NYCB Winter Season Opening Night

The NYCB's winter season kicked off tonight with an all-Balanchine program that, while maybe not the most exciting, was a good reminder of all the reasons to love the company. Four Balanchine ballets was a nice way to start the season, even if the first half of the program lacked a bit of excitement. The program got better as it went along, and it ended with a truly spectacular performance of Who Cares? It's so good to have ballet season back in NYC that isn't the Nutcracker, however much I might love Nutcracker.

 The start to the program was Balanchine's short, somewhat creepy ballet The Steadfast Tin Soldier. It's based on a Hans Cristian Andersen fairy tale and it of course ends on a grim note, as Andersen's fairy tales are wont to do. The choreography is not Balanchine's most inspired -- I think it's meant to convey the inherent awkwardness when a paper doll and a toy soldier dance together, but it at times looks like a caricature of all the stiff pas de deux poses. For more inspired "doll" choreography, watch Balanchine's Coppelia. Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbricht gave it their best, but this was a somewhat weak start to the evening.

Le Tombeau de Couperin was next on the program, and it was danced with an easygoing finesse that belied the ballet's often tricky partnering. The dancers on the program are only identified as "Left Quadrille" and "Right Quadrille" and their movements at times resembled formal court dances, and at other times the more informal social dances. This was my first time seeing the work and I have a feeling that, like most Balanchine works, this is one ballet that needs multiple views for me to absorb the delicate beauty of the choreography. It has some Balanchine trademarks, like the men and women linking hands and arms, and sometimes the women fall with a lazy grace into the mens' arms, other times they fly across the stage in quick diagonals. The corps de ballet truly deserve a hand of applause for conquering opening night nerves and dancing this little gem so beautifully.

Next was the ballet gala staple Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette floated onstage, and it looked like it was going to be great. But then ... well, at the beginning of Ashley Bouder's variation, before she danced a step, she fell flat on her butt. No other way to put it, it looked as if she just slipped and fell. Bouder is an avid tweeter (and from the sounds of her tweets, a funny, opinionated, politically liberal, socially conscious young lady) and afterwards she tweeted with good humor "Well, I guess it wouldn't be a NYCB season without a Bouder fall. Your welcome. Let the season begin!" But she got up, and danced the rest of the pas de deux without any hesitation, and got a big hand of applause. Veyette's variation probably could have been danced with more bravura by another male dancer, but the final leaping fishdives were executed with a beautiful snap, so bravo to both Ashley for her gutsiness and Andrew Veyette for his considerate partnering.

Evening ended with Who Cares? The ballet was choreographed in 1970, and its title is commonly thought to refer to Suzanne Farrell's acrimonious departure from the company earlier that year. (For a particularly unflattering description of Farrell's behavior during the split, read d'Amboise's memoir I Was a Dancer.) This little anecdote says a lot about Balanchine's famously passive-aggressive personality, but even more so, the whole ballet seems like a subtle but strong statement to Farrell. It's the kind of all-American, happy, jazzy spectacular that the moody, introspective Farrell never could have pulled off, and it's one ballet that she didn't dance even after she returned to the company in 1975.

The ballet's music is orchestrated Gershwin standards. There's a large cast of corps de ballet, but the heart of the ballet is three pas de deux between a male (originated by Jacques d'Amboise, danced tonight by Robert Fairchild, who was both handsome and elegant and a great partner) and three different females. The most famous of the pas de deux is set to "The Man I Love," and Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild were simply stunning tonight. The pas de deux reminds me of an Astaire-Rogers dance in structure, but without the competitive streak that marked many Astaire-Rogers set pieces. It has Balanchine's inimitable style. I would say more except Balanchine's style can be described with one word: beautiful. Peck and Fairchild seemed like soulmates, their dance had a mesmerizing intimacy. Teresa Reichlen (in "Embraceable You") is a bit too tall for Fairchild, but their duet was lovely nonetheless. The one disappointment was Sara Mearns (who danced "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" and "Who Cares?"). I usually like Mearns in almost everything she dances, but she seemed to be attacking the piece like a bull in a china shop, instead of giving off a kind of effortless sass and swagger than I think is more appropriate for the role. Her footwork was labored, almost unattractive as she stomped out the steps. I'm just glad I'm seeing Mearns onstage at all, since she cancelled several Nutcracker performances and I was worried she was injured again.

This promises to be a good winter season. There are repeats of Ocean's Kingdom and Seven Deadly Sins that I will avoid, as well as the dreaded Romeo + Juliet, but lots of "bread and butter" Balanchine/Robbins programs that ensure that for January and February, I'll be spending many evenings at the ballet.


  1. I really liked tonight's program - Ashley Bouder incredible, I love that you don't stop believing for a second even when she slips; and Tiler Peck too on another level. Also thought the music for the first two ballets went well together (maybe a French thing?) Interesting to hear more story behind Who Cares?' conception. Must get round to reading Jacques D'Amboise's book, but working through a slight backlog...

    1. Cat, d'Amboise's book is well worth reading. I have a review of it on my blog somewhere. But it's a great read. Lots of gossip too.

  2. Enjoyed your review, especially your Bouder quotes. Tiler - absolutely astounding. Fairchild suave, handsome, virile, and smooth. Not a ballet for Sara. Seeing Tombeau from the 4th ring made me realize what I'd missed by usually seeing it from an orchestra seat. Must be seen from "on top."

    BTW (and maybe it was a typo) but Ginger's last name is Rogers (like in Roy), not Rodgers (like in Richard.)

  3. Thanks Carl! I have some talents. Spelling is not one of them, lol. I agree that Fairchild and Peck were absolutely out of this world.

  4. As if to prove the point that Balanchine choregraphed Who Cares? as something totally unsuitable for Farrell, Farrell DID dance it. Only once, to the best of my knowledge, and I was there. She did the McBride role, and it was a complete, disastrous mis-fit.

  5. I did not know that! I really could not imagine her in Who Cares? at all.


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