New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
February 25, 27,2014
“La Stravaganza,” “A Place for Us,” “Todo Buenos Aires’
“Bal de Couture,” “DGV: Danse a Grand Vitesse,” “The Four Seasons”
-- by Jerry Hochman
Much of New York City Ballet’s 2013-2014 season reflects a ‘holding pattern’ consisting of less than the usual quota of masterpieces, and more than the usual quota of repeated programs. Nevertheless, NYCB’s final winter season week featured more memorable performances from its outstanding dancers, including from its current crop of super-soloists.
In summary, last week’s performances provided my first viewings of Angelin Preljocaj’s “La Stravaganza,” and Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins’s “Todo Buenos Aires;” my first view in decades of George Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” and “La Valse;” and repeat views, with different casts, of Liam Scarlett’s “Acheron,” Christopher Wheeldon’s “DGV: Danse a Grand Vitesse,” and Robbins’s “The Four Seasons” and “Afternoon of a Faun.” Mr. Wheeldon’s “A Place For Us” and Mr. Martins’s “Bal de Couture” were also reprised, with casts essentially identical to those in performances previously reviewed. This review focuses on the programs on Tuesday and Thursday of last week.
‘La Stravaganza’, translated from the Italian, means ‘extravagance’. But it can also mean ‘craziness’ or ‘weirdness’ or similar, depending on the context. To me, Mr. Preljocaj’s “La Stravaganza,” which premiered in 1997, fits neatly within the latter definition. Like “Spectral Evidence,” Mr. Preljocaj’s second piece for NYCB which premiered last season, “La Stravaganza” is a ‘concept’ dance. But unlike “Spectral Evidence,” it doesn’t work nearly as well because it doesn’t say anything or have a point of view – it’s just the visualization of a very weird idea.
Mr. Preljocaj here imagines a culture clash between contemporary dancers and dancers from the 17th Century Baroque era. But he gives this idea, which itself is a reality twist, another twist – he also envisions the contemporary dancers moving to Baroque music (selections from Vivaldi), and the Baroque dancers moving to contemporary electronic music (from a potpourri of sources). And onto this twist he concocts a ballet in which never the twain shall meet – except at times they do (whether in a dream within the fantasy ballet or in real ‘merged’ time is not clear), and at times one of the contemporary dancers is drawn to the Baroque dancers (or maybe to the electronic music to which the Baroque dancers are moving) but is forbidden to switch sides. Maybe the twain are never supposed to really meet. Or maybe she’ll be vaporized if she really time travels. Or maybe she’ll just contaminate the contemporary flock with Baroquian, or electronic, parasites. Whatever, it’s strange and somewhat intellectually tickling, and at times lovely to watch, but nothing more.
Weird concepts are fine, and oftentimes have been translated into effective dances. [Indeed, much of ballet can be seen as a visualization of strange concepts.] But the double-twist of the idea, and the incomplete references to a potential reconciliation between the cultures, renders any ‘read’ on what Mr. Preljocaj is trying to say impossible. And that’s fine – but it could have been so much better. At Tuesday’s performance, Sara Adams, Brittany Pollack, Gretchen Smith, Devin Alberda, Joseph Gordon, and Allen Peiffer were the ‘contemporary’ dancers, and Emilie Gerrity, Clair Kretzschmar, Lydia Wellington, Daniel Applebaum, Craig Hall, and Sean Suozzi were the Baroque-era dancers.
On the other hand, Mr. Martins’s “Todo Buenos Aires,” also on Tuesday’s program, is considerably less complicated, and considerably more successful. The piece, which originally premiered in 2000, was revised to its current, expanded, form in 2005 (led at that re-premiere by guest artist Julio Bocca). It’s all Argentine tango converted into ballet steps and a relatively standard ballet form of presentation. That is, although the emphasis throughout is on the tango’s emotional passion and aggressive, testosterone-driven action, this sense is communicated through the music (five different tangos by 20th Century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, who expanded and revolutionized the tango by adding jazz and classical elements, resulting in a style known as ‘nuevo tango’) with ballet steps, and in the context of a ballet divided into discrete segments into which one group of dancers or another dance (as pairs, trios, all male, or solo). It’s not the tango, but it is. And it’s not ballet, but it is. It’s tango-infused ballet. But whatever it is, it works – perhaps not with the finesse evident in Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” (with respect to ‘Western’ American dance forms and music), but it’s very entertaining. Maria Kowroski and Ashley Laracey, smoldering appropriately and matching each other in intense aloofness, shuttled between their respective partners Jared Angle and Robert Fairchild, and Adrian Danchig-Waring and Amar Ramasar. And Joaquin De Luz, whether dancing solo or leading others, tied the piece together with extraordinary vitality and pizazz. The music, which was arranged by Ron Wasserman, was played with consummate skill by Kurt Nikkanen on violin, Steven Hartman on clarinets, Mr. Wasserman on double bass, Nancy McDill on piano, and JP Jofre on the essential instrument of the tango, the bandoneon.
Tuesday’s program was completed by “A Place For Us,” performed by Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. It premiered last spring with the same leads, and, though superbly executed, is not one of Mr. Wheeldon’s best efforts. It’s intended as a ‘thank you’ to Mr. Robbins, and structurally resembles ‘Other Dances’. But to me the music chosen (by Andre Previn and Leonard Bernstein) doesn’t have the compositional substance to which dances, even brief duets, would naturally adhere the way the Robbins dances adhered naturally to the Chopin music he used. The music fades into the background (despite being excellently played by Steven Hartman on clarinet and Ms. McDill on piano), and the dances go with them. It also suffers from a particularly unfortunate title which, together with the tributee, evokes memories of “West Side Story” that the piece does not, and apparently was not intended to, fulfill.
On the other hand, ‘DGV’ is a memorable ballet, one of Mr. Wheeldon’s finest efforts, and one that is thrilling to watch from beginning to end. On Thursday, and except for a repeat performance by Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia as the second couple, the cast was different from that seen several weeks earlier.
As the initial featured couple, Sara Mearns and Robert Fairchild assumed the roles that I previously saw danced by Teresa Reichlen and Craig Hall. Although I preferred what I saw as Ms. Reichlen’s more crisp, less balletic, execution, Ms. Mearns, with Mr. Fairchild’s attentive partnering, performed the role flawlessly.
Equally fine was Brittany Pollack’s execution of the role I saw performed earlier this season by Ms. Peck. Ms. Pollack’s performance (partnered by Mr. Ramasar) represented another strong outing from this ballerina. Although she appears taller than one of NYCB’s ballerina speed demons, she nevertheless seems to thrive on speed, dancing with engaging abandon to accompany her secure technique. I haven’t seen her misfire in any role in which she’s been cast since she was promoted to soloist last year.
But the most significant cast change was evident in Lauren Lovette’s performance in the role danced previously this season by Ms. Kowroski.
I was unable to see Ms. Lovette’s ‘DGV’ debut two weeks ago, but word travels fast. During intermission at the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s opening night, a friend with whom I was speaking received a text from another friend who was attending NYCB that night. He wrote excitedly that Ms. Lovette had just killed the role. [For those uninitiated in ballet-goer jargon, that means she nailed it – only more emphatically.]
Ms. Lovette, who seems to generate excited ‘buzz’ in whatever she dances, ‘killed it’ at Thursday’s performance as well.
This role in ‘DGV’ is almost painful to watch. It requires meticulous execution, but because it’s unveiled slowly, it also looks particularly tortured and difficult to perform. There’s no margin for error; nothing that the ballerina’s body does can be hidden from view. It’s either danced perfectly, or it’s not. With her extraordinary extensions and remarkable control, Ms. Kowroski dances the role perfectly; seemingly no one could dance it better. And perhaps no one can. But based on Thursday’s performance Ms. Lovette already dances it extraordinarily well herself, and brings with it a personal style that makes her performance of it yet another particular and individual triumph.
Ms. Lovette is several inches shorter than Ms. Kowroski, but somehow her performance delivered the same physical impact. The legs couldn’t be as long – but they looked as long. And, aided by superb partnering by Mr. Hall, her control appeared equally remarkable. But more importantly, she added a personal quality that makes her different, and makes each of her performances different, here converting what usually is a relatively cold and mechanical role where technique is everything into a performance to appreciate based on watching her dance it, rather than ‘just’ by watching a ballerina execute the steps to perfection. In the middle of this demanding role, which looked excruciating, Ms. Lovette broke the automaton barrier and smiled, either very pleased with her performance, Mr. Hall’s partnering, that she had gotten through the toughest part, or, most likely, because that’s just her infectious personality. It made her portrayal human, and warm, and wonderful. And it prompted a text from me to a friend that I might be a little late leaving the theater in order to gather my socks – which Ms. Lovette had knocked off.
When she danced her first featured role in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” three years ago, I observed that Ms. Lovette appeared small and pretty enough to be a cute soubrette, but also to be talented enough to be a lot more than that. For Ms. Lovette to have excelled in her debuts in both this role and that of the ‘girl in apricot’ in “Dances at a Gathering” a few weeks earlier fulfills exactly what I saw then, perhaps more than any of the other roles that she has successfully assayed to date – her facility in performing roles that require dramatically different features of character as well as choreographic requirements. It also is indicative of, and demonstrative of, the extraordinary range required in a principal dancer.
The final piece on Thursday’s program was “The Four Seasons,” a crowd-pleasing piece that at the same time skewers and enhances, and perfectly visualizes, Vivaldi’s score. I’ve seen Erica Pereira dance the lead in ‘Winter’ previously, and her natural effervescence continues to make her rendition particularly special.
I’d not seen Sterling Hyltin previously dance the lead in ‘Spring,’ so her portrayal was new to me – but it proved no different from her execution in each of her other roles that I’ve seen. I’ve written before that Ms. Hyltin adds a measure of individuality and intelligence to whatever she does – she thinks through every step and gesture. At this level, of course, that’s not exceptional – every dancer does that. But Ms. Hyltin doesn’t think it through just to get the performance technically ‘right’, but to get it to conform to her independent idea of what the role should look like. She doesn’t reinvent steps, she just executes them in a way that gives the role added meaning. So she did (abetted by Tyler Angle) in her role in ‘Spring’. The position of her head, hands and arms when she responded to some musical or visual stimulus communicated spring ‘awakening’ as much as anything in the steps, the music, or the set. This is not one of the more complex roles in her repertoire, but that doesn’t seem to matter – as Ms. Hyltin often does, she made this role look just a little different, and made it look just a little better.
The portrayals of ‘Summer’ and ‘Fall’, by, respectively, Ms. Reichlen and Mr. Danchig-Waring, and Ms. Peck and Mr. Veyette, were fine performances, matching the excellent portrayals I had seen in these roles two weeks earlier. However, as the ‘puckish’ solo male lead in ‘Fall,’ Antonio Carmena was fine, but could not match the ebullience or crisp execution of Daniel Ulbricht in the same role.
A repeat performance of “Bal de Couture” completed Thursday’s program, and was notable for the return of Chase Finlay, who partnered Ms. Lovette, following a lengthy period of injury recuperation. His return, and their appearance on stage together, reawakened images in my mind of Farrell/Martins (which I’ve mentioned previously), and, even in a lackluster ballet, illuminates NYCB’s future. And it makes the imminent disappearance of the JR Art Installation on the Koch Theater’s mezzanine floor, arguably this season’s greatest new artistic success, a little less difficult to take.
corrected multiple times on 3/4 for spelling errors
Last edited by balletomaniac on Wed Mar 05, 2014 7:42 am, edited 6 times in total.