Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ballet fanatics and fans

If the horrific acid attack on Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin was linked to artistic decisions, it shows how deeply passions run in Moscow when it comes to ballet. In New York, such fanaticism is incomprehensible (and this one of the few upshots of a basic lack of support for dance in the US) but then such an act of terrorism anywhere in one of the most refined arts is also beyond understanding. Fanatics are merely fans here. But with each season, it is easy to see how fans become attached to certain dancers as they blossom in front of our eyes, encouraged by our applause and shouts of support. You feel a part of their artistic development and creation. With the exception of a few veterans, the current young crop of principals suddenly seem like the grown-ups, after years of being the kids. It's also the emergence of new dancers in the spotlight that skews the curve even younger.

Sara Mearns in Serenade. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Ballet fans settled back into the rhythms of a new season at New York City Ballet this week; subscribers greeted one another like classmates after a summer break. Seat locations seemed to be as habitual as returning to last year's homeroom. Course work this season places an emphasis on Balanchine's repertory to Tchaikovsky, a promisingly hearty subject for the heart of winter. Serenade, both a cornerstone of the company's rep and one of the easiest going down, also returned Sara Mearns to the stage after an injury. Her larger-than-life presence is always somewhat jarring and part of her appeal, but in this role debut, she seemed tamed, less reckless, more reliant upon her solid partner Jared Angle emotionally instead of simply physically. In the later section after she let down her hair and lay alone, beached, it was apparent how cleverly Balanchine inserted simmering psychological undercurrents borrowed from Greek myth. 

Ashley Bouder is as different from Mearns as could be. I can't fault her attack, speed, and precision, but she rushes her phrasing, negating any inherent musicality, and lets pride and satisfaction creep distractingly onto her face. It has more the effect of a gymnast completing her routine. Adrian Danchig-Waring is one of the dancers establishing himself in the repertory, and with each season relaxes more into his ample physical gifts and sense of refinement. In contrast with Bouder, he could let some feelings register on his face, which tends toward the stoic.

Ideally matched: Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay in Mozartiana. Photo: Paul Kolnik

In Mozartiana, Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay made an ideal pair, proportion and style wise. Hyltin is one of the principals who, while still young, has become a firmament in the company, dancing larger than ever while losing none of her delicacy. Finlay emerged with a splash a few seasons ago, landing Apollo and other prime roles, and setting himself up for disappointment. Yet he has kept up with expectations, expanding his technique and partnering, while needing to work on his stamina. He has found an excellent match in Hyltin, whose independent strength is a gift for her partner as he finds his full power.

Anthony Huxley in Mozartiana. Photo: Paul Kolnik

The evening's big revelation, if no surprise, was the young soloist Anthony Huxley performing the gigue. Huxley is a small man with great talents; as with his peers of the same type, it's a matter of finding the right roles. This prominent isolated solo showed off his skill with detail, his refinement, his witty musicality. The dance of cameo-sized moments and miniature tableaux with students perfectly displayed his assets.

Teresa Reichlen and Tyler "The Perfect" Angle in Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 featured Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle, who, with his consummate partnering skills, has rapidly graduated to dancing with the largest and boldest of the women. It's not just his supporting skills, it's that he doesn't sublimate his own poetic presence while managing to frame his partner, in part with his absolutely pitch-perfect, innate Ă©paulement. It has taken me awhile to appreciate Reichlen's cool confidence and sly reserve, but here I am. She heightens pretty much everything she's in. Ana Sophia Scheller was the other featured dancer; her confidence and brio always draw the eye but I have yet to fully comprehend why she earned the rank of principal. This music is challenging and oftentimes not dancy at all, but it's one of many challenges that Balanchine faced, met, and left for us to savor. 

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