NYCB’s Thursday performance of Masters at Work featured two dissimilar but delightful and cheery works: Balanchine’s 1965 Harlequinade and Jerome Robbins’ 1958 N.Y. Export, Opus Jazz.
Balanchine created the two-act Harlequinade for the 65th anniversary of the original production by Petipa. The work is performed infrequently by NYCB; it was revived last spring after a 10-year absence. Harlequinade is consistent with the tradition of Commedia dell’arte, comedies popular in Italy and France in the 16th through 18th centuries.
Harlequin (Joaquin De Luz) is in love with Colombine (Tiler Peck), much to the chagrin of her father (David Prottas), who wants her to marry a rich, old fop (Robert La Fosse). The father keeps Colombine locked up, but Harlequin foils the plot with the help of the Good Fairy after being dismembered by the father’s squad of grotesque goons. Act II is a series of divertisements to celebrate the wedding of Colombine and Harlequine.
Brightly colored, saccharine sets and costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian greatly contribute to the fantasy vision.
Joaquin brought substantial energy, passion, and humor to the role combined with great technique. He was playful throughout with a radiant smile as he pursued Colombine. His solos were on the mark, with nice beats to second position, and multiple double saut de basques, all with clean execution. He is having a great Fall season. Tiler was a spirited and expressive Colombine, who resisted her father’s wishes to marry the wealthy clod Léandre. Tiler displayed her great turning skills with polished fouettés (starting with a triple pirouette alternating single and double turns) although her Italian fouettés were not as proficient. I enjoyed Daniel Ulbricht as Pierrot, although the role takes a back seat to Harlequin in the bravura category. Erica Pereira was an attentive Pierrette. Well trained School of American Ballet (SAB) students were an entertaining addition to the Act II divertisements. My favorite corps dance is the Act I drunken policeman; their coordinated drunken stupor put the Keystone Cops to shame.
The women put away their pointe shoes in favor of sneakers in N.Y. Export; Opus Jazz, an exuberant celebration of youth and jazz. The work premiered at the U.S.A Festival of Two Worlds in 1958, but did not have its NYCB premier until 2005.
The fast-moving work features Soloists and Corps members as cool cat youths with plenty of jerky movements, finger snapping, head bobbing, shimmering shoulders in a playground setting celebrating the African-American and Latin-American origins of popular dancing in America. All of the dancers were energetic with great timing. In particular, Joshua Thew, Harrison Coll, and Justin Peck caught my attention for much of the work, with their precision movements combined with hard-core attitude.
Most of the work is set to raucous, hard-driving, drum focused music. An exception is the somber “Passage for Two” duet with Ashley Laracey and Craig Hall. The duet is filed with uncertainty as the two encounter each other for the first time. Is this the start of a lasting relationship or a brief encounter? Probably the latter as in the end they go their separate ways.