More Tchaikovsky at the NYCB

The two-week non-stop Tchaikovsky Festival at the NYCB came to a close today with a rather eclectic program of Le Baiser de la Fee (Stravinsky's orchestrations of some of Tchaikovsky's melodies, including "None But the Lonely Heart,"), Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Peter Martins' Bal de Couture, and Diamonds. The afternoon ended on a disturbing note as the scherzo section of Diamonds was omitted and Sara Mearns tweeted immediately after the performance that she had injured herself and apologized. Get well Sara!

Le Baiser de la Fee is one of those Balanchine ballets that's not performed nearly enough. It's a strange, haunting ballet -- at first it looks innocent, with the corps de ballet dressed in peasant dresses, and the lead couple dancing a playful, tender little pas de deux that ends with the female (Tiler Peck) resting her head on the male's (Robert Fairchild) shoulder. But then things get stranger. The male solo is full of difficult jumps in different directions, and each time he has to land on his knee, and the music becomes more sinister. The corps de ballet dance one more time, and then there is a haunting coda that takes the ballet to another level. The music is Tchaikovsky's famous song "None But the Lonely Heart," and the lead couple are locked in a tight embrace, until one by one the corps de ballet members step between them. The first few times this happens the couple reconnect and embrace again, but the force becomes too strong, and soon they are torn apart for good. They end the ballet on opposite ends of the stage, seemingly unaware of the other's presence.

Tiler Peck brought her unique brand of lyrical beauty to the role, and Robert Fairchild had some difficulty with the variation (some of his landings were shaky, other times he looked labored), but the two of them together definitely have this tangible chemistry that makes this ballet all the more unnerving. I am glad I got a chance to see them together in this ballet -- they are very special.

Pause, and then the curtain came up on the familiar gala staple, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Ashley Bouder is a vet at this crowdpleaser, but Chase Finlay was making his debut. He looked nervous partnering her, and so things like the final series of fishdives were more tentative than usual. But Finlay's variations were stunning -- he has great elevation and is one of the few NYCB men who can fly around the stage, Russian-style in coupe jetes. His cabrioles made the crowd gasp. In the coda he did a great job with the turns a la seconde. Ashley was her usual self -- she really has this ballet nailed, and knows exactly how to work the audience when launching into another dizzying series of chaine turns or pirouettes. Bravo Chase for another promising debut in an iconic Balanchine role.

After the intermission we got Bal de Couture, Peter Martins' fluff piece (no other way to put it) for the Valentino gala. Valentino may be a great designer but his inexperience designing ballet costumes is obvious -- the women were either in these heavy hoopskirts or extremely frilly, poorly-cut tutus. The pointe shoes were mismatched -- some were red, some were pink. And the ballet ... well this is what it is. Opening is the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and the principal couples descend from a ramp as if attending a ball. They twirl around some, in a vague waltz-like style. Then Janie Taylor and Sebastian Marcovici have this rather emo, watery pas de deux. Then Robert Fairchild runs onstage and it hit me that he's supposed to be Onegin and he's looking for Tatiana (Janie Taylor). But instead of the heated confrontation that forms the finale of both the opera and Cranko's ballet adaptation, Janie Taylor and Robert Fairchild look at each other for a split second before all the couples come back onstage and twirl around before the curtain falls. Blah.

The final offering of the afternoon was marred by Sara Mearns' injury. From the very start of the Diamonds pas de deux she seemed slow and tentative, her trademark back unusually stiff and her arabesques (that typically have this reckless, plunging quality) tentative. Ask La Cour stayed very close to her at all times, to make sure she was balanced. The scherzo solos for Mearns and La Cour were cut, and the corps de ballet rushed onstage for the finale. Mearns completed her series of supported pirouettes with La Cour again standing very close to her so she would not fall, but everyone in the audience knew something was wrong. Sure enough, after the performance, Mearns tweeted apologizing for the performance and said she had injured herself. She just came back from an injury. How awful and I hope this one is not as serious. Get well Sara!


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