Sunday, October 14, 2018

Farewell Joaquin

Joaquin soaks in the audience adoration
Joaquin de Luz made his farewell to NYCB this afternoon after 15 years with the company. The program was a decent one -- Theme and Variations with Tiler Peck, Suite of Dances, and Todos Buenos Aires. It was a memorable emotional afternoon as many of his colleagues could be seen wiping away tears during the curtain calls. But in a sense the entire fall season has been a farewell tour, as de Luz danced almost all his signature roles for the last time. I didn't have a chance to see him in Other Dances and Prodigal Son (back to school means busy schedule), but I did see his "farewell" to four of his most well-known roles: Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Rubies, James in La Sylphide, and the short sailor in Fancy Free. In all those roles he was technically impressive. You could never tell that he's 43 and has had a number of injuries over the years.



de Luz and Hyltin, photo @ Paul Kolnik
First, the bad news: La Sylphide required a bit more stamina than de Luz could offer. By the end of the ballet his form had become sloppy and his upper body did not have much Bournonville epaulement. James is also a role that was an odd fit for him -- de Luz is all sunshine and joy onstage, and James is all sturm and drang. de Luz's slumped posture was a contrast with the light, etheral Sylph of Sterling Hyltin, who is a marvel in the role. She's obviously studied the Marie Taglioni lithographs as she stamped out nearly all neoclassical habits and looked completely like a Romantic ballerina. Her light jumps, sweet and teasing stage presence, and innate musicality (the way she flickered her fingers when the Sylph heard a bird was worth the price of admission) made her one of the most natural Sylphs I've ever seen. I also wasn't a fan of the Rubies he did with Ashley Bouder. de Luz danced with a lot of energy and brio and garnered applause for the jogging/corkscrew turn solo, but both dancers IMO did too much audience-facing mugging.

Veyette, de Luz, Angle, photo @ Irving Chow
Of the roles I saw him do this fall season Fancy Free was maybe the best. Before de Luz was with NYCB he danced for many years at ABT and ABT's version of Fancy Free is often thought to be better than the version across the plaza. de Luz as the short, show-off sailor was an adorable ball of energy. His double tour/ground split solo was awesome. During the curtain calls his fellow sailors (Andrew Veyette and Tyler Angle) carried de Luz on their shoulders. Fancy Free isn't my favorite Robbins ballet (I find the humor extremely dated) but this trio of sailors, plus the sexy passerbys of Mary Elizabeth Sell as the purse girl, Tiler Peck as the flirt, and Miriam Miller as the last girl made this piece good-hearted fun. It was actually one of the best renditions I've seen of this piece.

Just as impressive was the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux with Tiler Peck. Peck and de Luz are both bravura, show-off dancers, and they brought the house down the night I saw them. They were spurring each other on to out-do the other in the variations and coda. By the time Peck dove into de Luz's arms for those final fishdives the audience was screaming like it was a YAGP gala. The two even did some very Russian-style milked curtain calls. Here's a video of them where you can gauge their astonishing virtuoso technique:



Reichlen's speech at fall gala
In fact after a summer of scandal this ended up being a great fall season. A few standouts: the company fielded three separate casts of Jewels and all of them had their considerable merits. Concerto DSCH where Sterling Hyltin was exquisitely delicate in the adagio, and Tyler Angle her perfect partner who swung her around so high you thought she was going to fly off. That performance also had a great "blue team" of Harrison Ball (finally back after a long injury), Joseph Gordon, and Brittany Pollack, and Devin Alberda as the central "jumping" guy in the corps (he's the one who simply jumps up and down happily throughout the first movement). West Side Story Suite is really a weak-sauce teaser of the real enchilada but it was great to see Gina Pazcoguin's sizzling Anita again. A moving, intense Prodigal Son with Daniel Ulbricht and Tess Reichlen. Reichlen had a great season -- she was exquisite in Diamonds, devastating as the Siren in Prodigal Son, quietly beautiful in This Bitter Earth, and the picture of Balanchinean geometry and line in Concerto Barocco. It was Reichlen who made the speech at the Fall Gala about how "we the dancers ... will not put art before common decency or allow talent to sway our moral compass." She's been anchoring the company's performances with the same integrity.

And just on the heels of Joaquin's departure, NYCB promoted Joseph Gordon to principal, and several corps members to soloists. One door closes, another one opens.

Scenes from a farewell
Now onto the farewell. Who can  retire at the age of 43 by dancing Theme and Variations? Apparently, Joaquin. Balanchine's grueling test of classical technique is a calling card of both Tiler Peck and de Luz. And wow! de Luz tackled all the challenges of the role fearlessly. The audience roared after he finished that infamous solo that ends with the double tour/pirouette sequence. The whole ballet looked amazing considering they haven't danced this all season. The corps was beautiful, Tiler was her usual excellent self, and of course Joaquin proved that he's still the king of the fifth position/white tights roles. After the ballet was over Tiler gave him a big hug during the curtain calls.

An okayish Concerto Barocco (Kowroski, Janzen, Stafford) gave de Luz a chance to rest before Suite of Dances. This 12 minute solo that combines classical ballet with skipping, hopping, pulling the tag of a shirt, cartwheels, somersaults and the like is minor Robbins but it did give de Luz a chance to show off his boyish charm. A finally Todos Buenos Aires is by any measure an awful ballet but Martins ballets always have a flashy "jumping boy" and de Luz basically jumped around the stage and wowed the crowd while the rest of the cast did some basic tango moves. Multiple turns a la seconde, corkscrew jumps, you get the picture. His colleagues (Sara Mearns, Maria Kowroski, Ask La Cour, Taylor Stanley, Andrew Veyette, Jared Angle) all muted themselves so the spotlight was squarely where it belonged.

When the ballet was over the auditorium exploded and de Luz was showered with confetti and flowers from his colleagues. A few memorable moments: a heavily pregnant Megan Fairchild got her tummy kissed by de Luz, Gonzalo Garcia brought out a Spanish flag and the two of them pretended to be matador and bull, Tess Reichlen came out and picked de Luz up, Robert Fairchild came back to NYCB for the afternoon, and de Luz did an adorable tango with his mother. Many balletomanes were sad that de Luz was retiring and a bit puzzled. After all he's still dancing very well. But he said in an interview that he wanted to go out on top, and he did. He has teaching and dancing gigs lined up, and seems completely happy with his decision to retire. It's the audiences who will miss him.

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