Tuesday, February 3, 2015

NYCB—Drawing Strength from Balanchine

Tyler Angle and Maria Kowrowski in Symphony in C. Photo: Paul Kolnik
The last couple of months have brought to New York some of the world's great ballet companies, including the Royal Danish Ballet, the Mikhailovksy, and the Mariinsky, not to mention our native ABT. Returning to New York City Ballet this week, I felt a renewed appreciation for this cultural mainstay even after—or because of—seeing these other companies.

Even as new choreographers emerge and ascend at NYCB—Wheeldon, Ratmansky, and now Justin Peck, within the last decade—it will always be about Balanchine. Obviously the deep repertory remains the font that feeds the whole enterprise, with his teaching principles and the legacies of his tutelage and choreographic process steadily driving things.

Balanchine's invention, love of craft, and attention to detail made dances that demand a high level of technique and artistry. Because of this, the dancers of NYCB are the most broadly skilled and well-prepared in the field. But the large size of the company can also mean that dancers become specialized, only getting cast in certain types of parts, or worse, getting overlooked. Some dancers seem to be in everything, others simply disappear for seasons at a time.

Some notes on the Winter Season's first two all-Balanchine programs, and a few notable recurring partnerships:
Ashley Bouder in Donizetti Variations. Photo: Paul Kolnik

Donizetti Variations (1960) is all breakneck speed, petit allegro, tricky timing, virtuosity. It is why dancers like Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette exist. They were paired again in the first movement of Symphony in C on the second program. There is great joy in their dancing, but at times it feels as if efficiency and hitting the marks supersede interpretation and nuance. Bouder is often ahead of the tempo, even if she lingers extra long in a balance to compensate, and she pushes moves past known limits. Veyette is ever eager, and when he's on his leg, he can spin endlessly.

Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle, who led the cast of La Valse (1951) with Justin Peck as the macabre figure, are the opposite. They fill out the music with plushness and detail, injecting drama at every opportunity. There is risk and thrill in everything Mearns does, and Angle supports her while offering his own superb panache and peerless ballon. Mearns danced in Serenade as well, with Jared Angle, lending a dramatic depth that can sometimes be missing in this perennial favorite. Tyler partnered Maria Kowroski in the second movement of Symphony in C, lending his surehandedness to another leggy dancer whose amplitude and line are often breathtaking, despite an emotional guardedness.

Teresa Reichlen danced with Adrian Danchig-Waring in Chaconne and Agon on two programs. Both fairly independent spirits, they are tuning into one another. Danchig-Waring is seasoning as a principal, relaxing and savoring his time onstage. In ballet, one can never achieve perfection, and he seems to be accepting this in spite of his nature. Reichlen's height is no impediment to her moving quickly and with precision. She remains the cool kid who can send a message with a glance. 

Notable role debuts:

  • Anthony Huxley in Agon. He appears to have gained strength in the upper body, as well as confidence, and is soaking up and reflecting more of the audience's energy.  
  • Joseph Gordon and Lauren Lovette in Symphony in C's third movement. His jumps soar, to match his already high level of confidence. Her fluency and delicacy add a joy to this danciest of sections.
  • Lauren King in Symphony in C's fourth section. An assured performance by a relatively new soloist; we'll certainly be seeing her in more prominent roles.

Like the Royal Danish Ballet, which boasts the Bournonville repertory as the key to its legacy, NYCB will always have Balanchine's oeuvre as its source of power. The company is in fine shape to share those gifts of invention, musicality, and joie de vivre.

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