NYCB Shows Off Its Strengths

After a few weeks of hiatus, it was back to the New York City Ballet last night, and as usual, they did not disappoint. Their casting was strong from the last line of the corps de ballet to all the soloists, the program was diverse and artistically gratifying, and even the band sounded good. What's not to like?

The evening started out with Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia in Donizetti Variations. I had seen this ballet earlier with Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz, two excellent technicians who for some reason never fail to bore me. Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia made me see the ballet in a whole new way -- it seemed more like a romantic pas de deux, rather than a typical Balanchine exercise in allegro dancing. I loved the series of supported pirouette followed by a supported air turn in their pas de deux. Peck has a way of simply floating across the stage that suggests the giddiness of someone in love. Particularly impressive were her circle of pique turns, which she slowly accelerated and also, as I said, pushed off with her legs in such a way that made it seem like her feet never touched the ground. Garcia was both an excellent partner and also excellent in his solo variations, with its series of fast pirouettes.

Everyone that I spoke to in the audience raved about Russian Seasons, a ballet I had not seen before last night. So the curtain came up, the violin started wailing, the soprano (Irina Rindzuner) started singing, and the 12 men and women stomped onstage and my first thought was "Les Noces." The second thought was "Dances at a Gathering." The score by Leonid Desyatnikov at times echoes the hymns of the Russian Orthodox Church, the choreography is folk-inflected. I've seen a lot of Ratmansky's choreography and one thing I've noticed is that, whether it's Nutcracker or Bright Stream, Ratmansky likes to punctuate the downbeat of the music. Dancers land from a jump with a hard thud, their arms will swing downwards, their knees and torsos are often even made to bend and curve as if they were humpbacked or an animal. Sometimes the dancers become almost like a percussive instrument, as they all are instructed to land with a thud and pound the stage. A scene (or ballet) can end with everyone lying on the floor. In Nutcracker children stomped their feet on the downbeat, in Little Humpbacked Horse the natural jumper Vladimir Shkyarov repeatedly soared in the air before having to land hard on the downbeat of the music. This aspect of Ratmansky's style is not good or bad, but it does set him apart from, say, Balanchine, who liked devices like lifts or developpes a la seconde as the music rises. This particular choreographic preference of Ratmansky's also makes his ballets stubbornly earth-bound. They're often entertaining, whimsical, charming, but it stops there -- they don't take flight into the sublime.

Anyway my first impression of Russian Seasons was that it's a good middle-bill ballet. Not bad enough for me to flee the theater before the final ballet on the bill, but not really strong enough to start or end an evening either. The ballet as I said favors a lot of folk-like pounding on the downbeat. There were some striking images -- the most memorable one was that of the Green Girl (Abi Stafford) seemingly walking across the stage, but really she's walking on the knees of her three partners (Andrew Veyette, Adrian Danchig-Waring, and Christian Tworyzanski). The entire cast of 12 was excellent -- standouts were Robert Fairchild as the Man in Orange, Rebecca Krohn as his eventual bride, Georgina Pazcoguin as the Woman in Red, and even the often dull Abi Stafford as the Woman in Green. Eh, I don't know. I feel like I'm supposed to like this ballet more than I actually did.

The evening ended with a stunner -- Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. The ballet was originally of course known as Theme and Variations, but in 1970 Balanchine decided to choreograph the entire Tchaikovsky score, with T&V being the grand finale. The first three movements contrast strongly with the tutu-and-tiara final movement -- in the elegie, waltz, and scherzo, the stage is flooded with women in long dresses and long flowing hair. It's all very over-the-top Romantic, but it kind of isn't Balanchine's best choreography -- too many swoony lunges and dramatic running around the stage for my tastes. It's an example of how strong the NYCB's current roster of women is that I was riveted from start to finish, rather than just waiting for T&V. Teresa Reichlen (Elegie), Rebecca Krohn (Valse Melancholie), and Erica Pereira (Scherzo) all gave outstanding performances, and all three ladies were making their debuts in their roles! I particularly loved Rebecca Krohn's soft, understated style and lovely, pliant back. I wish they'd get rid of that scrim for the first three movements -- depending on where you're sitting in the house, sometimes the dancers look blurry behind the scrim.

The Theme and Variations did not disappoint either. I love this ballet -- my favorite moment is when I the lead ballerina stands center stage, her arms linked to the corps de ballet in a line. It looks like a queen with her attendants. The corps de ballet looked just beautiful under the chandeliers in their tutus and tiaras, and as the princess Ashley Bouder had excellent technique, really perfect for this role. Her balances were solid, her pirouettes were impeccable (no falls tonight), the confidence with which she beams at the audience a joy to watch. Andrew Veyette was an understated, although decent partner. That being said, he at times looked tired, and I don't blame him since he's been dancing almost every night this Winter Season. If there's a chink in the NYCB's armor right now it's that its male roster is not nearly as strong as its female crew.

I will probably be back at the NYCB on Sunday to see Tiler Peck in T&V. Ah, what good memories this season has created.


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