New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
April 28–June 21, 2009
Reviewed by Rose Anne Thom

 

Robbins' The Concert with Sterling Hyltin, aloft. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

 

Where else but New York does a ballet company give seven performances straight for eight weeks at a time? And what an opportunity it is to witness the subtle metamorphoses (or, on the downside, the diminishing qualities) of dancers over such a period of time, or to gain fresh insights about a familiar ballet from day to day, cast to cast. These changes, for better or worse, chasten the observer who makes broad generalizations based on one performance. In the particularly damp and chilly spring of 2009, the NYCB season offered much-needed solace that came from dancers invigorating familiar works and testing their mettle in new choreography.

 
Revisiting moments of humor in Balanchine’s ballets was a particularly lovely pleasure; perhaps the bleak economy heightened the wit. Take the men in the corps of the last movement of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, flapping their hands as they paddle stepped symmetrically left and right, while the women vigorously twisted their wrists vaudeville-like but subtly by their sides instead of out by their ears. In Donizetti Variations, the three supporting men lined up as if to start a robust pas de trois to incongruously tinkling bells. A pause, and the ballerina entered descending the diagonal on the most delicate of pointes. As danced by the divine Tiler Peck, this little trick produced smiles. So did the all-out exuberance of Devin Alberda, a corps member, dancing the center male of the trio as though his life depended on it.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue revealed the breadth of Balanchine’s wit matching the elegant playfulness of Shakespeare and the glitz of Broadway. In both, Balanchine uses humor to communicate the power of love. As Titania in the former and the showgirl in the latter, Maria Kowroski wooed the audience (as well as Bottom and the Hoofer) with her endless line of leg and exquisite feet. Philip Neal trumped his attentiveness to Kowroski and every other ballerina with an ominous presence in La Valse and fine, unaffected dancing throughout the season. Jerome Robbins’ The Concert delivered the season’s belly laughs with the sprightly Sterling Hyltin leading a wonderful cast.


The new ballets Quasi Una Fantasia by company principal Benjamin Millepied and Toccata by Czechoslovakian dancer/choreographer Jiri Bubenícek provided challenges for the dancers, even if these works failed to create any choreographic sparks. Taking their titles from the musical scores, and as if in tune with the weather outside, both dances were dark in tone, and Mark Stanley’s lighting made them even more so.


Millepied deployed his large cast in distinct geometric formations that reflected the ominous energy of Henryk Górecki’s score. To the ponderous pulse of its opening strings, dancers paced rhythmically, the men lifting and tilting the women as if they were mannequins. From a dense cluster that formed upstage, two couples emerged—Janie Taylor and Jared Angle, and Rebecca Krohn and Sébastien Marcovici—stretching their elongated bodies in low, pliant arabesques parallel to the floor. But while Taylor’s extensions softened into a limp passivity in her partner’s arms, Krohn remained forceful and controlled, punctuating a dramatic pas de deux with Marcovici by arresting her motion in deep pliés. What this contrast between the women meant was unclear.


Later in the piece Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar tore through a daring duet, thoroughly enjoying its breakneck speed and circuitous interactions.

 

The dynamic corps defined Quasi by traversing the stage in powerful skips or chassés, charging downstage in waves of motion, then funneling upstage, paralleling the score’s military motifs. Marc Happel costumed the dancers in gray organza tunics, patched with blocks of subdued color in the first and last movements, and in deep red costumes for the second. Stanley’s lighting mirrored the costumes by creating shimmering blocks of changing color on the scrim. These shifting lines of light drew the attention of the repeatedly clustered dancers as they stretched their arms anxiously toward it.


In Toccata, the seven isolated dancers connected and disconnected with quiet intensity. They twisted and turned, supporting one another to signal either intimacy or angst as they emerged in random spotlights. Heads and torsos led the dancers’ bodies into action as easily as did their sliding feet and wind-milling arms. When the activity accelerated, pas de deux were interrupted, and ballerinas were twirled, slid across the floor on their pointes, or tossed from one man to another.


A violist, cellist, and two pianists could be seen on raised platforms at the rear of the stage. Bubenícek’s brother, Otto Bubenícek, was responsible for the original music and costume designs which put the three women and four men in sheer tops over black, purple, or turquoise tights and camisoles. Although the dancers, led by Abi Stafford and Robert Fairchild, satisfied the emotional and physical intensity of the non-stop choreography, Toccata lacked a compelling form.

What will be remembered from this season were the consistently energetic performances. In a repertory as rich and varied as any in the world, past masters and emerging choreographers shared the stage. No wonder eight weeks flew by in an instant, leaving the viewer wanting more.


 









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