NYCB's Strong Finish

The NYCB's fall season has been beset with injuries and absences (Mearns for the whole season, Bouder for most of the season, Somogyi perhaps never coming back, Whelan scaling down her repertoire), but the great thing about the NYCB is that one star goes out, and very often, another star is born. Peter Martins drew on his well of talented corps and soloists to create an overall excellent season.

Yesterday's programs showed the NYCB doing what they do best -- presenting a variety of both modern and classic ballets that showed off the depth of the company's talent.

The program started out with Danses Concertantes, starring Megan Fairchild and Tyler Angle as the central commedia dell'arte couple and four other talented trios. This performance was much more high energy than the previous performance I had seen, although the choreography is second-drawer Balanchine and the music is third-drawer Stravinsky. But at least this time, the NYCB dancers didn't look like they were dancing a leotard ballet in clown costumes. They got the sass, the cutesiness of commedia dell'arte.

The next ballet on the program was The Cage, Jerome Robbins' dark, creepy take on a violent insect mating ritual. Sterling Hyltin made her debut as the Novice insect, and I liked her delicate coltishness. Very Lolita-ish. Justin Peck and Sean Suozzi were her hapless victims. Rebecca Krohn was the Queen. Then we got the little gem Andantino, set to Tchaikovsky's famous Piano Concerto #1's (you guessed it) Andantino movement. It's one of Robbins' "tinkly piano ballets," but when you have Tiler Peck (smoothly partnered by Gonzalo Garcia), the result is enchantment.

The program ended with that sure-fire crowdpleaser Symphony in C. Ana Sophia Scheller and Jared Angle were really dynamite in the first movement, and set the tone for the rest of the performance. In the famous adagio Maria Kowroski had a moment of shakiness when she had to transition from the developpe a la second to the famous knee-touching arabesque penchee. Thankfully Tyler Angle caught her hand just in time and steadied her, and she continued to give a beautiful, glamorous performance. If there was one disappointment it was the third movement. Antonio Carmena was fine, but Erica Pereira right now simply doesn't have the allegro dancing/jumping skills this role requires. My standard for this role is Ashley Bouder, who begins the movement by doing the air tours as if she were a bullet. The best male Symphony in C third movement I ever saw was Vladimir Shklyarov of the Mariinsky -- again, you really need to have powerful jumping skills to pull this movement off. But things picked upped again in the fourth movement. Corps de ballet member Lauren King absolutely sparkled alongside Adrian Danchig-Waring. Her fast series of turns were executed with snap and precision, and the ballet's joyous finale never fails to put me in a good mood.

I went to the evening performance mostly to see Justin Peck's new ballet Year of the Rabbit. It's received excellent reviews. Certainly it's very promising. Peck is still a corps de ballet member and he made the corps the star of the ballet. They constantly seem to be engaged in a battle of wills with the soloists, and Peck had them gliding, lying on the floor (but visible on the wings), constantly trying to show up the soloists. Ashley Bouder made a much welcome return to the stage -- in the first movement (Year of the Ox), she's squared off implacably against the corps. Obviously you do not go up against Ashley Bouder and win. Loved it. The second section (Year of the Rabbit) has the equally tough Joaquin de Luz doing a difficult solo while the corps again attempt to upstage him. Alas, the middle section kind of meanders into some more conventional pas de deux for Teresa Reichlen and Robert Fairchild, then Janie Taylor and Craig Hall. But overall I loved the energy and musicality of the piece -- it's set to Sufjan Stevens' song cycle Chinese Zodiac, and the spiky music was perfect for showing off the talents of the company. I also like how the corps choreography was often more interesting than that of the soloists -- the 12 members were arranged in fascinating shapes, poses, entrances, exits. I think it's a keeper.

Hallelujah Junction was the obligatory Martins piece of the night. It's very "Martins" if you know what I mean -- there's two guys and a girl, and one of the guys (Daniel Ulbricht) seemed to have no other purpose other than to jump around the stage. Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild were the central couple and this has really been their season -- they were always good dancers, but this season they've become extraordinary. Hyltin used to be pretty but a bit lightweight. Now she's matured so much as a dancer but still retains that coltish charm.

Les Carillons finished the evening. Christopher Wheeldon decided to use Bizet's beautiful, folk-inflected L'Arlesienne Suites as the score for his ballet. I don't think he maximized the beauty of Bizet's score or the capabilities of the NYCB dancers. For one, the ballet has some beautiful moments (particularly a flute solo for the "maroon" girl) but those moments don't come together as a whole to create a lasting impression. I wish Wheeldon had more fully explored the folk rhythms of the piece -- this is where one wishes Ratmansky could step in. And the ending was anti-climactic -- I can't help but think what Balanchine could have done with the thrilling crescendo music that ends the suite. The six girls and boys (Ana Sophia Scheller, Sterling Hyltin, Teresa Reichlen, Lauren Lovette, Ashley Isaacs, Jonathan Stafford, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Russell Janen, Taylor Stanley and Andrew Veyette) all gave committed, elegant performances but I have to single out Lauren Lovette, still in the corps, for her sparkling, unforgettable performance as the "purple girl." She's tiny but immediately eye-catching, and I couldn't take my eyes off her whenever she was onstage. By the end of the evening I was googling every bit of info I could find out her.

Very strong way to end the fall season. Bravo NYCB!


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