Wednesday, May 8, 2019

NYCB Spring Diaries - A New Era

 Tanowitz's Bartok Ballet, photo @ Andrea Mohin
This spring season at NYCB truly marks the start of a new era -- Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan are firmly in place as the new artistic directors, and the company looks both more at ease and more disciplined. No more turmoil.

First of all, as you all might know, I've been writing more for bachtrack, and so two of the performances I attended this spring at NYCB are at bachtrack. One is the opening night performance of Pictures at an Exhibition/Oltremare/Rodeo. Review can be found here. The other is my review of the Spring Gala which had a Justin Peck premiere (the six minute, pleasant, and forgettable Bright), a Pam Tanowitz premiere, and the classic Tschaikovsky Suite #3. Review can be found here. However my review was extensively edited and they took out my favorite line about the disappointing Pam Tanowitz piece, so I'll quote it here:
Bartók Ballet reminded me of why I rarely enjoy Asian fusion restaurants. To me Asian fusion restaurants don't satisfy the appetites of those who want authentic Chinese food, authentic Japanese food, etc. By trying to be everything, it ends up being nothing. Tanowitz's Bartók Ballet tries to fuse modern dance with contemporary ballet and the hybrid was just confusing.

Suzanne Farrell coaches Kowroski and Angle, photo @ Rachel Papo
Other than the spring gala the big news is that Suzanne Farrell returned to coach Diamonds. The details of Farrell's estrangement from NYCB under Peter Martins' reign are well-known. Her return is truly a sign that it is a new era at NYCB.

I saw both couples she coached -- Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle, and Sara Mearns and Russell Janzen. Whatever happened in the studio with Maria Kowroski and Suzanne worked because Kowroski danced a breathtakingly beautiful and technically secure Diamonds. In the past she often seemed overly reliant on Tyler Angle's support in the pas de deux. In the performance I saw for the first time she often danced farther away from him, giving a more queenly, regal impression. Her Scherzo was had an energy and attack that was not always present in prior performances. She even ended her variation with a grande jeté, a step I quite frankly thought she was incapable of doing as I've not seen her jump in so long.

Mearns and Farrell, photo @ Rachel Papo
The coaching also seemed to have paid off dividends for Sara Mearns and Russell Janzen. Mearns has tons of strength, energy and power which sometimes can result in a performance that looks sloppy and uncontrolled. But Mearns after coaching with Suzanne gave a more deliberate, contemplative performance, with more attention paid to posture and epaulement. And she still thrills with those sudden off balance drops to arabesque penchée.  Russell Janzen was as always a reticent, gallant partner. Hopefully Farrell can come back and coach more roles.


Woodward in Valse Fantaisie, photo @ Erin Baiano
Other rarely done Balanchine works also made their way back into the repertory. Valse Fantaisie is a 9 minute gem for two soloists and four corps. Glinka's sweeping waltz melody inspired Balanchine a feast of allegro-dancing. Considering how often (too often, IMO) NYCB uses Duo Concertant to fill in a space for a short ballet one wonders why we don't see Valse Fantaisie more often. The first performances I saw had Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht dance a competent performance. But Indiana Woodward and Harrison Ball in the second cast looked born to dance this ballet. Despite a partnering mishap both of them flew across the stage with total sweep and abandon. They didn't just dance the ballet, they glowed in it. Woodward has a radiance onstage that both draws you into her performance and highlights the joy inherent in the choreography. Harrison Ball with his shock of blond hair and tight 5th position is a natural white tights dancer in a company where white tights dancers are in short supply. Both Woodward and Ball look ready to be principal.

Here is a clip of Pereira in this delightful gem:


McGill, Hyltin, Huxley
Scotch Symphony also returned to the repertoire. Scotch Symphony is an odd Balanchine work -- sort of a mini La Sylphide with Irish kilts, a sort-of story about a Scotsman who loves a girl and in the end I guess they get married? Sterling Hyltin, Anthony Huxley and Alston McGill (in the kilt solo) were all making their debuts. Hyltin and Huxley both have the soaring jumps, silent landings and natural elegance that suits this ballet. Hyltin is such a natural sylph that she slipped into the delicate, quicksilver ballerina role in Scotch Symphony as if she'd been dancing it forever.  This is another work they don't do nearly as often. And this season they're only performing it five times and it's not being programmed for next season. Why?

Mejia in Western Symphony
Other highlights from the first three weeks of the spring season that I haven't already mentioned:

- Roman Mejia made his debut in the Rondo of Western Symphony and positively blew the doors out of the building with his enormous lasso jumps and kicks. He is one of those dancers that seems to hang in the air forever, and that combined with his speed and attack makes for one exciting dancer. It helps that he's a Texas native and danced the role with some authentic Texan swag. Teresa Reichlen was the Rondo girl and her height difference with Mejia was used to great comic effect. She also danced the Rondo with more energy and spirit than I've ever seen from her. It was an exhilarating ending to an otherwise rather dreary, long night at the ballet (the program was Valse Fantaisie, Suite of Dances, Bartók Ballet, Bright, and Western Symphony).


-  Megan Fairchild might have seemed slightly overparted in Theme and Variations but she and Taylor Stanley were delightful in the lovely Sonatine. It was a real conversation between the two dancers and the pianist. They also don't do this ballet nearly enough.

Stanley and Fairchild, photo from Fairchild's IG
- Gonzalo Garcia in Suite of Dances didn't have to push his classical technique the way he had to in Theme and Variations, and we could just revel in his charm and playfulness. Here is a great article in the New Yorker about him dancing this piece.

- Stravinsky Violin Concerto has truth be told never been one of my favorites but a relatively new cast of Lauren Lovette, Joseph Gordon, Sara Mearns and Aaron Sanz were undeniably awesome, as was the amazingly energetic corps in the background. This is one ballet where Mearns' sheer strength is a bonus -- in the first duet was so refreshing to see a ballerina not need any assistance with those backwards walkovers. The playful Lovette and Gordon (making his debut) were the perfect foil for the powerhouse couple of Mearns/Sanz. The two couples as well as the corps crisply all articulated the strange shapes Balanchine created onstage. There was simply no fuzzy stuff to this performance -- it was so clean and sharp.

Mearns as the stripper, photo @ Paul Kolnik
- Sara Mearns and Maria Kowroski also shared another big Farrell role -- the revival of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Maria Kowroski gave the more orthodox interpretation, which was that of a naughty but not trashy stripper. Her long legs did most of the work for her as she kicked them up repeatedly. Sara Mearns was more of a Vegas stripper. Very over the top, very fun, but a bit too trashy to be Balanchine. Daniel Applebaum as the Russian Dancer and Silas Farley as the gangster both stepped out of their comfort zones to give comedic performances. As for the hoofer role, Peter Walker was the more energetic tapper but this role also brings out the best in Tyler Angle. It's great to see this crowdpleasing ballet back.


And now here's a brief video to give you an idea of what the Tanowitz piece is like:

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