NYCB presented two delightful programs Thursday and Friday consisting of great classics danced at a high level. The dancing of the company this fall season has been outstanding with all of the favorite principals back from other projects, with the exception of Maria Kowroski. Coupled with the great rep, the season has been compelling.
Classic NYCB, Friday
The company presented the theme Classic NYCB on Friday, consisting of Serenade, American Rhapsody, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Western Symphony to a packed house at Koch Theater. Even some seats in the nosebleed fifth balcony were occupied.
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Balanchine’s Serenade (1934), his first original work he created in the U.S., so it was nice to get reacquainted with the work. The multifaceted classic leaves much to ponder; although it is plotless, one wonders the meaning of the relationships between the dancers in the work: the Russian Girl (Megan Fairchild), the Waltz Girl (Sterling Hyltin), the Dark Angel (Teresa Reichlen), their partners (Zachary Catazaro, Ask la Cour), and Corps dancers consisting of 17 women and four men.
The corps provides texture to the work, starting from the iconic opening scene in which 17 women stand erect, arm raised overhead; after a subtle move of the wrist, their arms move overhead and down to their chests to the flowing Tschaikovsky Serenade for Strings in C Major. The corps plays an important role as the dancers are active in numerous sections, many with beautiful flowing arms as they dance in long skirts in an icy blue light. The leads are integrated into the corps in an egalitarian manner. Rather than the lead always performing in front of the corps, in some sections, the lead dances with the corps, indistinguishable from the rest.
A memorable moment from Serenade takes place when corps members slowly leave the stage as one of the male leads (Ask la Cour) slowly walks toward the Dark Angel, commencing a graceful pas de deux. Another is the ending when the Waltz Girl falls to the floor, possibly representing death, only to be rescued by six women. She gets up and runs to embrace another woman; several men hoist her on their shoulders as she lifts her arms in a graceful backbend as the curtain falls. For a plotless ballet, it is open to many interpretations. The mystery of the work is one reason it is a timeless favorite.
Serenade was beautiful Friday. In particular, Megan was impressive as the Russian Girl, with fast paced beats, moving with breakneck speed to keep up with the music. The corps dancing was at a high level, generally in synch.
The evening featured an interesting discussion by NYCB Music Director Andrew Litton on George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the music for Christopher Wheeldon’s American Rhapsody, which was Gershwin’s original title for the work. Gershwin created the iconic score in just six weeks at his residence at 33 Riverside Drive (75th Street) for an all jazz 1924 concert by band leader Paul Whiteman. Litton demonstrated on the piano the innovative fast repetitive notes and frenetic energy of the work, which later influenced Maurice Ravel’s work. A great history, particularly for younger audience members who probably thought the score was derived from American Airlines commercials.
As for Wheeldon’s American Rhapsody, Robert Fairchild always stands out in Broadway type roles with great jazz steps and turns infused with substantial ballet technique. Robert, back from the leading role in Wheeldon’s An American in Paris, and Tiler Peck were on the mark in several playful dances. Untiy Phelan and Amar Ramasar were effective in their partnering. Although I enjoyed the leads, I found the work disjointed with little cohesion, particularly the interaction between the corps dancers and the leads.
Ashly Isaacs and Gonzalo Garcia displayed nice timing and emphasis in the Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Ashly, a Soloist, had great energy with effective phrasing on her beat sections, all with flowing arms. Her performance was impressive. Gonzalo was fine in his solos, although he cheated a bit much on his takeoffs for his double tours.
Western Symphony (1954) closed out the evening with rousing performances from Teresa Reichlen and Andrew Veyette. Teresa had a nice arabesque penché diagonal, very effective with her long legs and deep extension; also, controlled grand fouettes. Andrew had a lot of razzle dazzle, highlighted by rapid repeated double pirouette/double tours, a very difficult combination.
American Music, Thursday
Nice to see Ashley Bouder back in action after giving birth to a girl in May (Gia Kourlas of The New York Times interviews Ashley on returning to the stage). Her dancing in Stars and Stripes Thursday showed that she is as strong as ever, with a stirring performance in the athletic Fourth Campaign (Liberty Bell and El Capitan) with Andrew Veyette. Ashley’s balances in arabesque in the pas de deux were impressive along with her solo, which featured tricky changes in pace and movements alternating between big and small steps. Andrew was equally impressive, with sturdy leaps, done with militaristic precision.
Troy Schumacher led the troops in the 3rd Regiment: Thunder and Gladiator section with nice high double tours to a solid landing and precise entrechat six along with his troops. Lauren King (First Campaign: Corcoran Cadets) and Megan LeCrone (Second Campaign: Rifle Regiment) led their troops with great gusto. The corps was nicely in synch Thursday, generally dancing in a triangle formation behind the lead.
Jerome Robbins’ energetic, pulsating, and dynamic Glass Pieces opened the show. The piece, set to Philip Glass music, opens with dancers walking briskly and randomly across the stage, much like everyday scenes from busy pedestrian crossings in New York. Keeping with Glass’s score, the scenery and costumes are minimalist in nature; dancers in unitards with a few women in skirts perform in front of a simple checkered background. Every now and then, three couples break up the frenetic informal walking with slow duets consisting of basic dance steps. Some steps are constant throughout the piece, such as lunges with an exaggerated outstretched arm, exaggerated struts with clenched fists, reinforcing themes from the repetitive music.
The last section (Akhnaten excerpt) is my favorite part, with energetic drum-focused music and exciting dancing from corps members. Everyone had fun in this section including the orchestra; I could see the tuxedo-attired percussionist banging away on the drum, swaying and moving with almost as much gusto as a rock band drummer. This work has to be a favorite among dancers as it allows them to cut loose with raw athleticism.