NYCB Friday: Balanchine Program Provides Escape from Yankee Meltdown

Photo: Ashley Bouder, Anthony Huxley, Square Dance, October 14, 2014. The New York City Ballet fall season has been short on Balanchine works. The season featured the not so great Peter Martins’ Swan Lake 13 times, leaving only four performances of the only All Balanchine program. Balanchine fans must wait until the Winter season, when there will be two All Balanchine programs plus Classic NYCB and Stravinsky & Balanchine themes. The entertaining Friday All Balanchine program, consisting of Square Dance (1957), La Valse (1951), and Cortége Hongrois (1973), was well danced, full of vigor. An added bonus was that it allowed NYCB Yankee baseball fans to miss a great Yankee meltdown in their playoff game against the Cleveland Indians.

Square Dance debuted in 1957 with musicians on stage with a square dance caller that called out the steps. Balanchine restaged the piece in 1976 without the caller and with the orchestra in the pit. According to the program notes: “…Balanchine joined the traditions of American folk dance with classical ballet. He felt the two types of dance, though widely different in style, had common roots and a similar regard for order.”

The piece is set to beautiful chamber music by Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi, with dancers clad in simple off-white leotards with a plain blue background. The lead couple, Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley, was joined by six couples. With the classical music and minimalist set design, the link to square dancing is not obvious and I would not have guessed the piece relates to square dancing.

The piece is a celebration of simplicity with recurring, rudimentary steps throughout. Jumps to second position, échappé sautés, jetés for example. In some sections, the leads demonstrate simple steps, followed by the supporting cast. For example, the lead male performs a simple tendu rond de jambe à terre followed by a jump to second, pas de bourrée, followed by the supporting men. Simple steps you would see in a basic ballet class. Likewise for the women, the lead demonstrates tendus in plié followed by a pas de chat. With a lead couple and six supporting couples, there are many variations presented in this 25-minute piece; the six couples dance together at times with and without the leads, other segments men (women) dance together, with and without the lead male (female).

Megan was in great form, light and airy with great precision on her beats and jumps. I missed her Swan Lake Odette/Odile debut but have enjoyed her other work this season. Anthony complemented her well with high level dancing.

Balanchine created Cortége Hongrois, a courtly parade in the Hungarian style, as a farewell gift for Melissa Hayden when she announced her retirement. The fast paced and entertaining work consists of two couples (Sara Mearns/Tyler Angle and Georgina Pazcoguin/Ask la Cour). Balanchine used music from Alexander Glazounov’s full length Raymonda. Georgina and Ask danced the Hungarian character roles with great gusto. Sara and Tyler were impressive in the more classical pas de deux, patterned after Raymonda. 

Yankee Meltdown

I’m both a ballet and baseball fan so Friday presented a dilemma. I had a ticket to the ballet and the New York Yankees were up against the Cleveland Indians in the divisional round of the playoffs. Fortunately, the Yankees were cruising, leading 8-3 in the fifth inning when I left home for Lincoln Center. At that I point, the Yankees did not need my help, allowing me to enjoy the ballet with the knowledge that the series would be tied at one game apiece. Then I checked my smartphone before the performance. The score was 8-7 on a Cleveland grand slam. What?!?! At first intermission, the score was tied at 8-8. Bummer. I checked at the second intermission. Still tied. On my walk home I found out the Yankees lost 9-8 in 13 innings, based greatly on two much publicized brain freezes by Yankee manager Joe Girardi in the 6th inning. The ballet Friday evening was a great diversion to the mess the Yankees were experiencing.