Spring Diaries: Ramasar Returns to NYCB; ABT's Damp Start

Mearns and Ramasar in the Rondo of Brahms-Schoenberg

ABT's Harlequinade, photo @ Marty Sohl
Spring ballet season continues in NYC. I was at the first performance of ABT's spring season and reviewed it for bachtrack here. Ratmansky's Harlequinade is a delightful miniature gem but it needs a livelier performances than it received the night I saw it. The mime has grown cartoonish, the corp de ballet dances had the good old ABT sluggishness, and while individually very fine James Whiteside as Harlequin, Isabella Boylston as Colombine, Stella Abrera and Pierrette and Thomas Forster as Pierrot could not bring the commedia dell'arte tale to life the way they had been able to last year. I have never seen the Met so empty and unenthusiastic -- there wasn't a single individual curtain call.

Bell and Bouder in Stars and Stripes, photo @ Erin Baiano
Spring season also continues at NYCB. I reviewed a triple bill of Judah/Dances at a Gathering/Stars and Stripes here. As I mention in the review Roman Mejia's debut as Brick Boy absolutely brought down the house, and Harrison Ball also continued his star-making season as El Capitan in Stars and Stripes. Both are really the male standouts of the season.

Bouder's experience with Liberty Bell matched well with Ball's slightly arrogant persona. In addition Emily Kikta as Bugle Girl and Daniel Ulbricht in the third regiment made this a fun closer for a long evening. Here are Ball and Bouder in the final moments of Stars and Stripes:

Lovette and Angle in DAAG, photo @ Erin Baiano
May 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Dances at a Gathering and overall it's still in remarkably good shape. A second cast of Dances at a Gathering had just as many debuts but proved to be the more cohesive cast. Debuts: Anthony Huxley as Brown Boy, Unity Phelan as Mauve Girl, Indiana Woodward as Apricot Girl, Russell Janzen as Purple Boy, Joseph Gordon as Green Boy. "Veterans": Sterling Hyltin as Pink Girl, Ashley Bouder as Green Girl, Harrison Ball as Brick Boy, Lauren King as Blue Girl, and Peter Walker as Blue Boy.

Of the debuts Anthony Huxley as Brown Boy was sensational -- serious, unaffected, and he flew around the stage with the kind of abandon that makes DAAG such a joyous piece underneath the surface melancholy. On the other end Russell Janzen as Purple Boy was a strong partner but more importantly exuded more of a romantic air than Tyler Angle in Cast #1. His duet with Huxley was amazing -- the way Anthony flew in the air gave the duet a real sense of playfulness. Unity Phelan and Joseph Gordon also brought a natural grace to their roles, and Gordon did well with the difficult partnering Green Boy has to do with Mauve Girl including that big shoulder lift-carry offstage. Only Indiana Woodward was unexpectedly ragged as Apricot Girl -- a few partnering mishaps and mistimed entrances and poorly synchronized steps gave her performance a tenseness that usually isn't there.

As for the veterans Sterling Hyltin was just heavenly as Pink Girl, and her duets with Brown Boy and Purple Boy were tender and poetic. Her fast, skimming bourrées in that "Rainbow in the Sky" duet with Russell Janzen were so beautiful -- like little flutters of the heart. Ashley Bouder's Green Girl remains a hard, charmless creature without the wit and warmth that Maria Kowroski, Sara Mearns, and Megan Fairchild bring to the role. Harrison Ball's Brick Boy was a little low impact compared to Roman Mejia although Ball is the more polished dancer, and Lauren King and Peter Walker were given the thankless tasks of making the Blue Girl and Boy seem memorable.

Here are Janzen and Hyltin:

Emily Kikta, photo @ Paul Kolnik
The big revival of the spring season is Balanchine's grand, glorious Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. Why doesn't NYCB do it very often? For one, it requires 55 dancers and four strong dancing couples in each of the four movements. I saw two casts with varying strengths and weaknesses.

First cast: Allegro: Bouder, Janzen, Kikta; Intermezzo: Hyltin, J. Angle; Andante: Pereira, Huxley; Rondo: Mearns (substitute for Kowroski), T. Angle

In the first movement Ashley Bouder's brittle dancing was mismatched with Russell Janzen's danseur noble but Emily Kikta was wonderful in the Gloria Govrin role. She's a tall, imposing dancer whose features project into the huge auditorium.

The intermezzo with all those plunges where the female falls face first to the ground while supported by the male and then is turned right side up while still almost parallel to the ground was led by a delicate, ethereal Sterling Hyltin and a rather out of shape Jared Angle whose partnering was also rather labored. Erica Pereira and Anthony Huxley were spritely and charming in the Andante. But it was Mearns (who replaced Kowroski in the 4th act Rondo) that brought down the house. I have never seen Mearns dance with so much controlled energy -- often she just powers through the role like a bull in a china shop. Here she stormed through the role but never forgot the gypsy accents and the contrasts in tempi that make the final movement so thrilling. As for Tyler Angle, he was a good partner but could have sold the piece more.

Second cast: Allegro: Gerrity, Gordon, Wellington; Intermezzot: Lovette, Veyette; Andante: M. Fairchild, Garcia; Rondo: Mearns, Ramasar

Lovette and Veyette, photo @ Erin Baiano
The second cast of Brahms-Schoenberg was overall the better cast. In the Allegro Emilie Gerrity and Joseph Gordon were simply more suited to the soft, Sylphides-like choreography than Ashley Bouder and Russell Janzen. The underused Lydia Wellington was also excellent as the soloist. In the Intermezzo Andrew Veyette's partnering of Lauren Lovette in those face forward turnaround dips and deep backbends was much more seamless, and as a result the beauty of the choreography was more obvious. In the Andante Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia got more of the military accents of the choreography. This is one of those ballets where Fairchild's doll-like precision with footwork is a plus. And in the gypsy finale Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar of course tore up the stage. Ramasar is making his return after an arbitrator ruled that NYCB had to reinstate him. Both Mearns and Ramasar inherently "get" the gypsy accents of this piece -- the joyous stomps and kicks and folksy flair. This is Mearns' best role. It takes advantage of her daring, her back flexibility, her speed and power. I have mixed feelings about Ramasar's return to the company but he is a very special dancer and the audience welcomed him back with hearty cheers. He's been given another chance. Let's hope he's more mindful of his personal behavior.

Here are Huxley and Pereira in the Andante:

Here is Mearns dancing up a storm in the Rondo finale:

Fairchild in T&V, photo @ Paul Kolnik
Speaking of ballets that are looking rough, whatever happened to Theme and Variations? It was once the crown jewel of Tschaikovsky Suite #3, a welcome 20 minute display of pure classical ballet after three movements of swoony swirling. But this year out-of-sync corps, uninspired lead couples made the ballet seem anti-climactic. Fairchild and Garcia were cute and workmanlike when you need grandeur.  Bouder and Huxley were individually very fine dancers but poorly matched in both temperament and style. Bouder can certainly do all the steps Huxley got through his variations just fine, but when he's so much smaller than Bouder in size onstage there is an imbalance. Their style is also different: he's all inward introspection, she's all hard sell. When the best thing about Tschaikovsky Suite #3 is the usually excruciating Elegie, there's a problem. But to accentuate the positive: Teresa Reichlen and Adrian Danchig-Waring were amazing in the Elegie.

New Symphony in 3 Movements cast, photo from @wendyw's IG
In other news, Symphony in Three Movements got a new leading pink girl in Ashley Laracey. It was unfortunately the most sluggish, miscast performance of this usually surefire ballet. Laracey didn't have the speed or attack for those opening manège of pique turns, nor did she have the angularity that this choreography requires. In the pas de deux with Taylor Stanley she simply was unable to make all those odd shapes with the flexed feet and eyes covering the face. Emilie Gerrity and Devin Alberda on the other hand were excellent debuting as the "third" couple.

Speaking of new debuts, Adrian Danchig-Waring stepped into the Amar Ramasar "yellow tank top" role in The Times Are Racing and it was hard to believe that the choreography wasn't originally designed on him. He looked like he'd been dancing this ballet forever, and absolutely killed it with the energy. He and Lauren Lovette smoldered in their duet. It's a shame that after this season the long-time "tap couple" of Justin Peck and Ashly Isaacs will be no more -- Peck is no longer dancing after this season and Isaacs is retiring. Isaacs was a soloist whose career got sidelined with injury. Nonetheless, she and Peck were amazing as the tap couple and I will miss seeing this ballet without their rapport.


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