Spring Diaries: ABT's Seasons, SAB Workshop, NYCB's Midsummer

Ratmansky's The Seasons' final tableau, photo @ Rosalie O'Connor

ABT continued its Ratmansky Ballet Theater season with a triple bill: the pretty but somewhat bland Songs of Buklovina, the pseudo-dram-ballet On the Dnieper, and his new work The Seasons. I reviewed the program for bachtrack here. Everyone loved The Seasons -- I'm not there yet. To me it lacks the tight organization that is a hallmark of classical ballet. As I said on bachtrack:
The Seasons is overstuffed, uneven and way too busy. There are so many steps, but they rarely made me "see the music". It's also confusing; one had to keep glancing down at the program notes to keep track of who was supposed to be representing what. It was a frustrating ballet, with so many lovely moments that were less than the sum of its parts.

The Garland waltz, photo @ Erin Baiano
I also attended the SAB workshop evening performance. These workshops are always a joy to attend. The Peter Jay Sharp Theater is smaller and more intimate and you can really see some of the details of Balanchine's choreography that are lost in a larger theater. Also, the fact that these are students and the choreography is often done without the flair and polish of professional dancers allows you to see the skeletal structure of these ballets. Of course, one also goes to scope out stars of the future.

Concerto Barocco rehearsal, from @sab_nyc's IG
This year's program was well-balanced: Concerto Barocco, The Garland Dance from Sleeping Beauty, a new duet called "New Sleep" by William Forsythe, and Bourrée Fantasque. There wasn't a single weak link in the evening performance. Concerto Barocco was crisp, fast, detailed -- it was not a surprise that Suki Shorer staged it. Brandi Stein as the first violin and Shelby Tzung as the second violin were good foils -- Stein more reserved, Tzung with a more aggressive attack. Jackson Fort as the male cavalier is a handsome blond and for a 17 year old a good partner. There were some bobbles in the second movement duet (some of those windmill lifts didn't quite make it, and a corps member slipped) but I saw little details particularly in that famous handholding knot sequence that I never saw before.

The Garland Dance from Sleeping Beauty was a wonder -- on the smaller stage the knitting patterns Balanchine has the little pink girls make throughout the waltz were eye-popping in their beauty. The new Forsythe duet "New Sleep" was very Forsythe -- aggressive electronica music, huge crotch-splitting extensions, black stage, black costumes. But the couple I saw -- Quinn Starner and KJ Takashashi got the style down pat, down to the cold glares. Starner is a real beauty and KJ Takashashi is already getting buzz for his eye-catching style.

Bourrée Fantasque, photo @ sab_nyc's IG
The best however was Balanchine's rarely done Bourrée Fantasque. It's not a great ballet -- it's as if La Valse and Western Symphony decided to have a kid together and out came Bourrée Fantasque. Which is why it's the perfect workshop ballet -- it allows for a mix of styles and showcases diverse talents in the school. In the first movement the Amazonian Savannah Durham was paired with the much smaller Dylan Calahan. This is one of Balanchine's tall woman/short guy combos (much like Prodigal Son or Oberon and Titania in Midsummer's Night Dream) and it's great cheeky fun. The sweeping, melancholy middle movement was led by a stunningly beautiful Malorie Lundgren who was the standout dancer of the evening. She had glamor, she had authority, she was the total package. Samuel Melnikov partnered her well. The final movement had a perky Dianetzy Rojas and Ross Allen. The ballet ended with the usual flood of women from all the movements. Tulle skirts were flying, women and men were spinning like tops, and as I said, it was La Valse and Western Symphony mixed into one.

After the performance I saw so many proud parents with their kids. It always warms my heart. I haven't heard who the apprentices will be, but based on this workshop whoever they are they'll be great.

Mearns as Titania, photo @ Erin Baiano
NYCB finished off its season with a run of Balanchine's evergreen classic A Midsummer's Night Dream. Despite casting reshuffling due to injury (Maria Kowroski bowed out as did Gonzalo Garcia) the two casts I saw were as near perfection as I've ever seen in this ballet. The first night I saw Sara Mearns as Titania, Anthony Huxley as Oberon, Harrison Ball as Puck, Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in the Act 2 divertissement, Peter Walker as Bottom, Georgina Pazcoguin as Hippolyta, Kristen Segin as Butterfly, and Lauren King/Daniel Applebaum/Erica Pereira/Lars Nelson as the Athenian quartet.

Harrison Ball as Puck, photo @ Paul Kolnik
First of all Sara Mearns is having the season of her life. She always has talent in abundance, but at times her talent is careless and inconsistent. This season she has toned down the aggressiveness of some of her dancing, and she's let her dancing breathe. Her Gypsy Rondo in Brahms- Schoenberg was some of the most thrilling dancing I've seen anywhere, anytime. Her Titania was funny, feisty, and thrilling -- she gets those off balance plunges like no one else. Anthony Huxley is also having the season of his life. He always could dance the difficult beats and leaps of Oberon's scherzo with no problems, but now he's dancing with an authority that is very appropriate. Harrison Ball's Puck is perfection -- clever, spritely, with unexpected power in his jumps.

Here is Sara Mearns' Titania:

Hyltin and Ramasar, photo @ Paul Kolnik
The smaller roles were all well filled. This is one role where Peter Walker's gangly limbs helped -- his Bottom was  sweet, awkward, sad. He partnered Mearns very well in that hilarious duet. Daniel Applebaum and Lars Nelson were particularly funny as the vapid Demetrius and Lysander. Sterling Hyltin personified grace and warmth in the sublime second act divertissement. Her extensions displayed this dancer's remarkable control in adagio dancing, as she repeatedly lifted her leg up in a developpé with a slow, beautiful arc of movement. Her natural warmth made her duet seem like an idealized depiction of love. Amar Ramasar partnered Hyltin well.

This was one of those performances where everyone was on. Georgina Pazcoguin after years of injuries returned to the role of Hippolyta and swallowed up the stage with huge leaps and fouettés. Russell Janzen was great as Titania's Cavalier. The SAB children who make up the butterflies as insects were amazing -- I saw patterns and formations that were clearer than they've ever been, and a joy in their dancing. You also saw how masterful Balanchine was at creating kid-appropriate choreography.

Huxley and Mejia, photo @ Andrea Mohin
A was reviewed for bachtrack here. It was a good performance but was overall not at the inspiration of the first performance, mostly due to a dull Divertissement from Lauren Lovette. With that being said Teresa Reichlen's Titania, Anthony Huxley's Oberon, and the phenomenally talented Roman Mejia's Puck were a joy to watch. Mejia is also having a great season -- his Western Symphony Rondo brought down the house.

As I said on bachtrack:

Roman Mejia as Puck circled the stage in a powerful series of jumps and provided much of the comedy as Puck became ever-more-confused by the antics of the silly Athenian lovers. Mejia is a phenomenal talent: his jump is enormous, his energy is boundless, and he has a natural vivacity that lights up the stage. At this point his portrayal is rather broad with a lot of audience-facing mugging but with time he will no doubt improve. He already has the technique down pat.

Balanchine's take on Shakespeare is in a way cast-proof. There's so much wit and charm in the choreography that it sells itself.

And so that's a wrap for NYCB's spring season. Overall it was a success for Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan -- some of the sloppiness that had been present in the year of purgatory was absent, and dancers like Harrison Ball, Indiana Woodward and Roman Mejia seem ripe for promotion. Suzanne Farrell was invited back to coach Diamonds, and the results were wonderful.The most successful revivals were of works that are rarely in the repertoire: Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, Valse Fantaisie and Scotch Symphony. I also loved the two different but beautiful casts for Dances at a Gathering, and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. While Justin Peck's Bright was rather dim and Pam Tanowitz's Bartok Ballet a disappointment, some new works area already classics: the irresistible anthem The Times Are Racing (2017), the spiritual and mysterious Pictures at an Exhibition. Longtime tap couple Justin Peck and Ashly Isaacs both retired after this season but I have no doubt this work will live on.

And now here is Anthony Huxley in the Scherzo. It really does not get much better than this:


  1. I think doing "Isadora" helped return Mearns to the integral simplicity at the core of her dancing. Maybe the marriage helps. It's a rare day when a ballet dancer has personal happiness and stability. Her dancing in this clip is really divine. Fabulous review!

    1. Mearns was also about the only thing good in "I Married An Angel." I think the weight training has helped -- she seems more confident, there are less posts on IG after a performance criticizing herself. Whatever is happening with her, it's great because she's dancing at a new level.


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