“Serenade,” “Mozartiana,” “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2”
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
January 15, 16, 2013
By Michael Popkin
Copyright © 2013 by Michael Popkin
Each ballet got a better performance than the one before as New York City Ballet opened its winter dancing the first program of its “Tschaikovsky Celebration” twice. Kicking things off, “Serenade” was tentative on Tuesday, yet Wednesday’s rendition was a powerhouse, with Sara Mearns returning to the stage after an eight month absence. Mozartiana,” the middle work, was strong on Tuesday (with Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle) but remarkable Wednesday with Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay making debuts. The initial “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2,” with Ashley Bouder as the principal ballerina, concluded opening night on a rousing note. But Wednesday evening the ballet elevated to a virtual blaze of light in a performance for the ages by Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle that lit up every corner of the theater. Over two successive nights, every time the curtain rose, so did the level of dance.
While Mearns, in her first time out returning from back spasms, danced with something less than her normally total abandon, she engaged elementally with her character from the opening moment. Wandering in and seeming lost among the votaries of dance, their arms upraised, for her first entrance; and later going to the floor with her hair down, and an arm outstretched towards her departed consort, her sense of vulnerability and then tragedy were arresting. Adrian Danchig-Waring contributed to this impression in his subtle handling of the male role, while LeCrone (also with her hair down), showed an unexpected personal beauty and similar power; slowly going slowly to her knee in fourth position with a beautiful stretch, she seemed like one of Milton's angels, charged with bereaving the couple but full of compassion for what she had to do. Earlier Bouder graced the pas de quatre with a pair of tours jetées in attitude of astonishing power and abandon into Danchig-Waring’s arms. The Russian theme is a jumping role and one of Bouder’s best.
If the difference between the first and second night performances of “Serenade” was one of interpretation, a difference in power separated the two “Mozartianas.” Kowroski and Angle (in his debut) were strong. While you had the sense that they ran out of gas at the end, they successfully negotiated fiendishly difficult roles at the very outer limits of each of their technical ranges. Kowroski impressively kept her long-limbed body under control while Angle confronted the choreography with a pulled up, Russian placement in his upper body. Looking like a Petipa dancer, he consistently showed impressive elevation and remained clear in intricate footwork and beats.
It was good enough for most evenings, yet the following night Hyltin, Finlay and Anthony Huxley (in the Gigue) each delivered performances that rate as individual high points. “Mozartiana” has to be danced classically and very clean. Tchaikovksy’s score (Orchestral Suite No. 4, Opus 61) conjures up an ideally restrained eighteenth century, where the composer can shelter from his usual sturm und drang, and Balanchine renders this into dancing that’s unusually chaste and formal. By moving the Preghiera up to the very front of the dance from its usual fourth place in the the score, and also putting four small girls on the stage for it, Balanchine strikes a chord of celestial purity and innocence. La Danse seems a realm free of original sin. Astonishingly, in their very first times out in the leading roles, all three leading dancers managed to dance the ballet technically clean but with an equal grace of innocent expression.
Hyltin - delicate, strong and relaxed - danced consistently within the parameters of the classical canon, finished even the most intricate elements of her choreography and still managed to express the purity of the text. Her interpretation of the leading role seemed modeled on that of Wendy Whelan, who, along with Kyra Nichols, has been among the role’s supreme interpreters over the past two decades. Finlay, still a soloist and so young, danced with complete aplomb. Physically beautiful at all times, he finished everything – beats, jumps and turns - showed perfect lines, partnered strongly and displayed not the slightest lapse of stamina. Both he and Hyltin were breathing a little hard at the curtain and that was all. Huxley, completing the cast, was a revelation in the elegance of his terre-à-terre dancing in the Gigue. Well proportioned and attractive in the costume, he was relaxed, held the stage, and showed himself above all spontaneous and free in the use of his body. He rendered the role classical and not demi-caractère by doing everything smoothly and concealing any hint that he was accomplishing something hard.
On any other night one’s cup would have run over with such a performance, yet the best was still to come. Of all the ballets on the bill, “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2” proved to be not only the most compelling statement of the composer’s mature genius, but also the choreographer’s. Intensely dramatic and with a free-form structure that alternates dynamic orchestral passages with melodic and introspective ones, of the three, this score was the one you’d consider most quintessentially Tchaikovsky.
On Wednesday night it got a truly great performance that made the audience hold its breath as it built in force from opening to close. Reichlen – the tallest and most stretched of all the company’s principal women – danced full throttle from start to finish, moving on the largest scale. For such a tall woman, there’s further to go with each step and gesture, but she held nothing back and the amplitude of her arabesques, elevation of her remarkable jump, scope and force of her turns astonished. In the frequent piqué steps that Balanchine puts right on Tchaikovsky’s musical accents, the force and lift of her relevées marked the choreographic meter oh so clearly. This was dance impulse completely released. For a tall woman, she has not only an unprecedented jump but is extraordinarily fleet footed.
Then there was the drama of the performance: from her first hushed entrance of swivel pirouettes, you saw her gaining strength and confidence with every passing moment. Gone was every trace of the shyness that dogged her early career, when she often seemed to avoid eye contact with the audience. Instead she embraced stardom, the audience, the moment of time in the theater, the sense of the Gods descending to watch - a Czarina indeed in the context of this ballet, commanding the stage, the company, embracing the universe with lines extending from just this central point. Until in a delicious moment of the concluding Gopak she broke into the most luminous, personal and radiant of smiles, sharing it with Tyler Angle as her partner but also with all of us. She’d nailed it; nothing was going to stop her now.
In his debut in the leading role opposite her, Angle was just right, partnered securely, and danced his solos with polish and strength. Always an instinctive Romeo, he was lyrical in the “Swan Lake” adagio, where on his knees, he first embraced Reichlen in her gorgeous arabesque after she had advanced towards him down the parting lines of the corps de ballet, and then lost her after an even more wrenching embrace.
Ana Sophia Scheller’s debut as the second ballerina was also strong, although she seemed undersized in a role that’s often cast taller. The second ballerina often leads to bigger things; Reichlen herself made her principal role debut in it years ago dancing opposite Miranda Weese. Savannah Lowery, still a soloist, was very strong in it the previous night opposite Bouder, appearing to be not only in the best physical shape of her career and but also dancing with a mixture of self restraint and controlled dramatic expression that made her too appear ready to be promoted.
Photos by Paul Kolnik courtesy of New York City Ballet: (Top) Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle in “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2”; (Middle) Sara Mearns in “Serenade”; (bottom) Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay in “Mozartiana”