New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
February 15, 16 matinee, 20, 21, 2013
By Michael Popkin
Copyright 2012 © by Michael Popkin
What better way to conclude a season largely dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s music than with the composer’s masterpiece? Five tag-team casts danced the ballet, but the highlights were debuts in the leading roles by Robert Fairchild and Ana Sophia Scheller, respectively paired with Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia.
The Hyltin-Fairchild cast had the most powerful expression, particularly when Teresa Reichlen replaced Rebecca Krohn as the Lilac Fairy, Fairchild brought remarkable authority to Prince Désiré and displayed extraordinary rapport with Hyltin. Having danced together repeatedly since they originated the leading roles in “Romeo + Juliet,” they were also paired in Fairchild’s breakthrough performances of “Apollo.” By now they work together instinctively. The couple’s eye contact was beautifully loving and his coordination in lifting, supporting and relating to her during their two pas de deux was brilliant. When she became slightly unnerved after a slip in her solo entrance at the end of the wedding pas de deux, all it took was one touch from him for her to settle down completely. The following parallel diagonals of retreating balonneés in arabesque, during the coda, had a force, spaciousness and coordination that took your breath away. If Hyltin interpreted Aurora a little too much as “Juliet in the court of Louis XIV,” the dramatic reading remained innocently endearing; the two roles are not strongly inconsistent.
Meanwhile Fairchild danced his solos with a classical power and authority that you didn’t know he possessed: double tours fully closed with ease; elevation; battery; a manège of sauts de Basque of excitement and force, what didn’t he do? His dancing reminded you of the impulse and physical beauty of the young Ethan Stiefel.
Despite some first act jitters on opening night, Scheller’s debut as Aurora was also strong, particularly the poetry of her Vision Scene, and the authority of her last act grand pas de deux. Very upright and centered, she’s a natural to dance Petipa. In fact, she’s performed the end of the ballet before: Act 3 was her coming-out piece at the School of American Ballet workshop in 2003. Here, her effortless and high extension, with dévelopées that showed a nearly Russian line, were her strength. During the Vision, she rendered phrases delicate and sensitive that some of the other ballerinas punched out.
But still, something was missing and it wasn’t until her final entrance for the Mazurka - when she and Garcia erupted across the stage in spacious and impulsive, side-by-side chassées - that you realized what it was. Earlier she’d often seemed to stop the musical flow of her phrasing during transitional steps. It read as caution, or preparation, and you wanted her to cut loose and just dance as she did at the finale. But who wouldn’t be nervous in a debut in this role? She will only get better dancing it over time.
The performances over the two continuous weeks were consistently strong among the ballerinas. If you were to break the great role down to its three acts, you’d say that the Rose Adagio belonged to Megan Fairchild; the Vision to both Peck and Scheller; and the grand pas de deux to Hyltin. Breaking things down by technique, you’d further say that the petite allegro belonged to Megan Fairchild; that Tiler Peck had the chops for the grand allegro and the turns; and Scheller showed the clearest lines and biggest extension. For balance in performance across all three acts, the palm went to Megan Fairchild. Aurora is nearly her perfect role; she had the opening night. While you may at first glance think that Fairchild’s a soubrette (she’s also the best Swanilda the company has had in years) “Beauty” comes to her as naturally. As her prince, Joaquin de Luz was small and it took some time during his first entrance for the hunt to realize that he was the regal personage. But he danced with a strength and authority that quickly made you believe in him.
In other roles, Reichlen's Lilac Fairy showed how much she’s grown in interpretive power and strength. Her épaulement, arms and mime; the presentation of her face and expression were all just about perfect, as was her dancing in her two major solos. In the opening night cast, Mearns’ Lilac Fairy was also of immense magnitude.
Mearns returned to the stage in January after missing eight months due to back spasms, but now, at winter’s end, seemed at last to have forgotten caution. She danced though everything spaciously and with complete abandon; and what power on stage! During Carabosse’s entrance, she held your attention and sheltered the royal infant merely by spreading her arms and standing still. Reversing the curse with a gracious, eloquent mime, she turned the confrontation into a metaphysical drama: her incarnation of good was powerful enough to master Maria Kowroski’s malice as the uninvited fairy.
Meanwhile, Koworoski also acted and mimed with power and physical elegance. Where others in this role (notably Georgina Pazcoguin) interpreted Carabosse with a nearly grotesque display of aggression, Kowroski treated it as a character role within the parameters of classical dance. Remaining centered and balletic, she reminded you of Merrill Ashley in the role, but also of Sorella Englund as the witch Madge, in the Royal Danish Ballet’s “La Sylphide.”
In “Sleeping Beauty” (Opus 66), more than any of his other orchestral works, Tchaikovsky disciplines his romantic sensibility with restrained and balanced structure and form. The resulting flow of narrative incident, orchestral color and diverting dance is nearly perfect. New York City Ballet’s dancing also made the production look like Peter Martins’ finest effort.
Yet a paradox lies at the heart of how NYCB dances it. Balanchine and Robbins are the company’s core repertory. From this material the dancers acquire the habit of just being themselves and letting their personalities show. Dancing “Beauty,” a story ballet par excellence, they try to act, but basically stay who they are. The way they dance in Balanchine is the way they dance here as well. They can’t help it. The surprise is that the result is disarming. The principals’ inability to leave themselves behind actually becomes a strength. Fascinating to watch these youngsters tear into standard Petipa material that they no doubt dreamed of dancing when very young, because those dreams are the stuff of all ballet students.
Watching repeated performances of the ballet becomes a kind of benchmark for the company, where you can see how the dancers measure up in a standard repertory.
They passed the test with flying colors these two weeks and management seemed to recognize this by promoting three men to principal during the run (Chase Finlay, Adrien Danchig-Waring and Ask la Cour); while six women and two men were made soloist (Lauren King, Ashley Laracey, Megan Lecrone, Lauren Lovette, Georgina Pazcoguin, Justin Peck, Brittany Pollack and Taylor Stanley). They danced brilliantly, most notably Finlay in the gold variation, and Pollack, whose Princess Florine (opposite Troy Schumacher’s Bluebird) showed real ballerina power. She’s tall and strong, has foot speed and personality, and danced the role, not as a demi-caractère showpiece, but as a startling display of long, classical lines, lighting fast extension and turns, along with fluid musicality. Watching her, you remembered that Karsavina once danced this material. Her future looks very bright.
The young corps de ballet has also never looked better. Night after night, watching the youngest of the women – some still apprentices like Claire von Enck and Ashley Hod; others new to the company this fall, like Indiana Woodward; or last spring, like Megan Dutton-O’Hara - tear across the stage in the huge ballonés and emboités of the vision scene, their facility, training and dance impulse were breathtaking. Now a few years into the corps, Lydia Wellington gave a great performance as the Fairy of Generosity in several casts. From walking in on a higher demi-pointe than the other fairies for her first entrance; to the way she gave value and metric meaning to every step within a dance phrase (showing sur le cou de pied, for instance, as a distinct step briefly held in between bourrées to the front and cabrioles to the rear) this woman dances with imagination – for the choreography, music, but most of all who she is on stage. The ability to create a fantasy world and draw the audience into it is the mark of a gifted dancer.
Photos by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet, top to bottom: Robert Fairchild and Sterling Hyltin as Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré with Rebecca Krohn as the Lilac Fairy; Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia as Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré; Sara Mearns as the Lilac Fairy; Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle in the leading roles; and, the company in the "Garland Dance."