Great to be back with the start of the New York City Ballet Winter Season. The season opened earlier this week featuring Balanchine classics. The Thursday and Saturday evening performances were stellar with a number of standout performances.
Saturday Evening All Balanchine Program
Saturday evening’s All Balanchine Program was led by Megan Fairchild, Ashley Bouder, Sarah Mearns, who have captivated NYCB audiences for years with refined technique and musicality. Their work Saturday was a reminder of why the three (along with Tiler Peck) have formed a memorable foundation for NYCB over the past decade.
Anthony Huxley was paired with Megan in the 1956 Allegro Brillante set to Tschaikovsky. The two dancers are complements with precise footwork and robust technique. Anthony has a nice, effortless leaping ability complemented with articulated beats. Joseph Gordon made his debut in La Source with Ashley Bouder and was rock solid. Joseph’s solos were notable with controlled attitude turns, crisp jetes, quad pirouettes to the knee, jeté manége. Joseph is currently the best male dancer at NYCB and I look forward to his work this season. Ashley danced with great energy, and drew gasps with a long balance in arabesque. Ashley and Joseph were on the mark in the pas de deux, particularly the tricky repeating promenades along with a fish dive done with great daring.
Corps member India Bradley made her debut in the soloist role. India, who trained at Dance Theatre of Harlem and the School of American Ballet, navigated the solo parts well, with some rough edges. The tall long-limbed dancer has great extension with technique that will only mature over time. I look forward to her future work.
It is surprising that Sara Mearns has not danced the lead in Firebird before her debut in the Saturday afternoon performance. Sara had plenty of energy Saturday evening, particularly in her opening solo. I love the work, particularly the spectacular closing with rousing horns blaring set to an explosion of red in the Chagall backdrop on the coronation and wedding of Prince Ivan and his Tsarevna. A celebration of three preeminent artists of the 20th century: Balanchine, Stravinsky, Chagall.
Thursday All Stravinsky/Balanchine Program
The All Stravinsky/Balanchine program started with Dances Concertantes, the weakest work of the evening. It debuted in 1944 for the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo at City Center, re-choreographed for NYCB’s 1972 Stravinsky Festival. Lead couple Erica Pereira and Harrison Ball tried hard in the pas de deux; without much to work with, their efforts had no lasting impact. The work is not technically challenging, although it provided exposure to Corps members with Mira Nadon and Kennard Henson standing out. The work makes use of trios in brightly colored costumes by Eugene Berman, with the men in jester attire. There is much prancing around, with grande plies as a recurring step for the men, not the most exciting step.
Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra are unrelated, short 10-minute works that have been paired since 1966, with no bows after Monumentum. Both dance pieces premiered at City Center. Balanchine created the first work in 1960, less than two months after the score premiered while Balanchine’s Movements premiered in 1963.
On Thursday, Teresa Reichlen and Ask la Cour were the leads in both. Teresa gave strong performances in both works, with precise, abrupt movements, particularly in the more modernistic Movements. With her tall frame, she commands attention with long supple extensions flowing to the Stravinsky scores. Ask is not my favorite dancer, but he excels in Balanchine Black and White works where partnering is the focus.
Balanchine first used the Stavinsky Violin Concerto score (1931) in 1941 in Balustrade with the Original Ballet Russe in 1941 and returned to the score at the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. Joseph Gordon’s Instagram feed includes a fun fact about the work: “it was one of the only ballets Balanchine said he would never change because it was, for him, perfect.” Joseph’s work stood out Thursday as one of the lead couples (with Lauren Lovette opposite Claire Kretzschmar/Taylor Stanley) in this Black and White neoclassical work. He danced with great confidence and stature commanding the stage.
2020 Art Series
Ever wonder about the people behind the scenes at NYCB that enable the company to put on high quality performances? The 2020 Art Series celebrates these indispensable individuals with portraits by Lauren Redniss, 2016 MacArthur Fellow and professor at the Parsons School of Design. Featured are such individuals as the NYCB shoe room supervisor, director of security, call center operator, music librarian. “I wanted to give people a different perspective on the Company, something that would add depth and meaning to their experience of coming to the ballet,” Lauren is quoted in the program.
My favorite is usher Michael Stewart, who recounts his time as a 17-year-old dancer in 1975 at Dance Theatre of Harlem. “Mrs. Balanchine” (Tanaquil Le Clercq) was Michael’s teacher. On scholarship at DTH, his job was to drive her to the studio as she had polio. Because she could not walk, he would carry her up the stairs, which they called “our pas de deux.” After his dancing days, he taught dance in New York City before becoming an assistant principal. Upon retiring in 2012, he came back to the ballet working at Koch Theater.