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New York City Ballet

All Balanchine Program: 'Who Cares', 'Ivesiana', 'Tarantella', 'Stars and Stripes'

by Colleen Boresta

May 11(m), 2013 -- Koch Theater, New York, NY

At my second viewing of New York City Ballet’s American Music Festival, the audience was treated to an all Balanchine program. One well performed George Balanchine work brings a huge smile to my face but seeing four is pure heaven.

The afternoon begins with ‘Who Cares?’ which is set to sixteen George and Ira Gershwin tunes. The first section of this ballet features ten female corps dancers and ten soloists – five girls and five boys. The ballet comes into its own when the soloists perform their duets to classics like “Do Do Do” and “Oh, Lady Be Good”. All the dancers – Brittany Pollack and Andrew Scordato, Erica Pereira and David Prottas, Savannah Lowery and Cameron Dieck, Ashley Laracey and Justin Peck, and Faye Arthurs and Devin Alberda – are equally wonderful.

Then the lights go down and the second part of ‘Who Cares?” begins. This segment of the ballet has been compared often to Balanchine’s ‘Apollo’. There is one man and three women. Each of the women dances once with the man and once by herself. Then the man does a solo. ‘Who Cares?’ ends with the entire company performing to “I’ve Got Rhythm”.

I had hoped to see Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in the pas de deux to “The Man I Love” but Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar’s duet to this ballad is especially lovely. Hyltin glows with an inner ecstasy as she falls more and more in love with Ramasar’s character. He is the perfect partner for this radiant ballerina. Ramasar’s dancing is also a good match for the demurely coy Ana Sophia Scheller in “Embraceable You” and the breezily witty Ashley Bouder in “Who Cares?”

The principals also perform their solos exceptionally well. Ashley Bouder “builds” her “stairway to paradise” with perfect timing, spot on phrasing and quicksilver footwork. In “My One and Only” Scheller’s fouettes and chain turns are electrifying. Sterling Hyltin slips slightly at the beginning of her “Fascinatin Rhythm” number, but goes on to execute brilliantly a dizzying series of turns. Her footwork, however, could be more precise. Ramasar looks like he’s having the time of his life while dancing to “Liza”. His rhythm, his timing, the snap of his fingers – all remind me of a young Gene Kelly.

My only complaint about ‘Who Cares?’ concerns the new costumes (for everyone in the cast but the leading man). Those worn by the corps and soloist women are quite ugly. They used to be a nice red and a soft blue, but now these women wear outfits in either a gaudy turquoise or a hurt your eyes hot pink color. The costumes for the principal women are not bad, but I much prefer the old attire. I understand that ballet outfits get worn out, but that doesn’t mean that a designer can’t create new costumes with the old colors and styles.

The next work is ‘Ivesiana’ which is performed to the music of Charles Ives. The ballet is divided into four parts. Three of these four sections are set in almost total darkness. The first segment, “Central Park in the Dark” concerns a young woman (Ashley Laracey) stumbling around in the black of night. A man (Zachary Catazaro) arrives for a brief moment, but then he leaves. As far as I can see, nothing happens in “Central Park in the Dark”.

The second section, “The Unanswered Question” is by far the most interesting. A beautiful girl with long flowing hair (Janie Taylor) is held aloft by four men. Her feet never touch the ground, but on occasion she fleetingly touches a fifth man (Anthony Huxley), who is clearly fascinated with her. “The Unanswered Question” is somewhat reminiscent of the last scene of ‘Serenade’ (where the main ballerina is lifted up and taken away from the stage). The girl in “The Unanswered Question”, however, is much more spectral figure than the “Waltz Girl” in ‘Serenade’. And no NYCB dancer does dreamlike as beautifully as Janie Taylor. As the young man yearning to hold the girl and keep her close (which never happens) Anthony Huxley is heartbreaking.

The third segment of ‘Ivesiana’, “In the Inn”, is the only part performed in daylight. It does not seem to fit with the rest of the ballet. A man and a woman (Ask la Cour and Teresa Reichlen) meet and very casually dance by themselves and with each other. At the end they shake hands and depart, leaving me to think that even the great George Balanchine had his off moments creatively.

The last section “In the Night” shows female corps members crawling on their knees in almost complete darkness. It is weird but also strangely moving and Balanchine’s choreography complements the music perfectly.

The next work, ‘Tarantella” is a pas de deux performed to Gottschalk’s music. As always, ‘Tarantella’ is pure joy and energy translated into spectacular choreography. Gonzalo Garcia delights the audience with his meticulous footwork and his lightning fast turns. Every step Tiler Peck takes is amazing, but I am especially impressed with the way she knows just how to play with the phrasing of the music. Peck truly gets better every time I see her dance.

The afternoon ends on a high note with the performance of one of my very favorite ballets, ‘Stars and Stripes’. The work is divided into five campaigns, each based on the music of John Philip Sousa (adapted and orchestrated by Hershy Kay). The first two sections, to “Corcoran Cadets” and “Rifle Regiment” are danced by female corps members led by a female soloist. The third segment, “Thunder and Gladiator” is carried out by the men in the corps de ballet with a male soloist as their leader. All the corps members (women and men alike) stand out for their wonderfully synchronized dancing to Sousa’s rousing marches.

Both female soloists (Lauren King and Megan LeCrone) do a good job heading their regiments, but Troy Schumacher is absolutely outstanding as the “Thunder and Gladiator” soloist. This role has been owned by Daniel Ulbricht for a long time, but in a debut on Saturday afternoon Schumacher really makes it his own. His leaps and multiple air turns are especially exciting.

As “Liberty Bell” and “El Capitan”, Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle show a delightfully playful chemistry. Mearns really enters into the spirit of the Sousa ballet as she throws off some great fouettes. My only complaints about her performance are that she doesn’t hold her balances long enough and that her scissor leaps are somewhat small. As her partner, Tyler Angle (also making a debut) is fantastic. As a soloist, he is even better. I especially like the bouncy steps which show off his incredible ballon and the turns a la seconde performed at the speed of sound.

The last campaign is danced by the entire company to “Stars and Stripes Forever”. At the end of the ballet, as the American flag rolls down the entire back stage of the David Koch Theatre, I find my eyes welling up (as usual). I am a little disappointed, however, that a round of applause didn’t greet the American flag (as it usually does). Again, it was an incredibly memorable day at the ballet.

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