Above photo: Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette, Swan Lake, September 24, 2015 August is a slow month in the New York City ballet scene with the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre fall seasons providing something to look forward to.
NYCB: Swan Lake Dominates
The NYCB season runs from September 19 to October 15 featuring Peter Martins’ Swan Lake in 13 of the 28 performances. NYCB excels at mixed rep works and it is disappointing that about half of the season consists of this not so great full length production. The highlight of the season is a program of new works from NYCB dancers and Martins. The other mixed rep programs are less inspiring.
Martins’ Swan Lake debuted in 1996 at The Royal Danish Ballet and 1999 with NYCB. Martins’ Swan Lake has fairly standard choreography; what sets it apart, and not in a good way, is the minimalist costumes and sets by Per Kirkeby. In Act I, the audience is greeted by a strange orange/yellow backdrop rather than the traditional village scene background. Male dancers have simple bright-colored shirts rather than 18th century appropriate attire; the Prince is clad in blue with black accents and boots. The first act doesn’t resemble a village scene but more of an abstract ballet. While the setting of the Act I Lake Scene is traditional, the Act II ballroom looks like a Harvard library with a background resembling dark paneled wood.
Although I am not fond of the production, I like the ending. The Prince seeks Odette’s forgiveness and Von Rothbart is defeated by the strength of the couple’s love. However, given that the Prince has sworn his love twice, breaking his vow to Odette, she must remain a swan forever. Set to dramatic backlighting by Mark Stanley, Odette departs with her fellow swans as the lonely Prince grieves.
Casting is not out, but will likely showcase the abundant NYCB female talent in the lead role of Odette/Odile: Ashley Bouder, Megan Fairchild, Sarah Mearns, Teresa Reichlen. The NYCB lead men, however, are not up to their female counterparts, likely offering adequate but not distinguished performances.
After the Swan Lake marathon, the company will present 21st Century Choreographers including a new work from Martins, transforming “an unused passage from John Adams’ opera Nixon in China into a colorful display with suggestions of traditional Chinese lyric gestures and pageantry.” Four other new works will be on the bill from Principal Dancer Lauren Lovette (her second work), Soloist Justin Peck, Gianna Reisen (the SAB alum is the youngest choreographer in the history of NYCB), and Soloist Troy Schumacher.
Other programs include Here/Now: Liturgy and Polyphonia (Christopher Wheeldon), Odessa (Alexei Ratmansky), and The Times Are Racing (Justin Peck); All Balanchine: Square Dance, La Valse and Cortège Hongrois; 20th Century Violin Concertos: The Red Violin (Martins), In Memory Of… (Jerome Robbins), and Stravinsky Violin Concerto (Balanchine).
ABT Features New Works
ABT will follow from October 18-29. Newer works are from prominent choreographers Alexei Ratmansky, Jessica Lange, Benjamin Millepied, Liam Scarlett, Christopher Wheeldon. If there is an approved list of choreographers producing works today, these names would be on the list, with the possible exception of Lang. All that is missing is Justin Peck.
ABT will present three Ratmansky works. First is a world premier set to new music Bukovinian Songs (24 Preludes for Piano) by Leonid Desyatnikov. The work features 12 dancers and will be performed five times in the season. Serenade after Plato’s Symposium will be performed five times. The work debuted in the Met season in 2016 and was also performed last ABT fall season. The third work Souvenir d’un lieu cher, which debuted in the last Met season as part of the Tchaikovsky Spectacular program. I wasn’t blown away by Serenade after Plato’s Symposium when it debuted at the Met, but after seeing it again last fall, it is growing on me. The work is set to Leonard Bernstein’s violin concerto of the same name. In Plato’s symposium, seven Athenians, discuss the nature of love. In the ballet, seven men give a dance conversation interpretation of the debate, filled with camaraderie and male bonding. I saw Souvenir d’un lieu cher once in July. It was generally enjoyable but not memorable, with nothing in the work standing out.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, which debuted in 2011, was dedicated to the late Georgina Parkinson, former Royal Ballet dancer and ABT Ballet Master who died in 2009. The piece is interesting, never a dull moment with 13 separate segments. The piece uses various combinations of dancers set to basic ballet movements with the backdrop revealing the changing mood of the work as it progresses.
For some reason, Liam Scarlett’s Elegy pas de deux from his With A Chance of Rain is on the bill. The work debuted in 2014 and was a source of controversy, with a duet containing butt and boob grabbing. If intended to be humorous, the comedy escaped me. In general, choreographers should follow guidance that if you can’t do something on a crowded New York City subway train, you shouldn’t do it onstage. Aside from the controversy, I didn’t like the somber, dark, monotonous piece.
Millepied will have two works, a world premier and Daphnis and Chloe. Daphnis had its ABT debut last year having debuted the work for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2014. It is the story of Daphnis’ love for Chloe, and the many obstacles they encounter before they find true love from the 2nd century writings of Greek writer Longus. The ballet goes back to the Ballets Russes, with score by Maurice Ravel, commissioned by Diaghilev. Millepied’s work is a modern interpretation of this ancient story, with sets designed by Daniel Buren featuring numerous suspended geometric shapes raising and falling throughout the performance. I thought the work was interesting after the first viewing, but was less impressed seeing it again, finding it long and tedious.
Jessica Lang’s Her Notes, which debuted last year, is a thoughtful work relating to composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s writing of the piano piece Das Jahr (The Year). Fanny was Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, with great musical talent; however, as a woman, she was not encouraged to publish her work. Despite this societal bias in the 1800s, she wrote over 400 works for the piano, an instrument she had access to in her home. She wrote Das Jahr, her most famous work, when she and her husband traveled on a yearlong trip. At the end of each month, she wrote a musical reflection of the experience on different colored pieces of paper. Lang’s work is a dance interpretation of the music from four months, featuring creative imagery representing written pages.
Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations and Jerome Robbins’ Other Dancers round out the season.
Twyla Tharp Dance will be at the Joyce Theater September 19-October 4 with a new work set to the music of Bob Dylan. Ballet West will present two premiers in its run from October 11-14. Complexions Contemporary Ballet will perform November 14-26. Dorrance Dance Company looks like a great Christmas treat (December 19-31) with a program of high energy tap dancing.