A review of NYCB at Bachtrack; Winter Season Wrapup

New Leaders of NYCB
Winter Season at NYCB has finally ended. After a surprisingly tumultuous season that had an ugly backstage drama about Sleeping Beauty casting make the NYTimes the season ended on a note of stability: permanent artistic leaders were finally appointed. Jonathan Stafford will be the Artistic Director, Wendy Whelan the Associate Artistic Director, and Justin Peck the Artistic Advisor. Judging from reactions on social media the dancers of the company found this news a relief and I can't blame them. Fourteen months without a defined leader is hard for even the most resilient company. Stafford and Whelan seem like good choices -- both have a reputation for professionalism and Whelan can impart her knowledge of her vast repertoire while she was prima ballerina at NYCB to her former colleagues/new dancers.

As for the final performances of the season, I reviewed a performance of Prodigal Son/Liebeslieder Walzer for Bachtrack. Review can be found here.

An excerpt:
Liebeslieder Walzer has an air of "persistent melancholy and tragic remorse," as Arlene Croce wrote about the ballet. The dancers are back in their ballgowns, and the wild, feverish dancing of the past thirty minutes is over. The four couples sit in the upholstered chairs and politely applaud the quartet of singers. It is a vivid reminder of how fleeting human connection is.

And now, in no particular order, some of the highlights and lowlights of the Winter Season:

Ballet Imperial costumes, photo by Martha Swope
Great Ballet In Search of the Right CostumesTschaikovsky Piano Concerto #2. The peach Karinska costumes have been replaced with dullish gray/blue dresses that are overly brocaded in the bodice and too heavy in the skirt area to fly when the ballerinas twirl across the stage (which in this ballet is ... almost every second). But then again I've looked long and hard at many costumes for Ballet Imperial/Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto #2 and the only costumes that were ever remotely attractive were the gold Karinska tutus way back in the day. Can we bring them back?

Serenade costumes, photo @ DevinAlberda
Honorary mention goes to the Serenade costumes. For whatever reason these bright yellow panels have been added to the front of the costumes that stick out like a sore thumb against the generally moonlight glow of this ballet.

Corps dancer who had an amazing soloist-worthy season: Avid backstage photographer and senior corps member Devin Alberda (check out his Instagram page and also the photo on the left) had a standout season. Whatever he danced, you noticed his energy and commitment, whether it was the Prodigal Son's drinking buddy, one of the demi-soloists in Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto #2, the Puss n Boots in Sleeping Beauty, or the first movement of Interplay. Other corps standouts: Mira Nadon, so eye-catchingly beautiful, and Roman Mejia, who brought down the house whenever he danced with his gravity-defying jumps.

Woodward as Aurora, photo @ Erin Baiano
Soloists who had an amazing principal-worthy season: There are two: Indiana Woodward, who made a radiant debut as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Harrison Ball, who has come back from a long injury with a bang. Whenever he danced he was a standout, whether it was the Gigue in Mozartiana to Gold in Sleeping Beauty to Herman Schmerman. Ball combines a flamboyant, almost show-offy style with some of the cleanest lines and an impeccable fifth position. Woodward is as technically precise as she is charming. These two soloists are ready to move to the principal rank.

Anthony Huxley as Prince Desire, photo @ Erin Baiano
Principal Who is Dancing Like a New Dancer: Anthony Huxley in the past has often been technically impeccable but remote. This season he was a sensitive, gallant Prince Desire in his Sleeping Beauty debut, thrillingly precise and quicksilver in Mozartiana, and now owns the Agon pas de trois by not only mastering the steps but embracing Balanchine's spiky neoclassical style. His performance of Mozartiana with the delicate Sterling Hyltin and the cheerful Troy Schumacher might be my single favorite performance of the winter season. Honorable mention goes to Gonzalo Garcia, who debuted in Apollo, Orpheus, and got a rare stab at Prodigal Son and was wonderful in all these roles.

Here is Huxley in the Agon pas de trois solo:

New Ballet That Does Not Need a Revival Ever Again: Justin Peck's Principia. Physics was my worst subject in high school but I'd much rather read Newton's Principia Mathematica cover to cover than sit through 40 minutes of Peck's mind-numbingly dull ballet set to a mind-numbingly dull muzak score by Sufjan Stevens. You know how in Mean Girls there's this line "Stop trying to make fetch happen!"? I feel like Justin Peck needs to be told "Stop trying to make Peck/Stevens happen!"

Mearns and Ulbricht as the Door and the Sigh, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Balanchine Ballet that did not need a revival: Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir. Variations on the Door and the Sigh. I know many balletomanes enjoyed this piece. I'm happy for them. For me it was 30 minutes of torture. A  Balanchine-does-Eurotrash gimmick which consisted of 30 minutes of a man (the sigh) writhing on the ground while a woman wearing a stage-covering drape jerked around her body as the "door." Pierre Henry's "score" consisted of various kitchen-sink and construction-site sounds. Sara Mearns and Daniel Ulbricht did their best but even they couldn't save this turkey.

Here's a clip. If it's your thing, more power to you.

Ballet That Needs a Hiatus: The overdone After the Rain Pas de Deux. It seems like the go-to filler ballet these days -- need a 10 minute ballet to fill the program? After the Rain! This ballet was special when Wendy Whelan did it, but since then several ballerinas have donned their pink leotards and the result has always been an instantly forgettable 10 minutes. If Sara Mearns can't make the ballet interesting, there's a problem.

It's a Hit, It's a Hit!: Many old-fashioned balletomanes sniffed at the use of hip-hop music for Kyle Abraham's The Runaway and club electronica for Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing but revivals of these no-longer-brand-new ballets repeatedly drew in large, young, enthusiastic crowds and showcased the remarkable talents of NYCB dancers in unusual ways. Taylor Stanley's solos in The Runaway are a master class of precision, control, and just flat out spectacular dancing. The Times Are Racing captures the trademark energy, speed and attack of the NYCB style.

Most Unjustly Maligned Performance: The NYTimes article about the Sleeping Beauty cast changes heavily implied that Ashley Bouder was pulled from opening night of "her" ballet and replaced with Sterling Hyltin only because Hyltin in the past had defended Peter Martins (who still owns the rights to the NYCB's Sleeping Beauty). People who don't follow the company that closely might have concluded that Hyltin was somehow an unworthy Aurora. Nothing could be farther from the truth -- Hyltin has been dancing the role for twelve years and is one of the most radiant, natural Auroras I've ever seen, anywhere, any company. Was Martins being spiteful by pulling Bouder from opening night? Maybe. But Martins might also have decided that Hyltin deserved opening night purely on the merit of her dancing. Here is a brief clip. Her dancing speaks for itself.


  1. One Balanchine ballet I would love to see revived is "Bugaku."

    1. I wish they'd revive La Source and Bourree Fantasque. Both are regularly done in SAB workshops.


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