Ballet is Woman. In sports, it’s Mickey Mantle. In politics, it’s Eisenhower. In ballet, it’s woman. Women are lighter, more flexible. They move more beautifully. He is not the King, but she’s the Queen. George Balanchine
The women continued to excel in the New York City Ballet fall season that concluded Sunday. Aside from the retirement of Wendy Whelan after 30 years with the company, the main story of the season was fine dancing by the women Principals, particularly Ashley Bouder, Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, and Teresa Reichlen. I can’t remember a time when NYCB had such depth of great women dancers.
Women are Queens at NYCB
Ashley gave strong performances in Duo Concertant, Square Dance, and Donizetti Variations. She makes full use of her precise technique, rapid, sure fire footwork, boundless energy, joyful demeanor, and sense of humor. She also excels in phrasing, with elongated pauses in arabesque, flowing arms, exaggerated shoulder and head movements, in synch and complementing the music.
Sara is a well-rounded dancer, able to perform the regal, formal roles such as in Chaconne and the Diamonds segment in Jewels, with slow adagio, high extensions, and well-timed balances. At the other end of the spectrum, she is able to dance with reckless abandon in roles such as MacDonald of Sleat in Union Jack.
This season, I enjoyed Sara’s performances in Chaconne and Apollo. Chaconne is technically straightforward, but requires precision and phrasing to the soft music; each step is completed with purpose in connection with the others, all with a regal, ethereal demeanor. Russell Janzen and Sara pulled it off nicely as both have the technique and gravitas to command the stage. In Apollo, Sara was Polyhymnia, the muse of rhetoric. I enjoyed Sara’s rapid movements punctuated by a turn section made difficult by a whisper pose with her finger to her mouth.
Tiler Peck pulled double duty this season, splitting her time between NYCB and rehearsals for The Kennedy Center production of Little Dancer. Her style is similar to Ashley’s, with substantial energy and reckless abandon combined with great technique. I posted a video of her at the Vail International Dance Festival rehearsing a unique and spectacular turn sequence in which she does single pirouettes in attitude devant (leg bent in front) progressing to doubles. Then she performs fouettés with quarter turns two times, finishing up with a series of single fouettés to a double pirouette.
Teresa danced with substantial confidence this season during her many performances. I particularly enjoyed her in Firebird where she showed her vulnerability after her capture, yet revealed strength during the battle scene.
To demonstrate the depth of the women, Megan Fairchild did not dance in the fall season as she was performing in the Broadway musical On the Town. She will be out for the spring season, returning for one week of performances in the winter. Ana Sophia Scheller, another great dancer, has been out with a foot injury.
These dancers are very good and would be principals at any major ballet company. They have high-level technique and are able to perform the bravura steps necessary in full-length ballets such as fouettés and multiple turns like Tiler’s that I described above.
Men Are Not Kings
The woman is the focus of most Balanchine works: “In my ballets, woman is first. Men are consorts. God made men to sing the praises of women. They are not equal to men: They are better.” NYCB needs great female dancers to pull off the choreography. The men are occupied with a substantial partnering load, while their solo steps are technically straightforward, devoid of bravura. The NYCB males are fine dancers, well trained in neo-classical, black and white Balanchine ballets. However, I don’t think of the Principals as stars, capable of thriving in full-length classics that are the mainstays of many major companies.
Andrew Veyette and Robert Fairchild are possible exceptions. Andrew is good in turn and jumping sequences. In Donizetti Variations, Andrew excelled in a tricky section consisting of 12 consecutive single tours, ending with a double tour to the knee. The male solo has a lot of beats, punctuated with double tours and Andrew’s articulation on the beats was quite clean. I enjoyed Robert in Duo Concertant and Apollo. In Duo, his footwork was very fast and kept up with the rapid tempo.
Teresa Reichlen Deserves A Vacation
To shed light on the workload of dancers, the above table presents the number of times a dancer was listed in the NYCB website cast lists. Teresa Reichlen led all dancers with 27 appearances. With 125 total works in the fall season, she appeared in about 22% of the works. Amar Ramasar led the men with 23 appearances, about 18% of all works. Gretchen Smith led Corps dancers with the most number of appearances with 14 while David Prottas had 12, Devin Alberda with nine, and Claire Kretzschmar with eight. Anthony Huxley led the soloists with 13 appearances. It would be interesting to go back to previous casting lists, as this is probably a good indicator of future promotions for Corps dancers.
NYCB has seven performances a week (Tuesday through Sunday, with two performances on Saturday) and each performance has from three to five works. Teresa was a workhouse, appearing in at least one work in 22 performances out of the 28, with Ashley in 19 (all seven performances in the first week), and Amar in 14. It is amazing that Teresa had only had six performances off during the four-week season. She deserves a vacation.
NYCB dancers face different challenges relative to dancers at companies that specialize in full-length classics. A typical Principal Dancer at ABT or The Royal Ballet will perform the lead in a full length classic once or twice a week while NYCB Principal Dancers can dance up to seven performances a week in shorter, mixed rep pieces. Dealing with the pressure of dancing the lead in a full-length work would be tough, where the success or failure of a performance rests on the lead’s shoulders. The pressure is probably less in mixed rep works, where there are many other dancers involved in the performance. The difficulty would be keeping up with the vast demands of NYCB’s diverse repertory and staying fresh night after night.
Corps members and Soloists appreciate the mixed rep format as it provides these dancers more dancing opportunities relative to full-length ballets. In the full-length ballets, there are typically a limited number of non-corps dancing roles.
The fall season repertory included a nice mix of new works and classics. There were five new works; unfortunately I managed to miss all of them. I enjoyed Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go, which premiered last May. It is an interesting and energetic work set to commissioned music by Sufjan Stevens. The piece consists of nine movements, each varied and having its own personality. The 42-minute work has 25 dancers and there is a lot of dance to take in, with many innovations to the inspiring music. Given the varied movements with numerous dancers, the work borders on information overload and I would love to see it again to pick up the many nuances the piece offers. With all the action, one viewing of this work is not enough.
I particularly enjoyed classics Square Dance, Le Tombeau de Couperin, Donizetti Variations, and Interplay.