NYCB's Episodes Wakes Up Sleepy Winter Season

Paul Taylor in Episodes
NYCB's Winter Season is usually a big gathering of dance fans who crave 'real dance' after Nutcracker season. Yet after three weeks of Winter Season it's hard to ignore the empty auditorium, the tepid crowds, and the feeling that for whatever reason the company is in a rut.

It's a strange feeling because the programming has been strong. The dancing has rarely been outright bad. And there have been excellent performances: Tiler Peck (paired with the virtuoso Roman Mejia) losing a bit of her speed but none of her brilliance in Allegro Brillante, Joseph Gordon soaring in the variations of La Source and remembering to point his feetthe delightful Emma von Enck charming the audience as the solo girl in La Source. Teresa Reichlen and Ask La Cour have been having the seasons of their lives -- they were gorgeous sculptures in Momentum and all twisted angularity in Movements, and both of them danced a Firebird that was beautiful, mysterious, and surprisingly heartrending.

Gordon and Bouder in La source, photo @ Erin Baiano
But exciting repertoire choices have been stymied by poor casting. I sat through the a Brahms/Schoenberg Quartet performance that nearly put me to sleep. Imagine this grand, romantic ballet being ... boring? But it was. Ashley Bouder is repeatedly cast in roles where she lacks the requisite charm and softness -- La Source and the first movement of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. She was still an exciting Firebird so her awkwardness in La Source was that of a great dancer cast in the wrong ballet.The graceful Gonzalo Garcia is cast in roles where bravura attack is important -- for example, the militaristic third movement of Brahms-Schoenberg. The blandly competent Erica Pereira is cast in everything. Why???

Reichlen and La Cour in Firebird, photo @ Paul Kolnik
The problems went beyond individual performances. Overall many ballets had a slightly tired, musty quality, as if viewed through a fuzzy old lens. Balanchine shouldn't look this way, but it did. Even Sara Mearns' Firebird debut was good, but not as exciting as Mearns usually is. When Stravinsky Violin Concerto is both joyless and charmless, there's a problem. It wasn't an issue with coaching -- this season they brought back Suzanne Farrell herself to coach Momentum/Movements and Brahms-Schoenberg. The company oddly looked the best in Justin Peck revivals -- both Belles Lettres and In Creases had an urgency and energy that the older classics lacked.



Salvation came in the most unexpected place: a program of Haieff Divertimento/Concertino/Episodes/Rodeo. The first three works are rarely danced by NYCB and thus seemed to have a coat of fresh paint. The whole program just had a vigor and snap that was so sorely lacking from the rest of the season.

Haieff Divertimento was created in 1947 and has been rarely revived. For whatever reason it's thought of as "minor Balanchine." Why? It's 15 minutes of pure joy. The score by Alexander Haieff is tuneful and edgy at the same time. The pas de deux uses repeated paddling motions by the ballerina to imitate the melody's rhythms -- one of Balanchine's "See the Music's" finest examples. There is some difficult corps work -- each girl gets her own solo. This ballet looked fresh, modern and beautiful. Unity Phelan and Harrison Ball were stunning as the lead couple. Phelan's long legs and beauty evoked Tanaquil LeClercq., the role's originator. There were some opening night jitters -- one male corps member kicked off a shoe, another female corps took a spill, but Haieff Divertimento proved that minor Balanchine is still major ballet.

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Concertino, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Just as enjoyable was Jerome Robbins' Concertino. It's a short trio composed for the 1982 Stravinsky Festival. Teresa Reichlen, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Jovani Furlan were wonderfully articulate in the jagged choreography. And Rodeo: Four Dances Episodes received a rousing performance with Sara Mearns and Peter Walker great as the central duo and Anthony Huxley, Daniel Ulbricht, Taylor Stanley and Cainan Weber all very appealing in this this very guy-centric ballet.

Trusnovec in Episodes, photo @ Andrea Mohin
But the big crowd-pleaser of the night was, oddly enough, Balanchine's Episodes. Episodes is one of the least popular of Balanchine's works -- Anton von Webern's atonal score and the stark minimalism of the choreography is tough going even for audiences brought up on a diet of B&W leotard ballets. However last night's Episodes was a special occasion -- the solo Balanchine choreographed for Paul Taylor was reinserted back into the ballet. It was danced by Paul Taylor veteran Michael Trusnovec and the reinsertion of the solo was revelatory. When seen in context the entire ballet seems like a true ballet/modern dance fusion. In an interview Trusnovec said Balanchine described the solo as a "fly trapped in a milk glass." There is no "ballet" to it -- it's 100% modern dance with dancing that's to the ground and based on contortions in the torso and arms. Balanchine even included the Merce balance. Trusnovec twisted, turned, flailed, like a trapped insect indeed. His fingers often seemed to be physically clawing his way out of ... something. He was magnificent.


Kretzschmar and La Cour, photo @ Andrea Mohin
The rest of the ballet received an excellent performance. The audience laughed several times (!!!!). When was the last time the audience laughed at a work based on the Viennese second school? But the wittiness of the choreography was indeed funny -- the sudden turn-in of the feet, the bizarre shapes (including the one where the woman is turned upside down and the spotlight is only on her legs up in the air like insect antennae), the almost goofy way the dancers seem to "follow" the music. Is Balanchine spoofing the score? Some standouts include Claire Kretzschmar in the second movement and Teresa Reichlen and Adrian Danchig-Waring in the beautiful Bach Ricerata finale. The entire cast showed the kind of cleanness of line that was a hallmark of the Martins reign but has slackened since Martins’ departure.

Haieff Divertimento, Concertino, and Episodes are three ballets that deserve more love. And last night judging from the enthusiastic audience responses they got the love that they deserved.

Hope to catch Ratmansky's Voices and a Swan Lake by the time the season ends.







Honored to become part of the story of this gem of a solo from George Balanchine’s EPISODES, onstage tonight with @nycballet - thanks to @nytimes @giadk and @angelo_vasta for so beautifully featuring this excerpt as part of the #SpeakinginDance series. Much love and thanks to @jovanifurlan and @glennkeenangreen for their incredible support from day one. 💙 #Repost @nytimes ・・・ “I’m mostly thinking about how much tension you have to create to be able to explode out of the shapes,” @truzdncr said of the rarely seen “Variations” solo from “Episodes.” Choreographed by George Balanchine in 1959 to orchestral pieces by Webern, “Episodes” was originally two parts; Martha Graham choreographed the first section for her company, and Balanchine choreographed the second for @nycballet. In Balanchine’s half, Paul Taylor, then a Graham dancer who went on to become a leading choreographer, performed this solo, which Michael Trusnovec, a former member of the Taylor company, appears in this week with @nycballet. It’s intense: Balanchine told Taylor to think of it as a fly in a glass of milk. “I have always had an incredible level of respect for Paul as a dance-maker,” Michael told the #nytimes dance critic @giadk. “I have more respect for him now as a dancer.” @angelo_vasta made this video for #SpeakingInDance, our weekly series exploring the world of #dance.
A post shared by Michael Trusnovec (@truzdncr) on

Comments

  1. It's a terrific review, thank you. I would so love to see this performance on Sunday but I can't get to NY that day. thanks for including the photos and the video clip of Trusnovec. I've seen him dance many times and he is magnificent. I'm sorry he's left the Taylor company.

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    1. The Taylor company has had troubling turnover since Taylor's death. Michelle Fleet, Sean Mahoney, Robert Kleinendorst, Jamie Rae Walker and Parisa Khobdeh also retired recently. Of course they might have wanted to move on but still ...

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    2. Dancers tend to retire in groups, or generations. I'm sure a lot of the dancers wanted to hang on for Paul's last days, or wanted to see the company through the transition. Most are in their early 40's, the youngest is 38. Seems more like the natural order than anything troubling.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/arts/paul-taylor-dance.html

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