Friday evening’s New York City Ballet theme was À La Française, a tribute to ballets with French composers. Two of the works were composed in the 1950s for Paris-born Principal Dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq by men who were in love with her (Afternoon of a Faun, 1953, Jerome Robbins, music by Claude Debussy, and La Valse, 1951, Balanchine, music by Maurice Ravel). The third piece, Walpurgisnacht Ballet is a 1980 Balanchine work featuring music by Carles Gounod, and Acheron, which debuted January 31.
Liam Scarlett choreographed Acheron, set to Concerto in G for Organ, Strings, and Timpani by Francis Poulenc. Liam, 27, is a former Royal Ballet dancer and the company’s first Artist in Residence. It is unusual for a ballet to be set to organ music and it reminded me of being in church, but it works in this piece as the organ accentuates dramatic themes. The piece consisted of three main couples Sara Mearns/Adrian Danchig-Waring, Rebecca Krohn/Tyler Angle, and Megan Fairchild/Gonzalo Garcia with male soloist Anthony Huxley and five corps couples. The couples dance together and in combinations, with and with out the corps couples. In some segments, the music is soothing as the pair is immersed in complicated partnering steps such as a lift where the woman poses upside down. In the most dramatic segment set to ominous organ music, Sara pushes away from Adrian and they struggle. He then comforts her to more soothing music. Rebecca and Tyler were particularly effective in their pas de deux.
In between partnering segments, Anthony Huxley darts in and out of the action as he alone has no partner. Throughout, he is light and fast with arms flowing, and very effective. Although the couples receive most of the attention, he finished up the piece with four pirouettes to a double tour to the knee as the curtain fell.
I enjoyed the piece with the unique organ music and hope it remains in the repertory. It is a busy piece and multiple viewings would pay dividends. My particular focus in future viewings would be the relationship and tension between the couples and understanding what Anthony’s solo character represents. After the piece, Sara, Adrian, and other dancers in the work were in the orchestra seating section taking in the remainder of the performance. Nice to see the dancers are interested in seeing their fellow dancers perform and interacting with the crowd.
Afternoon of a Faun had special meaning for me after viewing the documentary on Tanaquil Le Clercq that I reviewed previously. Sterling Hyltin and Craig Hall danced the piece Friday evening. The work opened with Craig lying on the floor asleep, wearing black tights, white sox and slippers with no shirt. He woke up, rose, and posed in front of a “mirror” in a self-absorbed manner. Sterling, with long-blond hair flowing over her shoulders, entered the studio, her eyes focused on her image in the mirror. As the piece progressed, he supported her in several ballet positions, both focused on their reflections in the mirror in self-adoration. Craig then knelt next to her and kissed her on the cheek; he then focused on his main attraction: himself. With hand still on her cheek, Sterling then rose and walked backward through the door. Craig resumed his stretching and rolled over to resume his nap.
Sterling and Craig’s dancing was fine, but I find trying to understand the piece more interesting than judging the performers. Who is the woman who enters the studio? Why doesn’t he pursue her after he kisses her? He is asleep at the beginning and end of the piece. Is this just a dream?
Walpughisnacht Ballet by Balanchine was for a 1975 production of Gounod’s 1859 Faust at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra. The New York City Ballet premiere was its first presentation as an independent work in 1980. He had choreographed dances for a production of Faust at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, which was danced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Balanchine was also ballet master in 1935 for the Metropolitan Opera and 1945 for the Opera Naçional, Mexico City.
The ballet featured Maria Kowroski and Ask le Cour with corps members in beautiful dresses in various shades of purple. Maria and Ask stand out above the crowd as they are very tall; Maria takes full advantage of her physique with nice panches and extensions. Her solo work was highlighted with nice phrasing with the music as she paused for nice effect during her impressive developes. She also had a quick and unique pique turn diagonal that was well done. Ask’s solo was fairly straightforward that featured several double tours to arabesque.
La Valse featured soon to be retired Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici (who will give their last performance March 1) with Amar Ramasar as the figure of Death. In the ballet, Sébastien’s character is attracted to Janie, who is seeking her true love. Ultimately, she discovers that she is drawn to Death, played by Amar. In the end, Death wraps his arms around Janie and she collapses. Although it is a historically important ballet, I find it rather dull and not one of my favorites.