Friday, May 25, 2012

Balanchine's Swinging '60s Hits

Jared Angle and Wendy Whelan in Liebeslieder Walzer. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Balanchine's Liebeslieder Walzer is back in New York City Ballet's repertory after several years on the shelf, 51 years old and 51 patiently-paced minutes long. It captures the polished surfaces and clandestine romantic intrigue of the ballroom salon, with live onstage singing by a quartet. Satin full-length ballgowns, tails, low-heeled shoes rather than pointe shoes, and white gloves, designed by Karinska, set a formal tone, while Brahms' lieder lent a poignant intimacy. 

The casting structure features four couples, yet there is no supporting corps. Balanchine avoided the predictable turn-taking formula, at times focusing on two couples alternating dances in sequence. 
In the May 22 performance, Ashley Bouder and Tyler Angle made a somewhat surprising pairing, his inherent cool elegance sanding the sometimes abrasive edges of her hypercompetence. Jared Angle attentively and briskly partnered an evanescent Wendy Whelan, running in tight circles to support her. Jonathan Stafford swept Maria Kowroski in extended-leg lifts, and Janie Taylor and Sebastian Marcovici produced the occasional spark. 

The singers' prominent downstage right positioning distracted, although having the dancers continually observe and react to the singers logically supported the ballet's premise. (Clotilde Otranto conducted from the pit.) The extreme vibrato of the singing style, particularly with soprano Caroline Worra, holds little appeal for me, hiding the note rather than leading with it. But the overall intimacy and special occasion feel was mildly intoxicating.

Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (choreographed by Balanchine in 1966) featured two newly-appointed principals: Rebecca Krohn and Ana Sophia Scheller. (Hmm, both were recently featured in marketing materials—any relation there? Like the reverse of the Sports Illustrated curse, I guess.) Krohn, somewhat reserved, danced with Chase Finlay, eager and devoted. The warm, if underutilized Gonzalo Garcia paired with Scheller, crisp and dutiful. We trust that these two newest principals bring fresh gifts to the company, as have so many of its current stars; they're not precisely clear just yet.

Tiler Peck, perhaps the most all-around skilled, versatile female principal at the moment, danced with the muscular Justin Peck, and cool customer Teresa Reichlen (subbing for the injured Sara Mearns), balanced the Broadway pizzazz of Amar Ramasar in the final movement.

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