NYCB Fall Season: Hello New Works, Goodbye Robbie

Fairchild in some of his best roles at NYCB
After two weeks of Swan Lake NYCB returned to its usual mixed bills. As is often the case the all-Balanchine program reaffirmed Mr. B's genius, the "Here/Now" program revealed which modern works had staying power and which didn't, and the "all-new" works were a mixed bag. NYCB said goodbye to two principals: Rebecca Krohn and Robert Fairchild.

First things first: the Balanchine triple bill of Square Dance/La Valse/Cortège Hongrois showed that the state of the union of NYCB is strong. Square Dance is in good hands with the allegro technicians of Megan Fairchild/Anthony Huxley. La Valse is trickier -- it can become a cheesy Halloween horror show. But with Sterling Hyltin as the simultaneously delicate and demented socialite and Justin Peck as a hovering, creepy Death, that wasn't an issue. Cortège Hongrois is not top-drawer Balanchine -- it's heavily derivative of both Petipa's Raymonda and Balanchine's earlier takes on Glazunov's score. Raymonda remix, basically. Sara Mearns and Tiler Angle were fine as the classical couple (the role taps into Mearns' imperiousness, which is one of her best qualities) but more surprising was the vigor with which Georgina Pazcoguin and Ask La Cour danced the "folk" czardas.

But Balanchine's a genius. We all knew that. More uneven was the "Here/Now" mixed bill of Wheeldon's Liturgy/Polyphonia, Ratmansky's Odessa, and Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing. The Wheeldon works were set on Wendy Whelan and have not aged well -- all the gynecological maneuvering of female limbs is tiresome. Liturgy was just dull, Polyphonia not much better. Unity Phelan and Zachary Catazaro (newly promoted to principal) tried and they made gorgeous shapes but these let-twist-Wendy-into-a-pretzel-500-times-in-30-minutes works belong in the ballet dustbin. Ratmansky's Odessa remains an odd, elusive ballet. Is it a dark, violent view of male-female relations, or is it a lighthearted boys-loses-girls-boys-gets-girls fairy tale? The violence between the couples has been toned down, the romance turned up in this revival. And in the midst of all this Megan Fairchild has quietly become an excellent Ratmansky dancer, so able to "get" the composer's offbeat humor. She and Daniel Ulbricht made perhaps the most famous moment in Odessa (the "dream" sequence where she's held aloft by a swarm of guys who eventually become rough and sinister) the right mix of surreal and disturbing.

Stanley and Applebaum, photo @ Michael Kirby Smith
Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing is the closest thing NYCB has to a modern megahit. The pulsating music of Dan Deacon, plus Peck's skill at moving the corps de ballet in exciting ways merged together to make an anthem that had the crowd on their feet and screaming at the ballet's conclusion. The whole ballet bursts with excitement and energy. The NYCB dancers' unique musicality is so obvious -- the way their bodies pulsated visibly to the music is something you often find on the streets of NYC but rarely among classical trained ballet dancers. Time will tell if the work retains its power but my bet is that it will. It's probably the best thing Peck has danced -- in classical ballet his technique is limited, but in tose black t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, his tall handsome build and fast footwork made him the epitome of cool. Neatly inserted into this revival was a sex-change -- the pas de deux originally set on Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar became a same-sex duet between Taylor Stanley and Daniel Applebaum. The duet between Peck and Ramasar came off as a bit impersonal, like a Tinder hookup. With Stanley and Applebaum it smoldered with intensity.

Preston Chamblee and Taylor Stanley in Not Our Fate, photo @ Andrea Mohin
The evening of new works was a mixed bag, as these things always are. Let's get the bad out of the way: Troy Schumacher's The Wind Still Brings was godawful. It was set to a difficult, dense score (William Walton's Piano Quartet in D minor), had ugly costumes (Jonathan Saunders' creations looked like those loose one-piece bathing suits women of a certain age like to wear to the beach), and repetitive steps that were the epitome of "effects without causes." After a chipper opening the stage apparently became a graveyard where all the dancers lay dead, and then each one of them got up to do a zombie turn before returning to the grave. And then the final movement everyone came back to life and jumped around for no particular reason.

More charming was Gianna Reisen's Composer's Holiday rookie effort. Reisen is an SAB grad and only 18 years old. It shows off two extremely talented apprentices, Gilbert Bolden and Roman Mejia, and two talented junior corps members, Emma von Enck and Christina Clark. The costumes by Virgil Ab-doh were pretty tutus for the girls and dapper black suits for the men. The music by Lukas Foss was mildly jazzy. The piece was lighthearted, with fun body drops for women and a few witty parodies of Balanchine motifs. The most memorable was when a male dancer walked to the edge of the stage to pull a girl onstage, only to find himself dragging several girls in a very Balanchine-like daisy chain. Was it great? No, but it was fun.

The most interesting work of the night was Lauren Lovette's sophomore choreographic effort. Last season's For Clara was a pleasant surprise. Now with her second piece Not Our Fate (inspired by a poem by NYCB corps member Mary Elizabeth Sell) Lovette is already displaying two important virtues in a choreographer: the ability to pick of piece of music that is responsive to dance (Mark Nyman's pulsating score reminds one of Phillip Glass), and willingness to push dancers outside their comfort zone. The duet between Preston Chamblee and Taylor Stanley is an interesting take on same-sex partnering -- Chamblee is obviously the "male" and he partners Stanley completely like he would partner a ballerina. Supported finger pirouettes and fancy lifts and the whole nine yards. Stanley while being partnered danced on ballerina-like high demi-pointe. The duet between Ask La Cour and Olivia MacKinnon was actually more gender neutral, with many contemporary poses that suggested neither traditional male or female roles. Ask La Cour can often be stolid but Lovette brought out an intensity in him. The piece was occasionally overwrought but it held interest. Lovette is a more interesting choreographer than she is a dancer and I look forward to her next works.

Pulcinella, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Justin Peck's Pulcinella Variations closed out the evening. The costumes by Tsumori Chisato were amazing -- they suggested commedia dell'arte but with a modern twist. The choreography was more uneven. As the title suggests this is a ballet of two pas de deux and several distinct variations. Stravinsky's music for these variations differed in their danceability. For instance the "Serenata" between Sara Mearns and Jared Angle was rather sluggish. Neither of them are able to move their bodies with the speed that the music demands. Blink and you might miss Sterling Hyltin's brief solo. Indiana Woodward's costume (half nude unitard, half yellow flower) was more interesting than her solo which was perky but unmemorable. But the Tarantella danced by Anthony Huxley blazed and was by far the best part of the piece, while the "Gavotta" between Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia actually captured the flavor of commedia del'arte. Justin Peck's work is always stimulating, and it was a fine closer for the evening. As for its place in the Peck "canon" I think it falls somewhere in the middle. Not a real clunker a la The Most Incredible Thing but without the direct appeal of Rodeo or The Times Are Racing.

Fairchild and Hyltin, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Sunday, October 15, last day of the fall season, and the company bid adieu to Robert Fairchild. Oh boy. This one is hard for me to write about. It wasn't a surprise that he left, since for the past three years he's danced only intermittently with the company. He became a Broadway star with An American in Paris and is leaving to pursue more musical theater opportunities. Plus his marriage to Tiler Peck is over. Still, seeing him one last time onstage with Sterling Hyltin in Duo Concertant reminded me of the dancer he was. At his best he could do the classical and neo-classical roles with a boy-next-door freshness and simplicity. His Apollo was magnificent -- unaffected, endearing, a young god finding his sea legs. His Who Cares? with Tiler Peck often became a hot-ticket item when casting was announced. He partnered Wendy Whelan as the Poet in her farewell to the company. To the rest of the world he's a ballet star. To me he'll always be a ballet dancer who was on the cusp of being a great artist before Broadway took him away forever.

Hyltin and Fairchild
Having said that, it was a beautiful performance. Actually the whole afternoon was wonderful. Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen gave a very different interpretation of Cortège Hongrois -- Reichlen is elegance personified. Whereas Sara Mearns powers through steps, Reichlen glides like Elsa from Frozen. Lovely. I'm not a fan of Sara Mearns in La Valse -- she dances it well but I prefer the fragility of Sterling Hyltin. Ashley Bouder absolutely hit Square Dance out of the ballpark. She's one of the few ballerinas who is able to really articulate the gargouillades with clear swings of both calves. Taylor Stanley was not chopped liver either.

Then the lights came up to the piano and violin, and Robbie and Sterling transported the audience in a heart-meltingly tender Duo Concertant. Hyltin has a way of bringing out the most in her male partners -- I remember a Dances at a Gathering where Fairchild (Brown Boy) was struggling technically. Then the Brown Boy and Pink Girl (Hyltin) danced together and all the struggles melted away and it was so beautiful. You could tell how long Hyltin and Fairchild been dancing together from the natural way Sterling rested her head on his shoulder and in how much their bodies mirrored each other. The final image of Fairchild in the dark, with the spotlight dimming for the final time was bitter-sweet and a testament to how Balanchine knew how to end ballets like no other choreographer. Of course afterwards came the flowers, the confetti, the cheers. Fairchild looked happy, like he was eager to start the next stage of his career.

Here are the curtain calls:

Robbie, Sterling and the signed program
Afterwards I went to the stage door and expressed my appreciation to Robbie and Sterling. I also met a bunch of other City Ballet dancers -- Adrian Danchig-Waring, Megan Fairchild, Maria Kowroski, Daniel Ulbricht, Joseph Gordon. But Robbie and Sterling were so gracious with the fans. I keep telling myself that this won't be the last I see of Fairchild -- he's doing Brigadoon at City Center in November and he has more projects in the pipeline. But part of me still feels sad that the memories of seeing him dance ApolloStravinsky Violin ConcertoDuo ConcertantWho Cares?Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and a host of other roles will be just that -- memories. But what memories!


  1. Thanks for your post ivy! I live out of town and resort to reviews and videos to follow my favorite dancers. I've come to prefer your blog over the nytimes now. You are so knowlegable! What honest, lucid writing. Ashley

  2. Thank you for your kind words. It was a really special send-off for a special dancer.

    1. You met Sterling! I always wondered how tall she is. She seems to have a lengthy look despite reviews implying that she is "short" (she looks no shorter than, for example, Tiler Peck to me). What did you think after meeting her? Ashley

    2. She was wearing heels. I'd say she was about 5'5". She's not tall per se. Her proportions are what gives her a lenghty elongated look. She's very nice and just as pretty without makeup.

      Actually in general the NYCB are taller than they seem onstage and the women are not quite as tall. They have super-long legs so they seem more towering than they are.

  3. 5'5 is what I guessed.
    Sorry, did you mean the nycb men are taller than they seem on stage?

    1. Yeah the men are taller than they appear onstage and the women shorter. I think it has to do with proportions -- the women have those long legs, neck, and feet on pointe. In real life most of them are medium height or on the tallish side but don't tower over people. OTOH some of the men were WAY taller than I expected.

  4. Hey Ivy, sorry this post is weeks late -- in fact, you don't even have to post it if you feel it's too gossipy and indiscreet, as that's not my objective here.

    BTW thanks again for your sober and balanced reviews -- they provide a nice counterpoint to the usual drone in the more established venues: either everything was fantastic or most everything was found lacking, some dancers can apparently do nothing right and some on the other hand can do no wrong under any circumstances, etc. So your reviews are a welcome respite.

    Which reminds me: I was hoping you would be able to see The Red Shoes and review that as well. No such luck?

    Anyway, I'm reporting in because the whole Tiler Peck - Robbie Fairchild breakup has been bugging me ever since it was announced in the media in June (and that's why I'm posting the comment here). So today I did some investigative sleuthing on the internets and found what I was looking for, and it's pretty much what I expected.

    The question is: is this common knowledge in New York? I mean, I'm sure among dancers it is, but is it also known among the general ballet-going public by now? Once you know where to look on line, it's patently obvious (liberal use of heart emojis), but getting there without a guiding hand I found a little tricky. Bear in mind I'm in the provinces.

    Just curious. If you don't want to post this, and care to reply, I'd be happy to supply an email address. Thanks!

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