NYCB Recovers After a Summer of Scandal

To say this has been a tumultuous summer for NYCB is an understatement. In late August, there was the news that three of NYCB's principal males were involved in some sort of scandal. Chase Finlay resigned, and Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro were suspended without pay for the rest of 2018. Then in September, an explosive lawsuit came out in which Finlay's ex-girlfriend Alexandra Waterbury accused Finlay, Catazaro and Ramasar (as well as a NYCB donor/patron) of exchanging nude images of her and other company dancers without their consent. The texts apparently contained such charming phrases as "I bet we could tie them up and abuse them like farm animals." On September 15 NYCB terminated Ramasar and Catazaro permanently. In addition to this scandal former NYCB principal and SAB teacher Peter Frame commit suicide. And in the larger dance world, legends Paul Taylor and Arthur Mitchell passed away.

You could almost hear the audience breathe a sigh of relief when NYCB started its fall season with its eternally beautiful and popular Jewels. This plotless three-acter has been a hit for 50 years and judging by the full audiences and enthusiastic applause it will continue to be a hit for centuries to come. Jewels' appeal lies not just in the usual complexity of Balanchine's kaleidescope-like corps patterns or the melding of dance to music. There are several male-female relationships in Jewels that remain mysterious and unknowable -- every time I watch it I think a dancer will unlock one mystery but never all of them. Jewels is an eternal drug that never loses its high. It's a testament to the depth of the company that even though NYCB overnight lost three of its most prominent principals I saw three separate casts and they all had their pleasures.

Emily Kikta as Tall Girl, photo @ Andrea Mohin
The first cast might be called the "senior" cast. Abi Stafford, Jared Angle, Ashley Laracey, Ask La Cour (Emeralds), Ashley Bouder and Joaquin de Luz (Rubies), and Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle (Diamonds) are all company veterans. The performance was a bit too cozy, too much of the main dancers doing what they've always done. Balanchine is never supposed to be this comfortable. The Violette Verdy role is one of Stafford's better parts, but Jared Angle was woefully out of shape in his solo. Laracey and La Cour had more of the cool mystery of the walking duet. Bouder and de Luz (Rubies) were a huge hit with the audience but truth be told I found their relentless audience-facing mugging too much. The Rubies pas is supposed to be a sexy conversation, not a "But look at ME" exhibition. Only Emily Kikta as the Tall Girl had the right energy for the ballet. The cool swagger, the nonchalant attitude as four men manipulated her limbs, the rock solid unsupported arabesque penchée as she exited to the wings. Alas, she injured herself in the process. As for Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle, Angle is always a wonderful partner and Maria has great legs and looks gorgeous in a tutu. But she was entirely too careful in the pas de deux where the off-balance lunges and changes in center of gravity define the piece. She was also slow and leaden in the scherzo, just barely crawling through that series of pirouettes en dedans. I felt like I was watching a beautiful mannequin rather than a dancer. She was the same in Symphony in C -- elegant with mile-long legs, but weak on the exposed developpe balance and painfully slow in the joyous fourth movement.

Danchig-Waring and Phelan in Emeralds, photo @ Andrea Mohin
The second cast was in general superior. Emeralds remains difficult to cast. Tiler Peck is maybe the world's greatest ballerina but the Violette Verdy part eludes her. Tiler is all about nailing the steps, the role is all about wafting in the perfume. Taylor Stanley as her partner also exudes an earthy warmth rather than a mysterious hauteur. Unity Phelan (making her debut in the Mimi Paul role) and Adrian Danchig-Waring were lovely in the walking pas de deux, although Phelan is another dancer whose sheer strength overwhelms the ballet. Rubies had the very different duo of Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette as the central couple. Veyette's dancing has taken on a heavy, leaden quality but Hyltin is by far my favorite current Rubies girl -- she had just the right amount of sass and sexiness. Claire Kretzschmar (another debut) doesn't have either the height or authority for Tall Girl, and was shaky in her solos. Diamonds had the odd couple of the boyish Joseph Gordon (also making his debut) paired with the very womanly Sara Mearns. Gordon's dancing was impeccable -- his scherzo variation got loud applause for its clean beauty, and his partnering was great for a first-timer. Mearns danced with her usual strength and drama, although her posture could use some work -- she often hunches her shoulders. The audience loved them, although I thought they were mismatched in terms of size and temperament.

It was the third cast of Jewels that provided the complete experience. In Emeralds we got practically a brand new cast. Lauren King might not be the strongest technician but she has the charm and softness that Tiler Peck and Abi Stafford lacked. Daniel Applebaum was excellent as her partner. Megan LeCrone did not fare so well in the Mimi Paul role -- for one, she forgot to do the "clock" arabesque! Either that or she didn't articulate it enough for the audience to notice. I usually don't pay much attention to the trio but Harrison Ball (making his return after a long injury) impressed with his clean double tours and Kristen Segin and Sarah Vilwock were very charming.

The Rubies was also the best overall cast. Lauren Lovette and Gonzalo Garcia (who was also making his return after a long layoff) were the best mix of technique and charm. Garcia doesn't have de Luz's showboating skills but he does have the warmth, playfulness, and the light landings that Veyette lacked. Lauren Lovette seemed entirely at ease with Garcia. They were adorable. Claire Kretzschmar is still miscast as Tall Girl but she was more technically secure. After the show I ran into Lovette and she was so cute and still dressed in what she called her "offstage Rubies outfit."

Reichlen and Janzen in Diamonds
But Diamonds. Oh my. I can say without any hesitation that Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen are the most beautiful Diamonds couple I have ever seen, and I'll venture to say they might be the most beautiful I'll ever see. Reichlen combines Maria's gorgeous aesthetics with Mearns' strength, and then adds her own brand of aloof magic into the mix. Janzen is her always sensitive, gallant partner. He's not the world's strongest virtuoso dancer but in the scherzo he does remember to point his feet in those turns a la seconde, something Tyler Angle did not do. The pas de deux between Reichlen and Janzen was so beautiful, so serene, that I don't think I breathed once. Reichlen doesn't include many of the "traditional" mannerisms of Diamonds -- in the scherzo she doesn't pull her neck and head backwards in the exaggerated Suzanne Farrell tradition, nor does she do the dramatic back-bends and swooning lunges of Sara Mearns, but she doesn't need to. She is one of the rare dancers that can do "just the steps" and have that be enough. And maybe because of muscle memory after several performances, or being inspired by Reichlen/Janzen, but the corps in Diamonds was the best I saw it all week. Spritely in the waltz and scherzo, and regal and uniform in the polonaise finale.

Reichlen and Stafford in Concerto Barocco, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Sandwiched in between all these Jewels was an all-Balanchine program (Concerto Barocco/Tchai pas/Stravinsky Violin Concerto/Symphony in C). Some highlights included Tess Reichlen's cool authority in Barocco (miss her SO much as Tall Girl) and Russell Janzen's expert partnering, Joseph Gordon and Ashley Bouder's geometric classicism in the first movement and Indiana Woodward and Sebastian Villarini-Velez exploding out of the third movement of the Bizet, and Tiler Peck and Joaquin de Luz bringing the house down in Tchai Pas. Tiler put on all the fireworks and then some -- multiple fouettes with fancy arm changing positions, huge fishdives that had the audience gasping. They got called out for five curtain calls and took some very ABT-like grand bows. But hey, when you dance like that, you've earned your right to milk those curtain calls.

And so despite the unending negative publicity this summer, NYCB has gotten off to a great start in its fall season and everything is once again beautiful at the ballet.

#SpeakingInDance | “You’re supposed to shoot out and fly,” said @indiana_woodward of her entrance in #GeorgeBalanchine’s spectacular “Symphony in C,” set to Bizet. A soloist at @nycballet, Indiana makes her New York City debut in the ballet’s third movement opposite Sebastian Villarini-Velez on Sept. 21. “It’s like being shot out of a canon,” Sebastian added. The third movement is for jumpers, and because, as Indiana pointed out, “it is really hard, thinking of just flying is a nice thing.” Many of the steps are identical for the man and the woman, which is rare and helps cement their bond onstage. “The most important part is the connection that you establish with your partner,” Sebastian said. “We get through it together.” When he learned he would be dancing the part, he had just returned to the company after a long layoff. “I went home to Puerto Rico and lounged for 5 weeks,” he said, “and came back to this monster.” And those jumps? They’re equal parts distance and height. “It’s like Balanchine always said, ‘Dance big,’” Indiana told the @nytimes writer @giadk. “And it always works.” @laurenmnolan made this video for #SpeakingInDance, our weekly series exploring the world of #dance.
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  1. Saw the jewel last night. That was with the third cast. Agreed with you that LeCreone did not do well in Mimi Paul's role . I think she is fundamentally miscast as she is just not someone who can radiate softness and femininity. I am glad that the management wants to stretch her range by giving something that is out of her norms. However, it might be a better show if she and Claire Kretzschmar had switched the role. By the way, I noticed, especially, in Rubies, the accents were much sharper. There was much more contrast between movement ans stillness. I know McBride and Villella are coaching this revival. I wonder if you notice that as well.

    1. I have noticed that the Rubies pas de deux is sharper than before. I thought it was more noticeable in the women -- Bouder, Hyltin, and Lovette all articulated the arm movements with more clarity. However the coaching of the Tall Girl seems to have mixed results -- Kretzschmar smiled way too much, and didn't have the strength for the role. I associate this role with really tall Glamazon types.
      As for Emeralds I don't think I've ever seen a perfect cast, or even a near-perfect cast. there's always been someone that's off. Balanchine used to cast Merrill Ashley because he thought she needed softness in her dancing. Think that's why I've seen Ashley Bouder, Sara Mearns, and Megan LeCrone in Emeralds.


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