a prime candidate for the job.

Ms. Hyltin has proven that she can excel in anything, from “Swan Lake” to “Symphony in Three Movements.” Here, she doesn’t so much appear on stage as she floats across it, with a breezy air that enchants as it visually entices. Her role doesn’t call for much variety of expression or movement quality, but she always appears to occupy more stage space than her body actually utilizes, and she was the piece’s heart.

“Andantino,” a pas de deux choreographed by Robbins to the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1,” is a romantic duet that looks restrained, but which camouflages the passion under the surface. However, even though it’s crafted impeccably, and was impeccably performed by Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia, it’s not a particularly exciting or interesting piece to watch. It might have fared better had it preceded “The Cage” on the program; following the excitement of that piece and Ms. Lovette’s towering performance in it, "Andantino" was the visual equivalent of flat champagne.

The previous night, “Serenade,” one of NYCB’s signature ballets, and perhaps its most beloved, was given a superb performance, led by Ms. Hyltin, Erica Pereira (in a role debut), and Teresa Reichlen, and by Robert Fairchild and Mr. la Cour. Ms. Hyltin is as exceptional in this role as she is in others; Ms. Pereira sparkled and is dancing with an increased level of confidence – she’s still great fun to watch, but she’s becomes more and more exciting with each performance; and Mr. Fairchild danced as if he’d been reinvigorated.

“Agon,” Balanchine’s classic Stravinsky ballet, is all angular and piercing and contemporary (although created in 1957), and almost the visual antithesis of “Serenade.” It’s tough to love – but it’s brilliant, and received another exceptional performance by Maria Kowroski, Amar Ramasar, Megan LeCrone, Devin Alberda, Daniel Applebaum, Ms. King, Ms. Laracey, and Mr. Veyette. As I’ve written previously, Mr. Ramasar is one of the company’s most underrated dancers. He is particularly extraordinary here, partnering Ms. Kowroski. And Ms. LeCrone was outstanding, delivering her best performance that I’ve seen to date.

The evening concluded with “Symphony in C,” another Balanchine classic. Divided into four movements of different tempi, “Symphony in C” is a crowd-pleasing piece that moves seamlessly from one to another. Ashley Bouder and Chase Finlay anchored the first, allegro vivo, movement; Ms. Mearns and Jared Angle the second, adagio; Ms. Lovette and Mr. Garcia the third, allegro vivace, and Brittany Pollack and Adrian Danchig-Waring the fourth, also allegro vivace (but a bit faster). For the ballerinas, all but Ms. Mearns were role debuts, and for Ms. Bouder and Ms. Lovette, because of late cast shuffling, the debuts were earlier than originally scheduled, and with different partners. Nevertheless, the ballet received a strong performance overall.

What these performances demonstrate, beyond the quality of the ballets and the fine performances of them, is the company’s exceptional depth and, more importantly, its encouragement of its dancers. These seven ballets included seventeen featured female roles (including the Queen in “The Cage”), eight of which were assigned to principal ballerinas. The remaining nine were divided among eight ballerina soloists, most of which were role debuts. And these do not include a host of other roles, danced by soloists and corps dancers, which provide opportunities for individual dancers to be challenged, to stand out, and to prove themselves. Of course, part of this is a result of the company’s repertoire of ballets that allow for multiple featured roles. But part is also the result of casting decisions that are inclusive, that consider the company’s future on a broad basis, and that encourage dancers to assay roles that emphasize and grow different performing skills. A natural, and beneficial, consequence of this policy is that enables NYCB audiences to see a broad range of dancers and watch them grow, rather than being force-fed a chosen few. It’s what has made NYCB the place to go for dance in New York.


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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2015 1:51 pm 
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Phil Chan reviews the Tuesday, January 20, 2015 performance for the Huffington Post.

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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2015 2:11 pm 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews the revivals of Balanchine's "Donizetti Variations," "La Valse" and "Chaconne" for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2015 2:19 pm 
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In the New York Times, Gia Kourlas reviews the Wednesday, January 21, 2015 performance of Jerome Robbins' "The Cage" and "Andantino," Peter Martins' "Symphonic Dances" and Balanchine's "Cortege Hongrois."

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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Sat Jan 31, 2015 12:17 pm 
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Location: New Jersey
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

January 24M, 29, 2015
“Donizetti Variations,” “La Valse,” “Chaconne”
“Concerto Barocco,” “The Goldberg Variations”

-- by Jerry Hochman

New York City Ballet continued its Winter 2015 season with another all-Balanchine program on January 24 Matinee, and a program Thursday night under the heading “Hear the Dance: Germany,” which might have been more appropriately identified as a tribute to the music of, and choreography to, Johann Sebastian Bach. Both programs highlighted the variety of NYCB’s repertoire, the breadth of NYCB’s current talent, and the significance of NYTB’s legacy choreographers.

Of the dances on these two programs, the most eagerly awaited, at least for me, was the revival of Jerome Robbins’s “The Goldberg Variations.” There are ballet masterpieces, and then there are ballet masterpieces that are monumental. “The Goldberg Variations” is in the latter category – not so much because it’s long (which it is), but because it’s is so remarkable. There are things that many consider to be essential to do in a lifetime: seeing “The Goldberg Variations,” at least once, must be one of them.

In a program note written by Mr. Robbins in 1971 (the year the piece premiered), Robbins recounted that the ‘Goldberg’ name relates to Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, one of Bach’s pupils, who was the private harpsichordist to a Count Keyserling. The Count, it seems, suffered from insomnia, and commissioned Bach to compose music that might help him through the sleepless nights. Goldberg then played it for him. Presumably, the music had a calming effect – but had the Count seen Robbins’s choreography to it, he would have been energized.

The structure of the 1742 Bach composition, titled “Aria mit verschieden Veraenderungen” (roughly, ‘theme and variations’), is different from a theme and variations which plays off the composition’s melodic phrases. Bach’s work plays off accompaniments to the theme, the harmonies. And though they’re related to the main ‘theme’, they don’t repeat it. But as important as the piece’s structure is its playfulness. Bach must have had a ball playing with the harmonies, playing with the musical architecture of each variation, and playing with the playing of it. The piece is light, airy, and joyful.

In constructing his ballet, Robbins took this ‘theme-and-different-kind-of-variations’ and applied it to his choreography. And he also took, and applied, the composition’s ‘joy’. But the ballet is much more than inspired choreography to match inspired music: the choreography plays out in a baroque/contemporary framework, implicitly demonstrating that baroque music is not as hifalutin and structurally brittle as it might appear – on the contrary, that it’s the contemporary music of the early18th Century, and that the qualities of joy and gentle humor are common to both.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had, unintentionally and unexpectedly, wonderful introductions to ballet. The first NYCB program I ever saw included “The Goldberg Variations” (which also provided my initial exposure to a NYCB ballerina named Gelsey Kirkland). That performance made me the balletomaniac I am today. I’ve seen “The Goldberg Variations” since then, but I doubt that I’ve seen any performance of it, top to bottom, better than NYCB presented Thursday night. All but four of the fourteen leads were role debuts, and it’s a bit unsettling to think that probably none of the dancers on stage last night had been born when I first saw the piece danced on that same stage.

The ballet opens with a couple, Faye Arthurs and Zachary Catazaro, costumed in Baroque outfits, dancing reverentially to Bach’s theme. As they yield the stage, the dancers in Part I of the Variations replace them, dressed in contemporary-looking ballet costumes. Then the fun begins, as the six lead dancers, Abi Stafford, Lauren Lovette, Daniel Applebaum, Joseph Gordon, Anthony Huxley, and Taylor Stanley, liberally mixed with the supporting 6/6 corps, dance to Bach’s baroque variations. The dances are also liberally mixed with humor – not gut-busting hilarity, but clever, giggle-inducing takes on the music that emphasize the playfulness and humanity common to both. And each variation (or in some cases each separate segment within the variation) ends with a reverential bow by the performers to each other or to those who watch, for the privilege of having danced.

Each variation is a gem. Describing them would take almost as long as the piece, but I particularly enjoyed the spirited dance for the four lead men, and Ms. Lovette’s turn oozing her blend of sensuality and innocence in a solo demonstration in front of a semi-circle of six relaxing male dancers who are not so much ogling her as letting her aura wash over them. And at the end, she bows to them.

Then the cast in Part II of the Variations replaces the Part I cast. The difference between the two sections, aside from costuming (and, to my recollection, a brief change of key), is that the six leads in Part II are presented as couples: Sterling Hyltin and Jared Angle, Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle, and Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia. Each pair is assigned a separate, lengthy pas de deux, and each pair performed magnificently.

Following their pas de deux, when each pair returned to the stage, they had changed their costume to look more ‘baroque’ – as if the baroque costumes of the ‘theme’ pair and the contemporary costumes of the Part I dancers had merged. The supporting corps (12/8 in Part II) did the same.

And in the final variation, Robbins pulls it all together. The cast in Part I joins the cast in Part II, all are now dressed in the more contemporary/baroque costumes (the costumes were designed by Joe Eula), and ultimately they all retreat around the stage perimeter as the original ‘theme’ couple, Ms. Arthurs and Mr. Catazaro, return, now wearing contemporary costumes matching those of the Part I dancers. They repeat the theme, and the piece ends with ‘reverance’ from the baroque couple to each other, from the contemporary dancers to the baroque ones, from one period to another, from one choreographer to one composer, and from one cast to its choreographer. Had I had the opportunity, I would have done the same. Somewhere, Robbins and Bach must be smiling.

The music was played with exceptional vigor by pianist Cameron Grant, who received a well-deserved individual ovation during the curtain calls.

“Concerto Barocco,” Balanchine’s Bach masterpiece, preceded “The Goldberg Variations” on the program. A classic that needs no elaboration here, the piece received a somewhat less than ideal performance on Thursday for three reasons: the tempo was a bit slower than usual (perhaps to take into account the larger size of the lead ballerinas), the corps was a bit raggedy (one girl wore her arms like lobster claws, another held them practically straight with no bend at all), and Sara Mearns, who shared the lead with Teresa Reichlen, managed to inject pathos into a role that doesn’t call for it. The music (“Double Violin Concerto in D Minor”) is subtle, but it’s expressive rather than maudlin. Ms. Reichlen smiled gently and appropriately; the corps dancers either echoed her or were facially passive; but Ms. Mearns was pensive and somewhat sorrowful. Aside from the pace and Ms. Mearns’s demeanor, the footwork by all was impeccable. Arturo Delmoni and Kurt Nikkanen were the stellar violinists.

The all Balanchine program on the 24th is a curious combination: a wildly melodramatic ballet, “La Valse,” sandwiched between two ballets that are choreographed variations from operas, “Donizetti Variations” and “Chaconne.” While the pieces that opened and closed the program are superior pieces of choreography, “La Valse” is the one that a viewer is likely to remember after leaving the theater.

“La Valse” has a curious history. Its post-war creation in 1920, and its feverish Romantic score, has led commentators to link the piece to some anticipated dissolution of European civilization as then known after World War I, or to the expected decay and disappearance of the waltz form. However, Ravel himself denied any such connection (the composition is set in 1855 Vienna), and although the Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrated, the waltz form and European civilization certainly did not. Regardless, it is the sense of impending doom, and the visualization of the seductive poison of exotic (and perhaps erotic) excitement that will ultimately destroy innocence, which permeates the choreography.

There’s a sense of celebratory decadence that the first half of the ballet introduces, somewhat akin to the decadence in post-war Germany portrayed in “Cabaret.” In the ballet's opening section (choreographed to Ravel's "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales" - a piece that introduces some of the same motifs that he later used in "La Valse"), the chandeliers are dimly lit; the costumes and sets are bathed in dark colors, and between waltzes, dancers pose as if they were echoing friezes from a long dead civilization. Suddenly a woman in white appears, the picture of innocence; the typical sacrificial lamb. As the ballet segues into its second part, the ballet waltzes transform into frenetic whirlwinds that presage an approaching calamity. A skeletal visitor appears, seduces the innocent maiden, and ultimately kills her. There’s no mystery to the piece (as there is, for example, in “La Sonnambula”); it just is. Ms. Hyltin was the youthfully vivacious debutante amid the decadence; Jared Angle her galant but somewhat stoic escort (intentionally, as if a measure of decay had already set in), and Amar Ramasar the seductive, tuxedoed vision of death.

“Donizetti Variations” is one of those few Balanchine ballets that is wonderful when you watch it, and then you forget about it until you see it again. Nothing stands out in the memory – it’s merely a brilliantly crafted series of variations – in this case, to music from Donizetti’s opera “Dom Sebastian,” that has nothing at all to do with the opera. Indeed, Balanchine created it to balance a program of more somber ballets on a 1960 ‘Salute to Italy’ program, even though the 1836 opera is an historical tragedy venued in Portugal.

There’s nothing tragic about this ballet. It’s a buoyant delight, interestingly crafted from the outset with permutations on the supporting corps of six women and three men, and particularly noteworthy for the exuberant pas de deux by the lead couple – on this occasion, Ashley Bouder and Joaquin De Luz. Mr. De Luz is in his element here – with the possible exception of Daniel Ulbricht, no male member of the company is quite as explosive. And “Donizetti” took on added significance so soon after having seen excerpts from “Napoli” on the program recently presented by Principals and Soloists of the Royal Danish Ballet. The Balanchine piece has the same spirit as “Napoli,” and at times seems to have borrowed some Bournonville choreographic trademarks (particularly the joyous forward leap, with ‘welcoming’ arms extending outward, for the men).

“Chaconne,” which completed the 24th program, is choreographed to ballet music from the Gluck opera, “Orfeo ed Euridice.” Like “Donizetti,” it’s a series of exquisite variations that have nothing to do with the underlying opera, and it has a central anchoring pas de deux. But unlike “Donizetti,” and except for a breezy duet featuring Erica Pereira and Anthony Huxley, the overriding sense is one of majesty and seriousness rather than buoyancy. Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle led the sterling cast.

I have not mentioned the corps dancers in any of these dances, because NYCB continues to to proudly highlight its embarrassment of riches, and recognizing those who excelled would require naming all of them. But standing out in the multiple pieces in which they appeared were Alina Dronova and Sara Adams for their technical clarity; Megan Johnson, Lydia Wellington, and Likolani Brown for their serenely unaffected elegance, and Claire Kretzschmar for her surprising sparkle.

Two final notes: the 24th program represented half of NYCB’s annual day-long birthday salute to Balanchine. In recent years, a demonstration program was presented in between the matinee and evening performances. The program has always been well attended and enlightening, and hopefully it’s absence this year is not intended to be permanent. Regardless, and perhaps as a sop to crotchety critics, the matinee was introduced with welcoming remarks by Ms. Hyltin and Mr. Ramasar, both of whom are as engaging as speakers as they are capable as dancers. And prior to the performance, a string quartet of NYCB orchestra musicians entertained audience members on the theater’s promenade with a delightful performance; playing, among other things, excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings.” Hear the music; see the dance materialize in your mind.

And in recent years NYCB has sponsored an annual art series featuring pieces by contemporary artists that relate to ballet in general, or NYCB in particular. This year, the third in the series, includes sculptures, called called psychogeographies’ – massive blocks consisting of vertical layers of fused glass ‘slides’ – within which Brooklyn-based artist Dustin Yellin has inserted cuttings from magazines, books, or, as he has described, street garbage, arranged to represent a sort of 3-D, X-ray view of semi-abstract figures in various ballet poses, or of fantastical stage sets. They’re remarkable – and a dramatic contrast in style to the equally remarkable floor installation by JR a year ago. Even if you cannot stay for the performance, see this exhibition.


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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Sun Feb 01, 2015 8:36 pm 
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In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Thursday, January 29, 2015 performance of Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco" and Jerome Robbins' "Goldberg Variations."

NY Times


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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2015 8:49 pm 
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New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

February 4, 2015
“Pictures at an Exhibition,” “Rode,o: Four Dance Episodes” (Peck world premiere),
“Mercurial Manoeuvres”

-- by Jerry Hochman

You’ve got to give Justin Peck credit – for chutzpah if nothing else. His new ballet, which was given its world premiere last night, is choreographed to Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo,” which of course is the score for Agnes de Mille’s iconic 1942 ballet of the same name. If there is one score that could not be divorced from the ballet for which it was commissioned, it would be this one.

But Mr. Peck comes across more confident than arrogant, and his new ballet is not solely an exercise in hubris. It’s not the equal of his two most recent pieces, last year’s “Everywhere We Go” and this past season’s “Belles-Lettres,” or his initial hit, “Year of the Rabbit.” But it’s not bad, the premiere audience loved it, and here he had a much tougher road to hoe. What Mr. Peck has tried to do, and to a large extent succeeded in doing, is to echo what George Balanchine frequently did: to distill story ballets into a relatively abstract form.

Peck here has not pilfered en toto the Copland score for the de Mille ballet. A year after the piece’s premiere, Copland re-orchestrated the composition as a symphonic suite for orchestra, eliminating the middle section from the original score and trimming parts of others. He called this symphonic suite “Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo,” and it is this piece that Peck has used to craft his new ballet. It would have been preferable if Peck had simply used that title, rather than the peculiar fractured title he came up with here, but I suspect that he was legally precluded from using the specific word ‘Rodeo’ in any form – and got around it by breaking up its component letters – similar, arguably, to the way Copland restructured the original composition.

None of this really matters – the piece stands or falls on its own.

To get to the criticism first, there’s nothing, choreographically, really new here. It’s put together well, but the piece is visually overwhelmed by visions of the men (the ballet consists of fifteen men and one woman) running back and forth across the stage, and a seemingly endless series of soaring leaps.

But although it’s not particularly innovative, the ballet succeeds in several ways. With only a hint of narrative, it captures the essence of the Copland score. The music is as spacious as the American West, and Peck uses the bare stage (there’s no set) as the equivalent of clear air through which boundless energy…bounds. In this sense it’s more open and airy that “Rodeo.” If anything, “Rode,o” (the title has hard ‘accent’ marks above the vowels) has more in common with the atmosphere created in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Estancia” (created for NYCB five years ago) than de Mille’s “Rodeo,” although the Wheeldon piece has a clear narrative as well as a set. “Rode,o” also captures the score’s joy and humor, in an abstract way. Indeed, the only time the piece falls relatively flat is when Peck attempts to graft some sort of ‘lonesome cowboy’ narrative onto the ‘2nd Episode’ (corresponding to the ‘Corral Nocturne’ segment in the original). The segment is danced well, with Taylor Stanley leading a group of four men, but the choreography and the sentiment rang hollow to me. But then again, it’s somewhat refreshing to see loneliness displayed as something other than individual angst.

It succeeds also by providing a vehicle not only for the overwhelmingly male cast, which is rare enough, but for Sara Mearns, finally, to look convincingly happy. There are other NYCB ballerinas who could play this role, but it’s particularly significant for her. I’ve often found her performances to be too controlled, too somber where pathos isn’t called for, and too artificial when she tries to look something other than pensive or distraught. With “Rode,o” Ms. Mearns blows the barn door open – or would have had there been a barn door. She looks like she’s having a blast, and dances with complete abandon and uncharacteristic exuberance.

Her role isn’t a ‘character’ from the de Mille piece, but a relative – a classy cowgirl perhaps, as opposed to the de Mille lovable one. And her “3rd Episode” duet with Amar Ramasar (roughly corresponding to the ‘Saturday Night Waltz’ in the original), is a charming duet of attraction, mutual discovery, and joy. It’s not particularly complex, and not nearly as heart-wrenchingly wonderful as the duet that Wheeldon crafted for Tiler Peck in “Estancia” or as touching as de Mille’s choreography for the developing relationship between the Cowgirl and the Champion Roper in “Rodeo,” but it’s delightful. And Mr. Ramasar deserves credit for proving himself yet again as one of the more exciting, as well as capable, partners in the company.

Finally, “Rode,o” succeeds by, eventually, distancing itself from “Rodeo.” Throughout the first two Episodes, I could see Peck’s choreography and his dancers, but my mind wanted to see “Rodeo.” The memory of the de Mille ballet is so established that hearing the music and seeing anything other than the de Mille choreography or the de Mille characters was a mental non-starter. But by the pas de deux, and in the concluding 4th Episode, “Rode,o” emerged as something different, and great fun to watch.

And credit for the transformation goes to Daniel Ulbricht as well as to Mr. Peck. Mr. Ulbricht’s stage presence, combined with Peck’s choreography for him, made him an important force in the ballet, even though his character was not derivative of either of the two lead male characters in “Rodeo.” Whenever he was on stage, his presence, and the choreography for him, dominated the action. And at the end of the ballet, when he nailed turns a le seconde that started at breakneck speed and slowed (intentionally) to a crawl to match the score, the scene was about him more than some other character, and the ballet had become Peck’s abstract reconstruction of the Copland score, not a poor substitute for the original.

Last night’s performance also was a gutsy one. Before it began, Mr. Peck spoke to the audience and disclosed what many in the audience already knew – that the previous evening Andrew Veyette, who was supposed to be one of four featured male dancers (in addition to Mr. Ramasar, Mr. Ulbricht and Gonzalo Garcia), had been injured and was unable to dance. Scrambling, it was determined that Veyette’s role would be divided between Sean Suozzi and Peck himself. They both did fine jobs, the ‘dual’ replacement was hardly noticeable, and the audience was rooting for them all the way. Indeed, perhaps this challenge enabled the entire cast to loosen up and give remarkably vigorous, even at times giddy, performances.

The audience roared when the piece concluded.

I don’t know whether “Rode,o: Four Dance Episodes” will stand the test of time, because it lacks the ingenuity and choreographic variety that makes for a great ballet, and is too close in spirit to “Rodeo” to be considered completely unique. But it succeeds in being a different kind of “Rodeo,” an abstract “Rodeo” that doesn’t so much compete with the original as complements it.

The program opened with a repeat performance of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The more I see this piece, the more enjoyable it becomes. As I noted the second time I saw it, it seems a bit trimmed from when it premiered, more cohesive – but that might simply be a product of greater familiarity. And the piece still appears to have an emotional kinship to Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy” in the sense that Kandinsky, the visual focus of the ‘pictures’ at this exhibition, as well as the artistic movement that he helped pioneer, suffered a similar fate under Soviet criticism as Shostakovich. Regardless, the piece received superb performances from Ms. Mearns, Sterling Hyltin (who danced the role previously performed by Wendy Whelan), Lauren Lovette (replacing Tiler Peck, who originated the role), Gretchen Smith, and Indiana Woodward (who danced the role originally performed by Abi Stafford), Tyler Angle, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Gonzalo Garcia, Joseph Gordon, and Mr. Ramasar. Ms. Lovette was more bubbly than my recollection of Ms. Peck in the role, which gave that role a slightly different dimension; Ms. Hyltin's duet with Mr. Angle in ‘The Old Castle’ segment was extraordinarily lovely; and Ms. Woodward, who I have previously highlighted, has an innate girl-next-door character that is particularly endearing, coupled with growing technical facility and feisty attack. Here I go again – in a way, and although they don’t look at all alike, she reminds me of Nichol Hlinka. And down the road…she could be a Juliet.

And speaking of Shostakovich, the program closed with Mr. Wheeldon’s “Mercurial Maneuvers,” choreographed to Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” - the same score that Ratmansky used for the final component of his Trilogy. The ballet, which premiered in 2000 when Wheeldon still danced with the company, is a delightful and interestingly crafted crowd-pleasing concluding piece, and marked a step in Wheeldon’s choreographic development that deserves more attention than I can give it here. It is a comprehensive, multi-faceted dance performed by a cast of thousands – well, a 12/4 corps and five featured dancers: Ms. Peck and Jared Angle, Anthony Huxley, Sara Adams and Kristen Segin. Mr. Huxley is particularly brilliant when he performs by himself, as he did here.

The special evening also included a ‘See the Music’ presentation that preceded “Mercurial Maneuvers,” with the extraordinary NYCB orchestra, led by Andrews Sill, providing entertaining insights into the Shostakovich composition.

Edited 2/7 to correct some stylistic errors and typos


Last edited by balletomaniac on Fri Feb 06, 2015 7:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:07 pm 
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In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Wednesday, February 4, 2015 premiere of Justin Peck's "Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes," Alexei Ratmansky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and Christopher Wheeldon's "Mercurial Manoeuvres."

NY Times

Apollinaire Scherr reviews "Rodeo" for the Financial Times.

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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Sat Feb 07, 2015 12:34 pm 
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In the Huffington Post, Phil Chan reviews Justin Peck's "Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes," Alexei Ratmansky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and Christopher Wheeldon's "Mercurial Manoeuvres."

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2015 9:09 pm 
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In the New York Times, Brian Seibert reviews "A Jerome Robbins Tribute" on Saturday, February 7, 2015, including Robbins' "Interplay" and "Glass Pieces" plus Peter Martins' "Hallelujah Junction" and Christopher Wheeldon's "A Place for Us."

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2015 2:18 am 
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Robert Greskovic reviews the first half of Winter Season for the Wall Street Journal.

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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 12:54 pm 
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In the New York Times, Gia Kourlas reviews the Friday, February 13, 2015 performance of Peter Martins' "Romeo + Juliet."

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 9:54 pm 
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New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

February 13, 2015
“Romeo + Juliet”

-- by Jerry Hochman

Peter Martins’s “Romeo + Juliet” premiered nearly eight years ago. In the interim, much has happened.

In 2007, Martins was criticized by many for casting his new production with young, relatively inexperienced dancers as the leads. To the contrary, I considered it an inspired, long overdue decision – in these particular roles, casting dancers who look age appropriate is critical for a successful, believable portrayal of the tragic couple. And Martins was proven right – Tiler Peck, Sterling Hyltin, both soloists then (Ms. Hyltin was promoted to principal during the run), and Erica Pereira, not yet even a member of the company, were excellent Juliets. The same holds true for the Romeos I saw, all then members of the corps: Robert Fairchild (promoted to soloist in mid-run), Sean Suozzi, and Allen Peiffer. (Kathryn Morgan and Seth Orza, also then members of the corps, whose performances I also saw, unfortunately are no longer with the company.) And of those I saw then, Ms. Pereira’s was the performance I enjoyed most; she brought unmatched youthful innocence and vigor to the role without being too much the ballerina.

The torch has long since been passed. Ms. Hyltin, Ms. Peck, and Mr. Fairchild are now principals; Ms. Pereira and Mr. Suozzi are now soloists. And new soloists and corps dancers capable of dancing the lead roles are knocking at the door. The company is awash in young talent, and is dancing at a level not seen since Martins first became Ballet Master in Chief. It’s been a remarkable rebirth. However, for whatever reason, Mr. Martins has decided to limit the casts for this year’s run of nine performances of “Romeo + Juliet” to only four casts, only one of which will have new leads. Although I look forward to the one new cast, this is a production that thrives on a degree of freshness that matches the freshness of this production’s spirit, which its original leads, however great their interpretations, have necessarily outgrown.

That observation aside, Martins’s ballet remains as perplexing as it was at its premiere. Some of it is good, and some of it is interesting and refreshingly different in conception from Macmillan’s (which remains the gold standard) or any of the other classic productions. Hearing the same lush Prokofiev score but seeing the same scenes from a different point of view can be eye opening. But much of it, choreographically, is painfully mediocre. And overall, the most painful artistic decision – understandable in theory, but detrimental in application – is converting both young lovers into pure innocents until secular, familial, and religious authorities, adults, screw things up. In particular, portraying Romeo as a poet/dreamer for the first half of the ballet converts him into a virtual nonentity, overshadowed by everyone else on stage. None of the Romeos I’ve seen, however well they inject a measure of emotional passion into the balcony scene and the final five scenes of the ballet, has been able to overcome this initial irrelevance.

Not surprisingly to a NYCB audience, this production is a stripped-down version of what ballet audiences usually see, with considerably less “theatre” and considerably more “ballet.” There are no superfluous (for ballet purposes) characters; no Rosalind, no harlots, no Lord and Lady Montague, no symbolic death figure to visualize impending doom, and no attempt to populate the town of Verona with a supporting cast that looks like they might have populated the town of Verona. That’s fine: Free the story from its theatrical constraints and make it more a ballet of the story of Juliet and her Romeo than ‘Romeo and Juliet, The Ballet’. And it moves at NYCB speed.

But there’s a limit to how much Martins could eliminate as surplusage and still be true to the essential theatricality of the story. So what he provides is a production that is more streamlined and more crisply ‘balletic’ than the often bloated versions produced by other companies, but which lacks the complexity and choreographic variety of other productions. It’s more than R&J-Lite, but less than a complete, fulfilling production requires. And the dreary, angst-riddled set and unimaginative costuming, both by Danish contemporary artist Per Kirkeby (who also created the unfortunate sets and costumes for Mr. Martins’s “Swan Lake”) don’t help. The multi-purpose set looks like it was done on the cheap; and, worse, becomes a moving distraction. For example, having the set move into position for the next scene before the balcony scene concludes borders on artistic felony.

The piece opens without the usual Prokofiev overture. Instead, Martins hits the audience with a clean and simple prologue consisting of the ominous cacophonous shriek of sound that in other productions precedes Act III, and a dreary tomb-like vision. Fine so far – a precursor of the tragedy to follow makes some sense.

A change in lighting, and the same tomb-like structure becomes a weathered stone façade in front of which Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio appear. The Mercutio and Benvolio we’re introduced to are the characters the audience is accustomed to seeing: boisterous, energetic, and somewhat irreverent. But Romeo is not that kind of guy. He’s not interested in horseplay. And since there’s no Rosalind, he doesn’t’ appear interested in women either. This Romeo is no Romeo. Instead, while his friends prance, Romeo stares mournfully, or wistfully, or perhaps hopefully into space, as if he were looking for or tracking some moving object. Why? Is he looking at the clouds in the sky? A sign? A swan? The audience doesn’t know why, but it knows early on that this Romeo is different. And in the crowd/fight scene that follows, Romeo is only tangentially interested. Even the estimable Robert Fairchild, the opening night Romeo, looked lost. An American in Verona.

This characterization of Romeo as an emotionally empty vessel continues through the first Act (with the exception of the balcony scene), until Romeo takes up sword against Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death. What happens then is no simple victory in a sword-fight – it looks like an execution. The contrast to the earlier Romeo is both breathtaking and jarring, and completely in keeping with Martins’s overall conception of innocence overcome by violence. But if that was Martins’s intent in initially creating a relative powder-puff as a Romeo, it’s a long way to go to make that kind of dramatic point.

The scene that follows, which introduces the remaining characters, is essentially similar to other versions, but misses the mark when it attempts to be different. The point of this comic vignette of a scene should be to demonstrate that Juliet is beginning the physical and emotional development that will transform her from being a hyperactive pre-pubescent teenager who plays with dolls (or in this case, with her nurse), to being a hyperactive pubescent teenager beginning to mature both physically and emotionally. This version muddies the message: Indeed, it’s not clear whether Juliet recognizes that she’s beginning to develop physically, or happily observes that she hasn’t yet begun to develop at all. The scene is cute to watch, but it makes no thematic sense.

Fortunately, after this disappointing beginning, the piece grows. Martins wisely eliminates the scene outside the Capulet manse showing the guests arriving to the Capulet soiree. Instead, he opens the third scene inside the ‘ballroom’, where the Capulets, including Juliet, greet the guests as they arrive. And instead of the dramatic spectacle in the Macmillan version of seeing the gathered guests begin the court dance en masse, in Martins’s version Lord and Lady Capulet begin dancing by themselves, are then joined by the other members of the family, and only thereafter by the remaining guests. It looks right. Indeed, nothing is more emblematic of Martins’s streamlined concept at its best than the simple pleasure of watching this scene evolve (even if one really needs to suspend disbelief when Romeo and friends crash the party and none of the other guests take notice). Seeing Mercutio’s bravura, stop-the-show solo played as appreciative entertainment for the guests rather than a tolerated annoyance is worth the price of admission. Repeating his prior portrayal, Daniel Ulbricht danced sensationally.

Although it would take too long to list them all here, there are many more examples of Martins’s conception when it works. Usually the Capulets are the bad guys. Here, it is the Montague clan that trespasses on a Capulet gathering in the scene that leads to Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths. Usually Tybalt is a drunken bully; here Tybalt (portrayed Friday night by Joaquin De Luz) is a petulant bully, with a hint of intelligence. Usually Paris is portrayed as an ardent and handsome suitor who doesn’t deserve his fate; here Paris is a creep. Usually Lord Capulet is merely lord of the manor; here Lord Capulet has a sense of honor, a sense of decency, and an awareness of his loss of control (over his wife; his daughter; his nobility) that adds a new dimension to the tragedy on the stage. And even though the corps dancing bears little relationship to townspeople kicking up their heels, or their fellow townspeople, in downtown Verona, the fact that the corps is really dancing parts of a ballet, rather than being either in-character with limited range of movement or perimeter decoration, is a welcome point of view. And perhaps the most intelligent and successful reimagining of all is Martins’s decision in the ‘Mandolin Dance’ to jettison the ‘wedding dancers’ found in other productions and replace them with street urchins (male students from the School of American Ballet) performing for tips in what passes for the center of town.

When I first saw Sterling Hyltin’s Juliet seven years ago, I felt that she was too much the ballerina. In the ensuing years, she’s added compelling acting talent to match her extraordinary innate lyricism and technical facility. She was a believable young girl in the opening scenes, an overwhelmed teenager in love, and a willful adolescent too trusting in her elders to act sensibly. Her presence carried the performance. And credit should also be given to Georgina Pazcoguin, who delivered a marvelous portrayal of the randy Nurse, and Silas Farley, in a noteworthy debut as the Prince of Verona, executed as if he really was the man in charge.

But as wonderful as Ms. Hyltin and Mr. Fairchild are in their roles, it would have been more exciting to have had the leads danced by fresher faces. Then again, Martins has demonstrated a particular willingness to give opportunities to budding ballerinas. In view of the near sold out houses for all the “Romeo + Juliet” performances, perhaps Martins is contemplating adding more new casts to a run next year.


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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2015 3:32 pm 
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New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

February 18, 2015
“Square Dance,” “Harlequinade”

-- by Jerry Hochman

This has been an astonishing New York City Ballet season. On Wednesday, the company presented a new program, its third evening devoted exclusively to Balanchine ballets, which featured two revivals: “Square Dance” and “Harlequinade.” If nothing else (and there’s a lot ‘else’), it further demonstrates the extraordinary, seemingly endless, NYCB legacy repertoire, and the equally extraordinary breadth of NYCB talent.

“Harlequinade” was the evening’s curiosity, particularly for me. It hasn’t been performed in ten years – and I’d never before seen it. It’s not a great ballet – but it’s not intended to be groundbreaking. What it is is great fun to watch.

First however, the great ballet. “Square Dance” may not be considered one of Balanchine’s masterpieces, but if that’s so, it’s only because it doesn’t knock you over the head. It’s more subtle. But it’s an extraordinary piece of work, particularly when led, as it was at this performance, by one of its rock solid principals, Ashley Bouder, and one of its brightest soloists, Anthony Huxley.

“Square Dance” is Balanchine’s ‘sort of’ tribute to the American square dance, with little of it having any apparent relationship to a square dance. Here Balanchine picks apart the square dance style and form, distilling it to its essence, puts it in a balletic context that couldn’t seem more antithetical to the freedom and frolic of a square dance, and choreographs it to music by Archangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi that couldn’t seem more antithetical to music that might usually accompany a square dance. But it all works. He found the spirit and the flexible formality common to both styles of dance, and both styles of music.

Perhaps to make the connection to a ‘square dance’ more comfortable, Balanchine originally placed musicians, and a caller to call the steps, on stage with the dancers when the piece premiered in 1957. That’s the way it was when I first saw it, and I also recall that the dancers – or at least the leads – wore ‘western-style’ costumes. In 1976, Balanchine eliminated these obvious square dance references, as if to strip the piece of impure, superfluous thoughts. I liked seeing the connection made more obvious (and particularly appreciated the caller), but that’s just Balanchine being Balanchine, and me being me - I also preferred the ‘birth’ scene that originally opened “Apollo,” and the sets and costumes for “Ballet Imperial” before it was purified to “Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.” So it goes.

But except for the addition of a male solo, the steps appear to be the same as they were in its initial incarnation. The connection to a ‘typical’ square dance may now be more difficult to see, but it’s there. There are the clear bows to your partner, the tougher to decipher do-si-dos and promenades, the inward and outward directions, and, in the final segment, the ‘squares’. But it’s largely camouflaged in the context of a contemporary ballet that looks as ‘Balanchinian’ as many of his other plotless, neo-classical pieces, with the 6/6 corps forming lines, or broken lines, behind the lead couple, or the leads individually leading same sex battalions.

Mostly, however, the two disparate forms are united by a common thread of exuberance, exemplified by the lead ballerina repeatedly extending one leg forward and outward in mid-jump, as if she was jumping for joy and pushing stagnant air out of her way in the process. (The move was repeated, to similar effect, in “Donizetti Variations.”) This is spirited dancing: nearly constant movement; nearly constant jumps – except when some or all members of the corps briefly watch others, as dancers in a square dance do.

Ashley Bouder doesn’t get enough respect. In a company that includes stars who have dominant stage personalities as well as extraordinary technical ability, she lacks that star quality, and sometimes one forgets just how good she is. She just goes out there every time and does everything right. Her performance in “Square Dance” is an example. It’s not a flashy role, but it’s a technical killer, and she nailed it - dancing impeccably, with both polish and flair.

Anthony Huxley, the lead male dancer, has a near flawless technique, including a razor-sharp line and remarkable ballon. Nothing is ever out of place. His challenge is partnering – not because he can’t partner (on the contrary, he partners well), but because he seems incapable of making any connection to his partner. She’s just another object in space that he happens to be dancing with. And he always seems deadly serious; rarely cracking a smile (which here he saved until the final segment). It’s the intensity of his concentration. But in “Square Dance” Huxley was in his element. There’s a lot of solo work, which he did brilliantly – even in the context of partnering. And Ms. Bouder is so secure that she could probably handle things on her own anyway.

“Harlequinade” premiered in 1965, more than seven years after “Square Dance,” but it looks like it’s from an earlier era – which is because it is. It’s Balanchine’s homage to Marius Petipa’s “Les Millions d’Harlequin,” which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1900, in which Balanchine danced as a student. Many find it dated – which of course it is: it’s supposed to be, and that’s part of the ballet’s charm. Contrary to popular rumor, I wasn’t around to see the Petipa production, but “Harlequinade,” which featured Patricia McBride as Columbine and Edward Vilella as Harlequin at its premiere, is a salute to that ballet, and to the Commedia dell’Arte tradition. As such, it is not a step-by-step reconstruction, but a faithful reconstruction of the spirit that reportedly was captured in Petipa’s original. And although it is not a comic ballet per se, it’s delightfully serious fun.

The story is simple: there’s a Columbine, in love, sort of, with a Harlequin, a sad-faced Pierrot, married to Pierrette and the servant of Columbine’s father, Cassandre. Forget what may be the case in other Commedia dell’Arte incarnations – in this ballet, Pierrot has no unrequited love for Columbine; he’s just a lovable, not too competent sad sack. The less prominent characters include Leandre, a wealthy suitor of Columbine; La Bonne Fee (good fairy); a group of hired comic thugs; strutting inebriated soldiers, and various and sundry friends. In Act I, Columbine’s father, afraid that his daughter will abscond with that vagrant and penniless Harlequin rather than marry his choice – the foppish but rich Leandre, orders Pierrot to guard the house so that Columbine can’t escape. But with Pierrette’s collusion, Columbine escapes to Harlequin…and La Bonne Fee gives Harlequin a gift of golden coins to make him acceptable to Cassandre. Act II is Columbine’s Wedding, complete with divertissements and pas de deux. Any resemblance to Petipa’s “Don Quixote” is probably not purely coincidental.

But this story is only the skeletal frame for the fun. The ballet is a Commedia dell’Arte ‘human fantasy’, complete with obviously artificial stage set, artificial-looking costumes, and artificial-looking, outsized, theatrics. Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s set and costumes are fabulous, creating a theater within a theater and staged characters who look like staged characters. But it all looks real – as real as anything else must have looked in the world of Commedia dell’Arte. And Balanchine weaves the ballet so skillfully that its innocence, cardboard characters, and apparent (though deceptive) choreographic simplicity is a virtue.

Act II, which I expected to be dull, turned out to be wonderful. One of Balanchine’s many skills was recognizing the importance of putting young student dancers into company productions to give them invaluable stage experience – but also to give friends and relatives the opportunity to see them…and buy tickets. The kids from the School of American Ballet – 32 of them, including several I recognized from their performances in The Nutcracker – danced beautifully, and with exceptional (and appropriate) joy.

Tiler Peck was a delicious Columbine. One of her skills – in addition to her obvious technical facility – is her ability not only to act a character, but to play with it. And just as Columbine teases and manipulates and plays with Harlequin and her father, Ms. Peck teases and manipulates and plays with the audience – with an unstated wink and nod throughout. What a Kitri she’d be! Joaquin De Luz’s Harlequin was more problematic. He performed well – except for pushing the turns too far in Act II. But his demeanor had an quality to it that made me understand Cassandre’s concern – it wasn’t the money (though of course it was in the story), it’s that Harlequin is phony as a 5000 lire bill. Perhaps this is what Balanchine intended, but I suspect that Vilella’s portrayal would have been less edgy.

Daniel Ulbricht and Erica Pereira were superb as Pierrot and Pierrette. For Ulbricht, Pierrot is a different kind of character – sad, a loser, relatively expressionless. Ulbricht had to mask his effusive personality completely to become Pierrot – and he did. His was a marvelous, delicate, sincere portrayal. Ms. Pereira played her stage self – she dances Pierrette in almost anything she does. But that didn’t make her portrayal any less good. And as I’ve observed previously, the two of them have an unusual stage chemistry together that works perfectly here – she’s the only NYCB dancer I’ve seen who can pretend not to be in the least bit interested in what Ulbricht is doing, which isn’t easy to pull off since Ulbricht is so dominating a stage presence even where, as here, he’s trying not to be.

In other lead roles, Lauren King was a classy lead ‘Alouettes’ in Act II, David Protas was fine as Kitri’s, I mean Columbine’s, father, and Emilie Gerrity, one of NYCB’s rising corps dancers, seemed understandably nervous at first, but came through with a precise and delightfully executed La Bonne Fee. Clotilde Otranto led the NYCB orchestra to its usual exuberance, with her usual flair.


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 Post subject: Re: New York City Ballet -- 2014-2015 Schedule
PostPosted: Sat Feb 21, 2015 6:35 pm 
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New York City Ballet
February 21, 2001 (M)
Romeo + Juliet

Lauren Lovette/Chase Finlay debuts


This afternoon marked Lauren Lovette debut as Juliet.

That she was an extraordinary Juliet does not surprise me, since I saw it in her three years ago. Nothing that Ms. Lovette does on stage surprises me anymore. But it continues to amaze me that in this, her first full length role, as in most of her other debuts, her performance was the equivalent of those who have danced the role for years, with texture and nuance far beyond her years. She made the choreography in Peter Martins's production look better than it is.

It was also Chase Finlay’s debut as Romeo. He can look wooden at times, but not here. His was the best of the Romeos I’ve seen (the only one, to my knowledge, I have not seen is Zachary Catazaro, who debuted in the role last night opposite Tiler Peck). And Lovette and Finlay together are as wonderful as one would expect them to be. Seamless.

Also debuting were Harrison Ball as Mercutio, Harrison Coll as Benvolio, and Sebastian Villarini-Velez as Tybalt. All three did excellent work.

I’ll prepare a formal review soon, but for those interested, it is worth grabbing a ticket for tomorrow’s matinee, if any are left, when she and the rest of today’s cast are scheduled again. This is a magical performance, one not to be missed.


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