Jan. 3rd performance (Sofiane Sylve's debut)
It might have been 2003, but on January 3rd the Christmas spirit continued at the New York State Theatre with a performance of Balanchine's classic "The Nutcracker". This performance marked the New York City Ballet and American debut of ballerina Sofiane Sylve. Born in France, Sylve is from the Dutch National Ballet, and will be dancing with the New York City Ballet during the winter season.
In the first act of Balanchine's "Nutcracker", the well rehearsed children from the School of American Ballet are always the real stars. Shimon Ito was a poised Nutcracker Prince, and his younger brother Amon was delightfully impish Fritz. As Marie Meiying Thai was graceful and in the battle scene, a great aim with her slipper.
James Fayette's Drosselmeier had an air of mystery mixed with gentle playfulness. He was tender with the children, and not above joining in for a few steps with the dancing, but yet quite spooky atop the chiming grandfather clock.
Unfortunately, not all of Drosselmeier's toys were as magical as their creator. Alina Dronova & Sarah Ricard's Harlequin and Columbine were loosely danced, lacking the stiffness that transforms dancers into mechanical toys. In contrast, Daniel Ulbricht, with his usual power and crispness, brought the soldier doll to life. Even when he lost his balance while spinning down to the final kneeling pose and had to put a hand down, Ulbricht stayed in character. Instead of righting himself, he froze with hand on the ground, as if a toy soldier that has tipped over.
Though the battle scene was still delightful, the strain and tedium of doing more than forty performances of "The Nutcracker" was visible in the more earthbound performances of the older mice. These mice, though obviously enjoying the chaos of the fight, did not jump and leap as much as their counterparts two week ago.
This mental and physical weariness was also apparent in the lackluster Dance of the Snowflakes. Dancing on and in the "snow" is not an easy feat, especially forty performances into the season, but in this performance the snowflakes were rather scattered, frequently straying out of the neat lines. A lack of harmony and flow in the arm movements also detracted from the performance. However, the overall effect was still magical, it is hard to be too harsh at the end of the Nutcracker season.
The second act opened with the little angels, and Sofiane Sylve's first appearance on the New York State Theatre stage. Sylve is a dark haired, solidly built dancer of medium height (even on point, still much shorter than Charles Askegard), with exceptional power and turning ability. Though graceful in guiding the little angels across the stage, she appeared more focused more on her own dancing. She likely has not had much experience in dancing with children before, and probably did not have much to time to rehearse with the young dancers. In a charming moment, she appeared to surprise and delight Meiying Thai by greeting Marie in the Land of Sweets European style, with a kiss on each cheek.
Among the divertissements, Adam Hendrickson, filling in for Antonio Carmena in Tea, showed off his powerful jumps, but his splits lacked a full one hundred eighty degree extension. Replacing Jennifer Tinsley, Carrie Lee Riggins was delicately crisp as the lead Marzipan Shepherdess. Most notable though, was Jonathan Stafford's free spirited Mother Ginger. Stafford colored his performance with some unique and amusing details, including an amusingly shocked expression at his (her?) appearance in the mirror.
Alexandra Ansanelli replaced Miranda Weese as the the Dewdrop Fairy, and was magnificent in her speed and precision. As a Dewdrop should, Ansanelli sparkled. Sofiane Sylve and Charles Askegard brought the evening to a triumphant conclusion with a spectacular pas de deux. Though a slightly tentative in some of the tricky supported balances (and clearly not comfortable with the supported arabasque on the moving strip), Sylve was a powerful and polished Sugarplum Fairy. She held nothing back, blazing across the stage in her diagonal of pirouettes & pique turns and showing no hesitation in the jumps to Mr. Askegard's shoulder. With her quickness and precision, Sylve seems to be will suited to NYCB's repertoire and one looks forward to seeing her in the other ballets. Askegard was a solid and very attentive partner, and with his elegant line, wonderful to watch in the turns in second.
The evening ended with a resounding applause and a bouquet of flowers to mark Ms. Sylve's debut.