All Balanchine

The New York City Ballet ended its winter season with an all-Balanchine program that once again showcased the company's strengths (depth in casting, discipline within the corps de ballet, strength of repertoire). It was a great afternoon at the ballet, a strong end to a strong season. The triple bill of Agon, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3 was really a win-win for everyone: the audiences, the dancers, ballet itself. These wonderful triple bills of Balanchine make me want to scream at the NYCB programming department: "Please, sir, I want some more." No more "new Millepied ballets" or Seven Deadly Sins.

 The opening ballet Agon has been done so many times, and to be honest I sort of thought, "Do I need to see Wendy in Agon again?" But once the ballet begun, those doubts were erased. The ballet remains provocative, fascinating, the sort of work where every time I see it there's something else new that I notice. This time, I noticed how often Balanchine uses the image of a woman in an extreme attitude, her legs wrapped around the man's body. It's a rather sexually suggestive pose, and it's compounded by the other image Balanchine often uses in Agon, which is the man lying prone on the floor, while the woman twists above him. Yet none of it is vulgar, it's all done with a clinical detachment. It resembles an animalistic mating ritual.

The cast was a familiar one -- Andrew Veyette, Rebecca Krohn and Ashley Laracey in the Sarabande, Teresa Reichlen, Daniel Applebaum (subbing for Craig Hall) and Adrian-Danchig-Waring in the Bransle Double, and Wendy Whelan and Sebastian Marcovici in the main pas de deux. This is one of Wendy's signature roles with good reason -- her taut, lean, angular frame seems designed for this ballet, and the tenseness in her upper body that can be distracting in the tutu ballets works very well for Agon. I would like to see Teresa Reichlen one day graduate into Wendy's role -- she has the coolness, the long, taut body line.

I had never seen Stravinsky Violin Concerto before today. What a delightful work! In many ways it resembles Agon -- the jagged Stravinsky score, the black leotards, the use of the same body positions (the leg wrap, the man lying on the floor while partnering the woman), but the mood of the ballet is lighter, less like a mating ritual and more playful. While I loved the two main pas de deux (the first one danced by Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramanasar, the second by Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild), my favorite part of the ballet was the surprisingly joyful, celebratory finale. Someone at intermission said it resembled folk dancing, and I couldn't help but compare Balanchine's version of folk dancing (so sweet, with everyone in a "let's dance" mood) to Ratmansky's ponderous, excessive-use-of-the-downbeat Russian Seasons.

 The final ballet on the bill was the Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. I saw the exact same ballet the other night but with a different cast -- it's a testament to the strength of the company that they can get two equally great casts for the same ballet. I still think the first three movements of the Suite aren't the most inspired choreography -- too much swooning, lunging, and random running around in circles. In the Elegie movement Sara Mearns was her usual extravagant, passionate self. The swoony nature of the choreography suits Mearns. I also liked Janie Taylor in the Valse. But what I was really waiting for was of course the Theme and Variations movement, and seeing Tiler Peck in particular. Her partner was Gonzalo Garcia and I hate to criticize a dancer after a long and strenuous winter season but if there was a weak link in the cast it was Garcia. The role calls for a princely, effortless deportment, and Garcia frankly looked tired and out of gas. In the variation where he does a series of double turns in the air followed by a pirouette, he seemed to be getting through them on sheer will. His arms collapsed, he started to slump his back, and it was hard to watch. Tiler Peck was of course radiant. I saw Ashley Bouder in T&V a few nights ago, and it's hard to choose between Peck and Bouder -- both were great. Ashley has the superhuman ability to balance on pointe like a rock, and hold that pose for an eternity. Peck doesn't have Bouder's balancing abilities, but she has better extension, and a more lyrical, graceful style. I loved them both. The ending, with the corps de ballet and the lead dancers triumphantly marching across the stage, was so uplifting, and a wonderful end to a great season.


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