Symphonic Balanchine

Symphonic Balanchine
February 9, 2013

The entire Northeast was hit with a nasty blizzard last night, and today's performance at the NYCBallet was categorized as a "snow day," meaning anyone with a ticket could exchange for a spring season performance if they couldn't make it due to the weather. I looked at the spring calendar, realized that I had tickets to everything I wanted to see, and decided to put on my snow boots and brave the snow and slush on my way to Lincoln Center.

The theater was very sparse, no doubt due to the weather, and before the curtain a depressing series of announcements were made. The Winter Season of the NYCB is a season notorious for injuries and this has been no exception. Sara Mearns reinjured herself, Jonathan Stafford, and Wendy Whelan are all out with injuries, and I'm starting to dread the pre-curtain announcements because every performance I've been to has had a few last minute pre-curtain announcement of a replacement. This is really NYCB code for "we've just had a dancer who's injured in the wings and can't go on." In other words, "ouch." Today, there were announcements of replacements for Abi Stafford (Symphony in C), Sebastian Marcoivici and Adam Danchig-Waring (both for Symphony in Three Movements).

Nevertheless the show must go on and go on it did. Western Symphony is to be honest probably the weakest of Balanchine's "Americana" ballets (the others being Stars & Stripes and Who Cares?). The kitsch/dancing ratio is a bit too high for my tastes, and you have to be careful of casting. The ballet really needs larger-than-life powerhouses who can muscle their way through all the allegro dancing. Rebecca Krohn (first movement) is not that kind of dancer. She's a somewhat somber adagio dancer without the strongest technique, and she looked totally lost onstage trying to wriggle her behind. She also is one of those dancers who constantly seems to be grimacing when she dances -- not okay for this ballet. Taylor Stanley, however, was making his debut in the first movement and took to the role like a duck to a pond. The second movement showed an improvement -- Megan Fairchild isn't my favorite dancer, but her doll-like, quicksilver style was at least well-suited to the ballet. Nice Italian fouettes. Finally, in the famous Rondo, Robert Fairchild and Ashley Bouder really took control of the stage and said "This is how the ballet should be danced." Fairchild has that combo of all-American boy and powerhouse dancing that made him a natural for the part. His bow-legged "cowboy" pirouettes were awesome. And Ashley made mincemeat of the "Tanny" part, and stormed through the difficult backwards diagonal where the ballerina has to remain on pointe the entire time while switching her free leg between an arabesque and a high developpe. Ashley doesn't have the long legs of Tanny, but she can dance the hell out of this role. Bravo to her.

Next on the program was Symphony in Three Movements, a ballet I for some reason haven't seen in maybe 5 years. Last time I remember not caring for it at all. I found the Stravinsky score bombastic and unlikable, and thought the whole ballet lacked the eroticism and playfulness that is typical of Balanchine/Stravinsky collaborations. This afternoon was a whole different story. I found the military-style formations of the corps fascinating. They stand in one huge diagonal across the stage, like a wall of soldiers. At other times they crouch, as if in the trenches. I still find the soloist parts in the first movement kind of random -- there are three girls who wear varying shades of pink leotards, and they breeze on and offstage. Tiler Peck was as usual superb in the pepto-bismol/pony-tail role, as was Daniel Ulbricht as her partner but their roles are really too short to make much of an impression. The more rewarding role went to Sterling Hyltin, who danced the second movement adagio with Amar Ramansar. Hyltin is a dancer I'm liking more and more. She made her debut in Martins' Romeo + Juliet 10 years ago (hard to believe!) and was quickly fast-tracked to principal and given some of the plummiest parts. For many years I found her pretty but non-descript and her dancing just okay. Not anymore. From the moment she stepped onstage I could see that her legs, once rather floppy, are now toned and muscular, and she attacked the role with gusto. Her pique turns around the stage were fast and secure, and she brought an element of playfulness in a ballet that is quite severe in mood. (She did the same for another "severe" ballet, Mozartiana, earlier this season.) The pas de deux with Amar Ramansar had the right touch of aloofness. The two dancers are onstage together but they never seem to really connect. At several points one blocks the eyesight of the other. As I said, Symphony in Three Movements still isn't my favorite Balanchine but I definitely now find it to be an interesting, mysterious ballet.

As or Symphony in C ... ugh is all I can say. Balanchine's iconic, exhilarating ballet needs dancers that can do it justice. Peter Martins seems to have done a bit of "hey, you're not injured, go onstage" with the Symphony in C casting this week. Chase Finlay was princely and had great jumps in the first movement, but Ana Sophia Scheller did a lot of chin dancing. She had this silly smile pasted on her face the entire time and mugged constantly towards the audience as if she were dancing at the YAGP gala. She's a dancer who's picked up some very irritating mannerisms that detract from her solid, if unspectacular dancing. In the second movement Maria Kowroski did her usual Maria thing where she looked gorgeous but needed Tyler Angle's hand to steady her almost constantly.  In a movement where the ballerina is supposed to hit a series of sculptural poses (the knee-touching penchee, the penchee-to-backwards lunge), it's not fun seeing a ballerina shake between every pose. Maria's beautiful legs and feet can't really make up for the fact that she doesn't have the technical security for the exposed tutu ballets. It was also depressing seeing her trying (and failing) to complete single pirouettes in the finale. Bravo to Tyler Angle for his absolutely sensitive partnering. Even worse was the tiny, weak non-jumping Erica Pereira in the jump-filled third movement. Anthony Huxley, perhaps to match her partner, also avoided the famous jumps. What's the point of watching the third movement if neither soloist has a jump? Only Lauren King was decent in the final movement, but her role is the least interesting of the four movements in the Bizet. She has good pirouettes and a nice, pleasant stage presence. I'd like to see her graduate into the first movement one day. But the Bizet is usually the most exhilarating thirty minutes of ballet, and today the impact was muted, as I said, by the casting.

Next week is the Sleeping Beauties. Can't wait!


  1. You seem to dislike NYCB I suggest u go watch ABT


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