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New York City Ballet

'Barber Violin Concerto', 'Red Angels', 'Allegro Brillante', 'Who Cares?'  & Season Wrap Up

by Jerry Hochman

June 7, 2013 -- Koch Theater, New York, NY

Things are going so well for New York City Ballet this 2012-2013 season that even programs that you think will be lackluster turn into sparklers. So it was with last Friday’s performance. I’d seen three of the four pieces on the program previously, all except Barber Violin Concerto, and although I thought they were varying degrees of good, on repeated viewing each looked better than it had previously, and Barber Violin Concerto turned out to be one of Mr. Martins’s more intriguing pieces.

Created in 1988, Barber Violin Concerto is a dance for two couples. The novelty is that one couple dances in ‘ballet’ style, the other in ‘modern’ style. [The original cast featured a pair of NYCB dancers (Merrill Ashley and Adam Luders), and a dancer from the Paul Taylor Dance Company (Kate Johnson), and dancer/choreographer David Parsons.] Then they change partners. Sounds like a gimmick – like the piece Mr. Martins created for the late John Curry that mimicked ice skating style. Gimmick or not, this one works.

At Friday’s performance, Teresa Reichlen and Jonathan Stafford were the ballet couple, and Megan Fairchild and Jared Angle the modern couple. I was unable to pin down the specific modern style (if there was any), but modern – and barefoot – it was, although befitting the music the movement was more lyrical than angular. The distinction between the two styles, and the relative strengths of each, were clear in the choreography, and clearly expressed by each of the dancers. Structurally, the ballet couple enters first, then the modern pair, and then the pairs dance side by side, applying their styles to the same music. But the really interesting part is when they switch partners, and attempt to direct the new partners in different directions. Dueling styles, rather than dueling banjos. To this viewer, the clear ‘winner’, to the extent one style can be seen as ultimately trumping the other, was ballet, with the serenely accomplished Ms. Reichlen calming Mr. Angle’s aggressiveness, and a befuddled Mr. Stafford ultimately prevailing over a spunky Ms. Fairchild. Ms. Fairchild and Mr. Angle were particularly expressive, and Ms. Fairchild’s facility with Mr. Martins’s form of modern dance was extraordinary.

Allegro Brillante is another example of a ballet choreographed by Balanchine to Tchaikovsky (“Piano Concerto No. 3”) that demonstrates the particular inspirational partnership between the composer and the choreographer. Although it comes across as a concentrated study in classical vocabulary and development, it never becomes merely academic. And Tiler Peck again demonstrated why she is one of the finest ballerinas – anywhere. Although Ms. Peck made one rare mistake (toward the end of the piece, she completed a turn with one foot slightly out of place, and had to move it forward to maintain her balance), one minor error every three or four years is a sufficient reminder that she’s human. Andrew Veyette was her equally accomplished partner, and the supporting dancers (Lauren King, Ashley Laracey, Megal LeCrone, Brittany Pollack, Austin Laurent, Allen Peiffer, Andrew Scordato, and Christian Tworzyanski) were top notch.

The program was completed by repeat performances of Red Angels and Who Cares?. Red Angels, with Maria Kowroski, Jennie Somogyi, and Adrian Danchig-Waring reprising their roles, and Chase Finlay taking over the role previously danced by Mr. Angle, still looks coldly mechanical. But the stagecraft by Mr. Dove, which I’ve previously described, is mesmerizing, abetted by Mark Stanley’s lighting and costumes by Holly Hynes. The accompanying music (“Maxwell’s Demon”, by Richard Einhorn) for electric violin was thrillingly played by guest artist Mary Rowell.

Who Cares?, Balanchine’s tribute to George Gershwin, was again brilliantly performed by the entire cast (Sterling Hyltin, Ana Sophia Scheller, Abi Stafford, and Robert Fairchild were the leads), with Ms. Scheller providing one of her finest performances. [In the finale (“I Got Rhythm”), Ms. Hyltin appeared to slightly turn her ankle. She seemed shaken, but recovered immediately, and I’m not aware of any injury.]

The 2012-2013 season has been a remarkable one for NYCB. Except for two new pieces by Justin Peck (Year of the Rabbit, In Creases), new choreography has been of limited value. But NYCB has an abundance of existing classics, and dances by Mr. Martins that grow in stature upon repeat viewings, so the absence of significant new choreography, although essential for the company’s growth, is not presently critical. [It may be heresy, but a new full length, though not generally considered NYCB’s bread and butter, would be most welcome.]

What is critical is the company’s nurturing and development of its dancers, and in that respect NYCB shines. Their young principals have blossomed into stars, joining those who already have had stellar principal careers. I’ve written on several occasions that Ms. Peck and Robert Fairchild are at the top of their game. But more than that, they’re on (or should be on) anyone’s short list of world class dancers. But Ms. Peck and Mr. Fairchild are not alone. I once overheard some critics complaining, at the beginning of the year, that Ms. Hyltin was being given roles for which she was not suited. I no longer hear that – Ms. Hyltin has proven that she can handle, and put her unique stamp, on any role. Her Mozartiana, for example, was a revelation because she thought it through differently, took her own path, and to this viewer, made it work. Teresa Reichlen has come out of her shell and grown more comfortable as a principal, and is a dancer of singular beauty and multi-faceted character. On the men’s side, Chase Finlay, newly promoted to principal, is growing into the danseur noble for which he is so well physically suited, and he has joined the ranks of NYCB’s superlative partners. And Amar Ramasar, one of NYCB’s most underrated dancers, can seemingly do anything and partner anyone.

But progress has been even more pronounced on the soloist level. On the men’s side, Taylor Stanley is a singular talent who can dominate the stage. He already adds a unique presence to NYCB’s dancer roster, and if he can harness his sometimes overly aggressive demeanor he’ll be able to handle any role. But the story of the year, and of NYCB’s near future, is its ballerina soloists. Erica Pereira has significantly grown in apparent confidence, and marks each role not only with technical competence, but a combination of effervescence and insouciance that sounds contradictory, but fits her stage persona perfectly. Newly promoted soloists Ashley Laracey and Brittany Pollack are developing stage presence to match their abilities, with Ms. Laracey in particular demonstrating a striking facility to handle a relatively romantic and classical image (Ivesiana), as well as a dynamic contemporary one (The Infernal Machine). Most importantly, Lauren Lovette continues to excel in every role she assays, whether in a supporting role (Princess Florine, Fool for Love), or a lead (Rubies, the Sugarplum Fairy, Carousel (A Dance)). Not only does she have a clear stage persona, which she’s shown since the first time she appeared in any featured role, but she’s already shown the ability to transform herself from performance to performance and occupy her character, and to make the character her own.

Looking forward to the 2013-2014 season, on paper things don’t look particularly exciting. There will be new ballets by Mr. Martins, Mr. Peck, Angelin Preljocaj, and Liam Scarlett (whose Viscera was a remarkable coup for Miami City Ballet two years ago), and perhaps one or more will be successful. To this viewer, the directional shift away from reliance on the Balanchine/Robbins canon is obvious and understandable, but regrettable, and, except for Mr. Peck’s Year of the Rabbit, some of the choices for contemporary works appear unfortunate. For example, Mr. Wheeldon’s Soiree Musicale is not one of his better pieces (Estancia or The Nightingale and the Rose, if available, might have been preferable alternatives), nor is Namouna, A Grand Divertissement one of Mr. Ratmansky’s superior pieces (although with Mr. Ratmansky, repeat viewings frequently prompt reevaluations). Similarly, repeating Mr. Martins’s Bal de Couture seems unwise [had I the choice, I would have preferred that Mr. Martins jettison the opening and closing scenes, and instead devote his energies to creating a new full length ballet around the central section, based on Tchaikovsky’s "Eugene Onegin"]. And while I look forward to the return to the repertory after a long absence of Balanchine’s Davidsbundlertanze, revivals of Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina and Robbins’s The Goldberg Variations must await yet another year.

But then, I expected little from the Spring, 2013 season, and was pleasantly surprised. Given NYCB’s batting average, it’s more likely than not that what appears on stage will be far superior to what appears on paper. And I await with great anticipation a continuation of Mr. Martins’s liberality in providing casting opportunities for NYCB’s soloists and corps dancers – particularly with respect to the return of Balanchine’s Coppelia and Prodigal Son, and Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering and Afternoon of a Faun. [And if you don't think I've already casted Faun, you haven't been reading my reviews.]

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