"Episodes," "Apollo," "The Four Temperaments"
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
September 16, 2011
By Michael Popkin
Copyright 2011 by Michael Popkin
In the midst of six performances of Peter Martins' "Swan Lake" New York City Ballet went back to its source Friday night. A welcome program of Balanchine's black and white ballets included a number of important debuts. Robert Fairchild's first New York performance of "Apollo" was a highlight; the ballet continued to be danced as brilliantly as in the spring. "Episodes" and "The Four Temperaments" got more uneven performances, with some sections better than others. No matter - serious art was back in the house and ballets that are legitimate masterworks were performed with all or at least a fair degree of their natural power. The evening elevated human experience instead of depressing it and what more can you ask of a night at the theater?
Peck whipped through the double pirouettes finishing in arabesque in Polyhymnia's solo - holding her finger to her mouth in her character's iconic pose - with buoyant ease. Hyltin was relaxed and in command of her body and expression, fully centered with all of her movements originating from a still point in her upper back. I have never seen her dance better and she and Fairchild have developed an instinctively comfortable rapport in a partnership now several years old. The sequence where Terpsichore extends horizontally upon the kneeling Apollo's shoulders was done with a confidence and ease very seldom seen, as if she were swimming in air and light that had become liquid.
"The Four Temperaments" featured Ashley Bouder's debut in Choleric, but the cast overall is largely new to the ballet since last spring. Gonzalo Garcia, who is naturally expressive in interpretive roles (he's also been brilliant in "Opus 19/The Dreamer") is the best Melancholic the company has had since Peter Boal's departure, and was here impressively physical but also refined and lyrical. His final series of backbends off the stage absorbed all your attention and properly brought the performance to a climax. Amar Ramasar's Phlegmatic was a mature rendition, in which he completely subjugated his personality to the role. But these two sections of the ballet were wrapped around an unfortunately punchy and frantic rendition of Sanguinic by Savannah Lowery and Jared Angle.
Choleric proved a wonderful role for Bouder, who has the force and stage presence for it despite being smaller than it's traditionally cast. Bringing the ballet together at its conclusion and nearly always at the center of an ensemble of dancers - stirring the others up, animating and coordinating them - it recalled how, when Bouder was a youngster in the corps de ballet, whatever she did and wherever she was on stage, in a solo role or an ensemble, your eyes would slide to her; and also how, by simply dancing choreography in a straightforward manner she naturally interprets it. Certain images from her Choleric still linger: for example, Jared Angle lifting her high in a calm pas de chat, as she looked dispassionately and without expression into the audience at the peak of the lift, before kicking several times into a powerful split, similarly at the top of the pose.
David LaMarche of American Ballet Theater appeared as a guest conductor for this ballet and got a richer rendition of the score than we are used to out of NYCB's orchestra, setting the piano passages off with more contrast against the accompaniment and using more varied tempos. In the opening themes, Lydia Wellington and Christian Tworzyansky, and Ashley Laracey and Adrian Danchig-Waring were very striking. It was good to see Danchig-Waring back after being out with injury for nearly a year.
"Episodes" opened with a clean performance from Abi Stafford and Tyler Angle in the Symphony, but Rebecca Krohn's debut as a last minute replacement for Sara Mearns in the Ricercata (after learning the role only the afternoon before) was the performance of her career. Commanding, calm and lyrical; beautifully placed and coordinated, particularly in the presentation of her shoulders, neck and face, and of her long arms, she quickly made the audience forget its disappointment in not seeing Mearns. The Ricercata of "Episodes" explores the role of restraint in classicism - it's virtually a demonstration of how the two relate - and must be danced flawlessly. Even minor failures of placement and posture show in this ballet but Krohn danced it to perfection.
Photo: Robert Fairchild in "Apollo" by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet