Winter Season Diaries

de Luz, Angle, Ramasar and Pazgocuin in Fancy Free, photo by Michael P. Farrell

The first two weeks of the NYCB's Winter Season are usually favorites for hardcore fans. After a month of Nutcrackers and Alvin Ailey's Revelations New Yorkers are eager for the "real ballet" to start again. I usually find myself snatching up tickets right and left in the first two weeks of the season. This year the blizzard on the annual "Saturdays at the Afternoon with George" canceled two planned shows. Even so, I attended four performances in their first two weeks.

1/19/16 and 1/30/16 - I caught two casts of the same program: Barber Violin Concerto, Fancy Free and Who Cares? The opening night Barber Violin Concerto (a Peter Martins "classic," if any of his works can really be labeled classics) got its experienced, tried-and-true cast of Sara Mearns as the classical girl, Megan Fairchild as the "modern Paul Taylor" girl, Jared Angle as the "modern" guy, and Russell Janzen (subbing for Ask La Cour) as the classical guy. The whole point of this ballet is that modern meets classical ballet, to beautiful and sometimes comical results. Mearns and Fairchild are probably unsurpassed in these roles -- this ballet allows Mearns to show off her extravagant style, and Fairchild her quirky sense of humor.

The 1/30/16 cast had Teresa Reichlen as the "classical" girl and Gina Pazcoguin as the "modern" girl. They were terribly miscast. Reichlen couldn't loosen up to become "modern." In the second movement even with her hair loose she remained the ice princess ballerina. When Jared Angle carried her offstage in a shooting duck position Reichlen's feet were perfectly pointed and her neck rigid. No fusion of ballet with modern dance, at all. Pazcoguin as the modern dance girl certainly could dance the steps, but she lacked Fairchild's humor and sass. In the third movement Megan made the pestering of Janzen funny and almost a parody of modern dance. Pazcoguin was just flat out irritating.

Fancy Free had the same cast both performances. The first night the trio of sailors (Joaquin de Luz, Amar Ramasar, Tyler Angle) lacked charm, and without the charm their actions towards the girls (Gina Pazgocuin as the purse girl, Sterling Hyltin as the glamour girl, Stephanie Chrosniak as the end-of-ballet walk on girl) came across as overly aggressive and even menacing. The purse incident almost comes across as a mugging. For a ballet that's supposed to be frothy and fun, it's not helpful for the three sailors to give off a rapist/robber vibe. By the Saturday matinee it seems as if they'd been re-coached -- they were much more playful throughout. I don't think the NYCB really "gets" this ballet though -- I think the ABT currently does this better.

The opening night Who Cares? fielded an experienced cast. Robert Fairchild took a night off his Broadway gig at American in Paris to reprise his familiar role with his wife Tiler Peck in the Patty McBride role. Peck was brilliant in the "Fascinatin' Rhythm" solo (her fast pirouettes seem to devour the entire stage). These are two pros who know exactly what they want to do with this ballet. Their timing was impeccable, from the gorgeous upside down split lifts to those leaps onto Fairchild's back. One caveat: Fairchild's build has gotten thicker and less balletic since he joined American in Paris and his form slightly sloppier. I have seen Savannah Lowery ("I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise") and Ana Sophia Scheller ("My One and Only") dance their respective soloist roles for years and while Lowery's performance has flatlined, Scheller has grown a lot. She used to have such a stiff upper body that looked completely wrong dancing this kind of jazzy music, but now she looks so much more natural. Great fouettes too.

Pollack, Gordon, Fairchid and Phelan in Who Cares?

The 1/30/16 performance was a brand-new cast. Gordon, Phelan, and Pollack were all making their debuts. Megan Fairchild (who's danced this role before, but infrequently) was making a last minute substitution for Tiler Peck, who herself was a replacement for the injured Lauren Lovette. The performance had the hiccups that were to be expected of a brand-new cast. Gordon and Fairchild had some shaky moments in "Man I Love" -- those leaps to Gordon's back were wobbly and I saw Gordon adjust his hands twice. Fairchild was technically flawless but there wasn't much sensuality to her portrayal, and she didn't do much with her shoulders and neck (so important in this role -- watch Patty McBride in that Live From Lincoln Center telecast). Gordon was technically very strong -- squeaky clean pirouettes in the "Liza" solo, but his face looked nervous and he wasn't able to convey the easy going jazzy persona. Pollack similarly had a frozen mask face. In the "My One and Only" solo and she didn't attempt the double fouettes that Scheller breezed through. Only Unity Phelan in both her "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" solo and "Who Cares?" duet with Gordon had the confidence and sass of someone who was totally prepared to dance the role. Very often her part is muscled through without much grace -- I remember Sara Mearns literally stomping through that solo, but Phelan danced with elegance and ease. Phelan is a stunner -- she looks a lot like Suzanne Farrell. During the finale when Balanchine cleverly echoes Apollo by having the three ladies in simultaneous arabesque pencheés the length of Phelan's legs and the amplitude of her arabesque even reminded me of videos of Farrell. One to watch, for sure. Of the demi-soloists Alexa Maxwell and Preston Chamblee stood out in "Do Do Do." Actually all the corps and demis were wonderful in both performances.

Lauren Lovette and Jared Angle, photo by Paul Kolnik
January 22, 2016 - The decidedly oddball pairing of Liebeslieder Waltzer with Glass Pieces worked much better than I anticipated. Introversion vs. extroversion. Dark vs. light. Liebeslieder Waltzer is one of those Balanchine ballets you think will be swoony and romantic, and instead takes a "persistent note of melancholy and tragic remorse," to quote Arlene Croce. In the first half the four couples dance in a private ballroom. Their dances have the regal sweep of the classic Viennese waltz. Then the curtain drops and the four couples are now in long tulle skirts and pointe shoes. You'd think that the dances become more intimate right? Wrong. The four women become more elusive and unpredictable, often withdrawing their hands just as their partners reach out for it, or running off after an embrace. The ballet ends with the four couples dressed again as the Viennese waltzers. They applaud the singers onstage politely. The fantasy is over.

The cast I saw was an almost brand new cast. The couples were: Rebecca Krohn/Russell Janzen, Megan Fairchild/Chase Finlay, Lauren Lovette/Jared Angle, Tiler Peck/Amar Ramasar. Janzen, Krohn, Lovette, and Ramasar were all making their debuts. This role fits Russell Janzen like a glove -- he's tall, dashing, ardent. Actually all the men were good. Of the women both Lovette and Krohn were too introverted and subdued and didn't suggest the inner fire in the second half of the ballet. Fairchild doesn't really have the body line for these kinds of tulle skirt ballets, and her persona is more perky than mysterious. Tiler Peck was wonderful, the only one with the right mix of passion and mystery. The singers were pretty awful.

I never get tired of repeating my favorite ever ballet anecdote: I was once sitting outside Lincoln Center with a daughter and her frail, elderly father. "It's a good program, you'll enjoy it," daughter said. "But does it have my favorite?" Daughter paused. "Which one?" "The ballet with all the men jumping around." "Glass Pieces?" "Yes, Glass Pieces. Does it have Glass Pieces?" Which might be the first and last time anyone ever said Glass Pieces was his favorite ballet.

Glass Pieces is very enjoyable though, another one of Jerome Robbins' "New York" ballets. The first movement (Rubric) is the best, with the stunning sight of a New York City metropolis. Pedestrians walk quickly and implacably towards their destination -- go to any Manhattan cross section during rush hour and you will see the same mix of pedestrians and vehicles all marching with the same urgency. Ashley Hod and Daniel Applebaum stood out as the Yellow Couple -- Hod's long lines and regal stature immediately caught my attention. She was also wonderful in Dewdrop -- I look forward to following her career. The central pas de deux between Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring was considerably less compelling. I last saw this pas de deux with Wendy Whelan and her angular lines and uniquely severe way of moving were very memorable. Sara Mearns is a very different dancer. Her body line couldn't make those same geometrical shapes. With Mearns it just became a generic pas de deux. And the finale to Akhenaten is a bit redundant -- it always feels like a recycling of Rubric.

Sterling Hyltin in Mozartiana, photo Paul Kolnik

January 26, 2016 - A ticket I had exchanged because of the blizzard. It was maybe the best combination of ballets New York City Ballet has ever lumped together in one evening -- you had the fun and fluffy (Walpurgisnacht), the light and lovely (Sonatine) and the masterpieces (Mozartiana and Symphony in C).

It was a long evening but some standouts: Sara Mearns was at her unrestrained, hair shaking best in Walpurgisnacht -- this is a ballet that demands her abandon and attack. Tiler Peck really articulated the steps and musicality and brought life to Sonatine. The last time I saw her do it I remember her being a little blank. This time, she had all the right accents to make this short ballet a jewel. Symphony in C is always worth watching even though it wasn't a perfect performance. Nobody was bad, but there was a spill by one of the demi-soloists in the first movement and other bobbles here and there. Teresa Reichlen was regal and beautiful in the great adagio and yes, her nose touched her knee. But she is a strangely limited dancer whose movements are geometrical rather than space devouring, and the adagio is all about grandeur of movement, Whatever hiccups there were however, the entire company pulled it together for the thrilling finale, spearheaded by the energetic performances of Brittany Pollack and Taylor Stanley.

The highlight of the night was Mozartiana. Sterling Hyltin was divine -- she's about as different from Suzanne Farrell (the originator of the role) as humanly possible, but that's why it works. She's not trying to copy Farrell, or anybody else. She brings a lightness and ease that is, well, Mozartean. Her bourreés were silky smooth, her sissones feather light. Anthony Huxley was making his debut as Hyltin's partner. Although I'm more used to seeing taller partners in this role Huxley's squeaky clean technique was a joy to watch -- he might have the most purely classical technique of any of the men in the company. His pirouettes always end in perfect fifth, his toes are always pointed during cabrioles, he keeps his arms still during entrechats, his carriage is impeccable. I love the final Theme and Variations section -- it's a competition between the man and the woman. They show off in increasingly difficult variations, until finally they dance together. Hyltin and Huxley really captured the friendly competitive spirit of this section. Ulbricht was a bit sloppy in the Gigue. But I really believe Hyltin's Mozartiana will become another classic portrayal. She's succeeding Suzanne Farrell and Kyra Nichols by being absolutely nothing like them. 

The repetitiveness of the programming during the first few weeks was probably due to the massive preparations taking place for Justin Peck's upcoming premiere of The Most Incredible Thing -- that fields a cast of 56 dancers and is hotly anticipated because it's Peck's first "story" ballet. But the four performances I attended proved that the NYCB can take care of its classics too. 


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