Winter Season Diaries: All-Balanchine Programs Test the Company's Mettle
|Finlay and his muses, photo @ Andrea Mohin|
There was almost something perverse about the curtain rising on NYCB's Winter Season and the sight of the blond Peter Martins-lookalike Chase Finlay dancing Martins' trademark role of Apollo. One could almost imagine Martins' observing his performance in his usual seat in the rear orchestra except of course Martins wasn't there, the NYCB programs had been scrubbed of any mention of He Who Shall Not Be Named. The show must go on.
I caught four performances in their first week. NYCB's two all-Balanchine programs (Apollo/Mozartiana/Cortegé Hongrois and Divertimento #15/Four Temperaments/Chaconne) are the type of programs that would test the company's classical chops under any circumstances. But NYCB is now a ship without a captain, and in many ways the performances reflected both the company's depth of talent and how even the world's best dancers need a strong leader.
|Tess as Choleric, photo @ Andrea Mohin|
|Bouder, Janzen, Phelan, Suozzi|
In the czardas Savannah Lowery and Ask La Cour (who danced with Mearns/Janzen) made the most out of Balanchine's rather clichéd choreography. They looked like they were having a grand time and that's what's important. Unity Phelan and Sean Suozzi (in their debuts) were much livelier, more exciting. I loved both the variation girls -- Lauren King and Emilie Gerrity in the first performance, Claire Kretzschmar and Meagan Mann in the second. Krestzschmar danced with such authority that she's my pick to be the next corps promoted to soloist. I now love this ballet. It's not top drawer Balanchine but it is fun.
By the way, I am comparing pictures of Melissa Hayden and Ashley Bouder and am struck by how similar they look. I mean compare:
|Hayden and Bouder|
|Hyltin, King, Fairchild, Laracey, Stafford, Scordato, Finlay, Appebaum|
In the second performance an apparently injured Veyette was replaced by Chase Finlay and the performance was smoother and even more heavenly. Finlay handled the clean, classical demands of the choreographer better than Veyette. The andante allowed each ballerina to show off their strong suit. Hyltin did her trademark bourrées with her head and neck thrown up upwards and her arms outstretched, as if she's being pulled by some invisible force. Laracey in her duet with Finlay showed off her beautiful extension in her developpé a la seconde -- no vulgar ear grazing, but an effortless geometrical line that reached towards the stars. The whole thing is so beautiful you never want it to end. Yes, I think Divertimento will be all right.
|Mearns and Danchig-Waring in Chaconne|
In the second performance there were some changes, all to the better. Sanz was replaced by Andrew Scordato in the Mandolin pas de trois and Scordato actually looked like he was strumming a mandolin. The lovely sequence with the apprentices was tighter and the way they formed lines that were straighter than the company corps members was beautiful. Mearns and Danchig-Waring made the same blooper in the same moment (the squatting promenades) but this time Mearns simply put her hand on the floor to avoid falling and the choreography was uninterrupted. Mearns lightened her approach quite a bit and Danchig-Waring's solo work was more fleet. The audience lapped it up, but this ballet definitely needs a lot of work.
|Mearns in Mozartiana, photo @ Paul Kolnik|
The second cast Mozartiana (Mearns/Finlay/Schumacher) was leagues better. For one thing, Mearns can actually handle the steps. Mearns was relatively restrained although sometimes she still is in danger of overpowering the choreography completely. For instance in that one moment near the end of the Theme and Variations when the ballerina does a supported flat-footed pirouette in arabesque penchée (23:19 in this video) Mearns turned so fast she nearly knocked Finlay over. Still, I'd rather have an abundance of strength over NO strength. Finlay's lines and solo work were much more classical than Angle's, and Schumacher was also an improvement over Ulbricht.
|Danchig-Waring and Peck, photo @ Andrea Mohin|
So in general NYCB maintained its high standards although I can't help but wonder if Peter would have immediately corrected Danchig-Waring in his partnering so the same blooper would not have been repeated, and whether some of the raggedy corps formations and mistimed entrances and exits I saw throughout the week needed a sterner presence behind the scenes. But it's useless to wonder. Peter's not coming back, and the company has to move forward. After Week 1 I'm cautiously optimistic.
Sidenote: I love the art exhibition at NYCB right now. It's Geronimo, an artist who works with balloons, and she's transformed the austere marble promenade of the D*v*d K*ch Theatre into a festive, surreal place. Go see it.