Balanchine’s diversity and range were on display Saturday night in the New York City Ballet Balanchine Short Stories program. The three works ranged from La Sonnambula, a mysterious tale in the 19th century Romantic genre, Prodigal Son, a classic story of redemption and forgiveness from the Bible, and Firebird, a tale from Russian folklore.
Serge Diaghilev, founder of Ballets Russes, hired Balanchine in 1924 and Prodigal son was Balanchine’s last work for the company’s final Paris season. The story is derived from a Biblical parable from the Gospel of Saint Luke. Russian poet, dancer and Diaghilev advisor Boris Kochno added dramatic material that emphasized the theme of sin and redemption with music by Prokofiev.
Daniel Ulbricht was the Prodigal Son Saturday, Teresa Reichlen the Siren, and Aaron Sanz the Father. Daniel opened with an energetic solo filled with high leaps and controlled multiple turns. He stomped around the stage opening his mouth wide as if to say, “I am a spoiled brat.” The Father attempted to moderate his son’s self-indulgent rant, but to no avail.
Teresa was the seductress Siren and she played this role well with her long, lean, imposing build that commands the stage. She is taller than Daniel and he was like a little boy overpowered by her; he embraced her in a stomping promenade with his head buried against her chest as she raised her hand overhead as if to say, “I have conquered him.”
Daniel is great in roles with bravura steps like tours and pirouettes and isn’t cast as often in dramatic works. It’s a shame as I thought his rendering in Prodigal Son was very good, full of dynamic range and expressiveness, particularly his return home and his shamed reaction when reunited with his father to the Prokofiev’s uplifting and beautiful final segment.
Firebird is another classic set to an uplifting and iconic score. Set to Stravinsky’s 1910 work, the ballet was originally commissioned by Diaghilev for the Ballet Russes, based on Russian folk tales of a magical bird.
The ballet opened to a backdrop of beautiful Marc Chagall scenery as Prince Ivan (Zachary Catazaro) wandered around the forest. Ashley Bouder as the Firebird appeared with a series of frenetic, bird-like jumps. He was mesmerized by her and captured her, leading to a tense pas de deux in which the Firebird attempted to escape. Eventually, he gained her trust and she gave him a magic feather.
The 29-minute work moves quickly; after the forest scene, the Prince fell in love with a princess followed by a battle with numerous bizarre monsters led by Kastchei the Wizard. During battle, the Prince remembered the magic feather, and pulled it out. The Firebird appeared and gave him a magic sword, which he used to kill all of the strange monsters. The ballet ended with the wedding of the Prince and his Bride (Ashley Laracey) to the dramatic and inspiring final musical section, dominated by loud horns.
Multifaceted Ashley showed her vulnerability after her capture, yet revealed strength during the battle. She acted the part of a bird with fluttering arms and bird-like leaps throughout. In a dramatic moment, she confidently calmed the forest and brushed the dead monsters off stage as the princesses entered.
The mysterious La Sonnambula opened the show. Robert Fairchild was The Poet, mesmerized by the Sleepwalker, Tiler Peck. She bourreed into the scene holding a candle as if in a trance; the Poet was smitten by her. Nice performances by Tiler, Robert, and Rebecca Krohn as The Coquette couldn’t bring make the work interesting for me. Although pretty, it is not my favorite story ballet.