New York City Ballet

January 5, 2010

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater, NYC

January 5–February 28, 2010

Reviewed by Astrida Woods


Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette in Alexey Miroshnickenko’s
The Lady with the Little Dog. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet sharply departed from its traditional repertory this winter season, presenting no less than eight story ballets: four full-length works—Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet—and four short stories. There was only a smattering of plotless ballets, and they included two stark new works.

Inspired, perhaps, by the extensive revamping of the New York State Theater—renamed the David H. Koch Theater—ballet master in chief Peter Martins decided to put all his principal dancers to work in his newest creation, Naïve and Sentimental Music, set to John Adams’ eponymous score. The three-part work offers audiences the rare opportunity to savor the company’s bounty of top talent. After two viewings—the first befuddling, the second less so—there emerged a pattern of incessant entrances and exits to music that throbs and clangs, sometimes reaching earsplitting levels as groups of dancers advance and recede at a relentless pace, reminiscent of Twyla Tharp’s propulsive gem, In the Upper Room—but not in a good way, lacking coherent group organization.

Outstanding in Part One, Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht danced with a clear-edged brio, and Janie Taylor and Jared Angle found serenity even in the most frenetic sections. In Part Three Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia breezed through the frenzied finale with a light touch. This ballet could use some breathing room to let the more sensational stuff stand out.

The second section brought relief from the din with soothing chimes that accompanied three adagio couples in white. Each took a turn in the spotlight while the other two pairs hovered in the background, marking their duets. Sara Mearns was all lyrical and yielding, but not once did she make eye contact with her partner, Jonathan Stafford. Charles Askegard and Maria Kowroski were completely in sync, which allowed her freedom of expression with her exquisite limbs. Though tentatively partnered by Stephen Hanna, Darci Kistler nevertheless responded musically with great sensitivity and made the adagio glow.

The Lady with the Little Dog
was the season’s other new ballet. Choreographed by Alexey Miroshnickenko, a young Russian, and set to pleasantly danceable music by Rodion Shchedrin, the ballet consists of a man (Andrew Veyette) pursuing a woman (Sterling Hyltin). They are separated by a long strip of carpeting manipulated by Angels—or a bunch of guys in gray leotards rolling and unrolling the carpet to keep the lovers apart. Based on a Chekhov story—actually, there is no story—the ballet is merely a series of pas de deux that grow more intense and convoluted. Hyltin and Veyette valiantly gave it their all. The little dog (Hyltin’s own) following his mistress across the stage was the most appealing aspect of the ballet.

In general full-scale story ballets tend to be ballerina vehicles. Sleeping Beauty, which had a two-week run, is an exception, filled with many opportunities for solo turns, from the several fairies at the Christening to the divertissements at the Wedding. As the Lilac Fairy, Sara Mearns topped the list of exceptional performances with her grace, enveloping benevolence, and exquisitely expressive mime. She was the perfect foil for Merrill Ashley’s glamorous Carabosse, who spewed evil spells with scorching expressions and menacing talons. Martins’ staging of Sleeping Beauty enlivened the street scene with the Balanchine-choreographed Garland Dance featuring children from School of American Ballet.

Kathyrn Morgan, a young soloist, was ideally cast as Juliet, in Martins’ production of Romeo and Juliet. She was a pouting, petulant Juliet whose emotional range encompassed the sweep of Prokofiev’s dramatic music. Robert Fairchild, who replaced Sean Suozzi as her Romeo due to injury, made an ardent partner. But the two were mismatched in height, causing some minor partnering glitches.

The Swan Lake set, designed by Danish modern artist Per Kirkeby, and costumes by Kirsten Lund Nielsen, which were in Crayola colors, clashed with the romantic classicism of this ballet. Nevertheless, Maria Kowroski as Odette/Odile overcame these challenges. She interpreted this dual role with a contemporary edge: spiked arms and rapid beating of wings when she cringed from the threatening Von Rothbart, and wizened glances as her Odile seduced Prince Siegfried.

Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream scene-stealers are the tiny butterflies, moths, ladybugs, and mini fairies, exquisitely costumed by Karinska with little helmets, iridescent antennae, and gossamer wings. One little critter gently flutters her wings as the curtain opens, joined by many more. They are integral throughout the ballet as they swarm and hover among the other denizens of the enchanted forest. Both Mearns and Kowroski brought their own special aura to their Titanias. Mearns plied her feminine charms with sumptuous upper back and arched neck to win over Oberon, and Kowroski’s genuine warmth and languid limbs worked like magic wands. As Oberon, Joaquin De Luz delivered an inspired bravura performance; virtuoso Ulbricht, as Puck, savored his role—with just a tad too many embellishments.

Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering—a favorite with the audience and dancers alike—is impervious to slightly marred performances. In this case the lighting was too harsh, and some of the dancers, new to their roles, could have muted their performances. But Mearns (in Mauve) struck a balance between sharp and reflective moments, and Peck (in Pink) and Tyler Angle (in Purple) found an ethereal quality in their sublime pas de deux, dancing as if they were the only two people in the world.


Here are a few other highlights: most romantic were Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici in Liebeslieder Walzer; most artistically honed were Wendy Whelan and Philip Neal with their wondrous swooping in the same ballet, and also in their divertissement pas de deux from Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many more deserve mention, but suffice it to say, the company never lost its luster throughout the long season.