Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New York City Ballet: Past and Future

Hyltin and Fairchild in Duo Concertant


New York City Ballet performed two matinees this weekend that demonstrate the company’s mission: the Saturday matinee presented all contemporary choreography, works that have premiered in the last fifteen years, and the Sunday matinee showed off the core Balanchine repertoire - black and white ballets from the mid 20th century. Trying to move forward while preserving Balanchine's oeuvre. 

It goes without saying that NYCB performs the Balanchine with aplomb, near perfection. The principals in the company, in particular, are a mechanical dream - every turn tightly wound, every beat precise, every step in its correct place. And, lest that sound like damning with faint praise, they are also, for the most part, extraordinarily musical and expressive. Sara Mearns’ solo in the final section of Episodes was exquisitely poetic;  she has the épaulement of a Russian ballerina merged with the technique of a great Balanchine dancer. The movement was to a Webern-orchestrated score by Bach, and Mearns drew the eye with every extension of her arms. Robert Fairchild was gracious and poetic in Duo Concertant as well as stunningly precise in his solos (it was an excellent weekend overall for Fairchild, who also starred in two of the contemporary ballets - more below). If only the musicians were as accomplished as the dancers - imagine getting Hilary Hahn and Jeremy Denk to perform Duo Concertant with Fairchild and Hyltin. As it is, given the financial constraints, the musical performances are decent but not exciting.


The corps de ballet is less exciting than the principals, and more of a mess, particularly in Symphony in Three Movements, in which many of the lines of silver ballerinas were skewed or crooked and there were some occasional problems with synchronization. But the piece is so exciting and the soloists, led by Tiler Peck and Taylor Stanley, were so energized, that the overall impression remained vibrant.

The Saturday program was much more of a mixed bag. The afternoon opened with Spectral Evidence, a new work by Angelin Preljocaj to the music of John Cage. In the program notes, Preljocaj mentions that he was initially inspired by a recording of Cage’s that consists solely of sounds of respiration. That moment of inspiration shows - it provided one of the only truly interesting sections of the ballet. The piece as a whole attempts a kind of American gothic- but fails mostly because it can’t decide if it wants to present something darkly atmospheric or the balletic version of True Blood. For my money, the work was much more successful when operating in the second vein. Robert Fairchild’s solo to a recording of comically spoken dialogue was both funny and engaging; he embodied an elegant but slightly insane Dracula. This humor, however, was undermined in a later scene in which the four female characters were burned alive for our entertainment. And I don’t find violence towards women particularly entertaining.

Spectral Evidence was followed up by Christopher Wheeldon’s Soirée Musicale, a compendium of dances by Samuel Barber set, in a very Balanchinesque way, to look like a ball (or a ball as imagined by 1950s musicals). This simply made me ask: why? There are already dozens of ballets by Balanchine that look exactly like this, and this work isn’t nearly exciting enough to justify its existence. It wasn’t helped that the work was danced entirely by company soloists and members of the corps, mostly the latter. While I think it’s a nice idea to give these dancers the opportunity to star in their own work, their performances were mostly lackluster.

Namouna. Why has Robert Fairchild fainted? Why is everyone wearing a shower cap?  These are questions to which we may never know the answers

The final number was Namouna, a Grand Divertissement, set by Alexei Ratmansky to the music of Edouard Lalo. It was by far my favorite piece of the afternoon. Meant to resemble the most confusing and superficial of the 19th century ballet acts, Namouna is mostly comprised of short solos and corps numbers, connected only by a thin excuse for a plot (which is deliciously left under-described in the program notes, so that the audience can wallow in the magical insanity). Robert Fairchild again proved his worth, this time displaying a boyishly endearing manner as he executed jump after jump. 

All the contemporary pieces are built up from the Balanchine vocabulary, especially the second two. It’s a bit odd to see a ‘grand divertissement’ done, not in Petipa’s style, but rather in Balanchine’s. It’s all very enjoyable, but it does make me wonder where the future of the company lies. While Balanchine will continue to have a major impact on the international ballet scene in terms of the relationship between choreography and music, I’m not sure the whole world is still following his technique with its emphasis on speed over line. Will NYCB drift further away from the other major companies as time moves on? 

New York City Ballet, Contemporary Choreographers, October 12, 2013, matinee, Spectral Evidence, Music by John Cage, Choreography by Angelin Preljocaj, Starring Tiler Peck, Robert Fairchild, Soirée Musicale, Music by Samuel Barber, Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, starring Lauren Lovette, Zachary Catazaro, Namouna, A Grand Divertissement, Music by Edouard Lalo, Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, starring Rebecca Krohn, Robert Fairchild, Ashley Bouder, Sara Mearns, Megan Fairchild, Daniel Ulbricht, Abi Stafford.

Balanchine Black and White, October 13, 2013, matinee, all choreography by George Balanchine, The Four Temperaments, Music by Paul Hindemith, starring Sean Suozzi, Ana Sophia Scheller, Jared Angle, Andrian Danchig-Waring, Ashley Bouder, Episodes, Music by Anton von Webern, starring Abi Stafford, Zachary Catazaro, Teresa Reichlen, Ask la Cour, Janie Taylor, Sebastien Marcovici, Sara Mearns, Jonathan Stafford, Duo Concertant, music by Igor Stravinsky, starring Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild, Symphony in Three Movements, music by Igor Stravinsky, starring Rebecca Krohn, Tiler Peck, Erica Pereira, Andrew Scordato, Taylor Stanley, Anthony Huxley.

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