Lesser Known Balanchine at the NYCB

Balanchine choreographed so much over such a long span of time that it's impossible for even the most hardcore Mr. B disciple to have "seen it all." And truth be told, some of his works are probably not worth reviving. PAMTGG is maybe the most famous example of a famous Balanchine turkey. But sometimes, a "rare" Balanchine work will be revived, and the reaction will be, "Why isn't this done all the time? It's beautiful!" Such was the case last night when the NYCB presented a bill of Scherzo a la Russe, Divertimento from "Le Baiser de la Fee," Danses Concertantes, and finally the well-known Firebird.

Scherzo a la Russe is a kind of throwaway charmer, it was made in 1972 for the Stravinsky Festival and it was danced by the SAB students. It's really sort of a folk dance in pointe shoes. Short, sweet, to the point, and perfect to showcase the SAB students. The real revelations of the night, however, were Divertimento from "Le Baiser de la Fee" and Danses Concertantes. 

Divertimento from "Le Baiser de la Fee" can only be called an unknown Balanchine gem. The score by Stravinsky is haunting, it echoes Tchaikovsky with its weeping strings. At the heart of the ballet is a dreamy and tender pas de deux (Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia). The pas de deux is pure Balanchine -- full of swoony "carry" lifts, deep penchees, and an intimate final pose of the woman resting blissfully on the man's shoulders. But the variations resemble Petipa. The male and female variations are full of tricky turns and jumps. The ballet ends with a haunting image -- the man and woman are locked in a tight embrace, until one by one, members of the corps de ballet step between them. They open their arms to let the corps member step through, before locking arms again. But the onslaught of the corps is too much, and soon the male and female are separated and encircled by the corps in a scene that resembles Giselle's Wilis. The ballet ends with the male and female walking backwards, heads up, in separate directions, perhaps barely aware of each others' presences. Lovely, just lovely. Tiler Peck was as usual beautiful and lyrical in the central female role. Gonzalo Garcia, however, had some problems in his variation. I kind of don't really like the trajectory his dancing is taking -- it seems like every time I see him, he has more problems and is getting sloppier. However I noticed that many of his landings were extremely careful, so I'm hoping he's not trying to dance through a painful injury. Still, this ballet is worth seeing, period.

Fairchild and Veyette
Danses Concertantes (see above picture) is worth seeing for a different reason. It's "old school" Balanchine. It was made for the Ballet Russes in 1944 and the costumes and sets are deliberately old-fashioned and recall commedia dell 'arte. The ballet is characterized by a series of trios and a central pas deux (Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette). I think this ballet needed a more high-energy, old-fashioned, even muggy performance than it got last night. The NYCB dancers seem to think they are dancing a B&W leotard  ballet in clown costumes. Fairchild and Veyette were part of the problem too. I hate to criticize two obviously hard-working and professional dancers, but to me they've sort of become the same kind of dancer -- reliable, technically secure, but uncharismatic and workmanlike. (In real life, they are married.) Both of them are cast frequently in a wide variety of roles but don't really make a big impression in anything.

Firebird is a well-known classic and always a crowd-pleaser. This season however Ashley Bouder has been injured so as a result Teresa Reichlen had to dance four Firebirds in a week (in addition to her other assignments). Last night she was visibly out of gas. She's sort of a cool, mysterious bird, and not the blazing dynamo, but in its own way it works. In the pas de deux with the Prince Reichlen seemed to have a loss of concentration, made a noticeable mistake, and was never "on" for the rest of the performance. Only her sad lament when the Prince marries the Bride after the Firebird saves him from the Monsters was effective -- Reichlen used her long arms to great effect.

This fall season has unfortunately had two major stars injured -- Ashley Bouder and Sara Mearns, and it was also sad to hear that the promising Kathryn Morgan departed the company. I hope the dancers can rest up and recover in time for Nutcracker season because right now the company as a whole looks very tired.


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