New York City Ballet & Orchestra
All Balanchine/Tschaikovsky Bill
“Swan Lake” , “Allegro Brillante”, “Suite #3”
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
March 26, 2013
by George Jackson
copyright 2013 by George Jackson
The New York City Ballet’s 2013 opening night in Washington didn’t quite click, either as programming or as a set of performances. Balanchine, the company’s founding ballet master, used to be skeptical about gimmicky scheduling. Often he would dismiss a thematic bill as “all water and watermelon”. What he wanted was to serve customers a balanced menu. Tschaikovsky, one of his favorite composers, drew from him intriguing but not necessarily compatible results. Last night started and ended with Balanchine choreography to Tschaikovsky music that almost looked as if it had been made in the castle and kingdom manner. Behavior, not only dancing, is important for both “Swan Lake” and “Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3”. In the ballet that came in between, “Allegro Brillante” , Balanchine seemed to be surveying Tschaikovsky’s score for the compactness, the shortcuts, the economy and the sense of contemporary life that modernist music gave him chances to invent in his “black and white” works. Pose and dance alternate in “Swan Lake” and “Suite No. 3” but “Allegro Brillante” is more all-dance: dance-in-place alternating with dance-in-space.
The icicles overhead in Alain Vaes’ lakeside set and his blackish tutus for the swan corps puzzle audiences used to seeing a leafy forest and, in the full ballet, a sharp distinction between Odette with her good white swans and the imposter Odile as the bad black one. I suspect that this production’s winter setting is meant to suggest the tragic ending. That the swan corps isn’t white may allude to Petipa’s 1895 “Swan Lake” production notes in which even yellow and pink swans were called for! Or does giving Odette’s flock a dark coloration from the start prepare us for the vicious way they will, later on, separate the lovers?
Fascinating in this “Swan Lake” is how Balanchine developed the role of the corps de ballet. He used the group to construct patterned structures in space and time – the Pas de Neuf (which Ashley Laracey led) and the Valse Bluette (with Savannah Lowery as soloist). These enhance the ballet’s melancholy mood and the corps also provides counterpoint to the lovers’ grand adagio. The figure of the evil sorcerer Redbeard isn’t much more than a large puppet in this staging, even though a dancer – Justin Peck – performs the part.
Lively, quick, breezing past – “Allegro Brillante” is over in practically no time. Within a few minutes Balanchine delivers the essence of the musical ballet – phrasing, partnering and pattern. There are just 10 dancers dressed in little more than practice wear (the women’s skirts flow). This is a chamber ballet to which the cast must add “meaning”, “interpretation” in order to magnify it for opera house dimensions. Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar, as the leads, were purists. They stuck to doing the steps and keeping the dynamics clear, sometimes brilliantly clear. Peck, despite her tiara, was no princess but an efficient, up-to-date, matter-of-fact female. Ramasar was a bit more individual by seeming to enjoy himself. In their case, though, putting a man and woman together on stage didn’t of itself suffice to engender a story. What a contrast with American Ballet Theatre’s Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky who, on this same stage a couple of seasons ago, added just a hint of romance and of heritage. They evoked personality and the past so that the work became large enough to fit into a big theater. Last night, despite all the energy, it was diet rations.
The problem with “Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3” has always been the gap between its first three movements and the concluding “Theme and Variations”. The final section’s choreography is more detailed musically, has more weight and volume, and is more classical than the sections we see first. These have sweep, airiness, but stylistically are rather romantic modern with lots of torso action and fluid arms. They were made 23 years after the “Theme and Variations” and don’t fully prepare us for it. The current production turns the gap between the 1970 portions and the 1947 portion into a chasm by having the first three parts danced behind a scrim. That makes them seem even less substantial and slightly out of focus. Contrasting relationships between lover and beloved are supposed to link the ballet together. In the first part, “Elegie”, a soulful poet (Ask la Cour) can’t tell his beloved muse (Teresa Reichlen) apart from her six sisters. The next lover (Jared Angle) and his beloved (Abi Stafford) are more companionable as they step through a “Valse Melancolique”. In the third segment, the lovers (Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht) dash thru a “Scherzo” with “Allegro Brillante” speed and nonchalance. La Cour and Reichlen moved well but everyone’s impact would have been greater without the scrim and with more intense lighting. The longest part of the ballet is the “Tema con Variazioni” which depicts the courtly courtship of a noble pair. Joaquin de Luz, as the wooer, danced his solos splendidly – with particularly articulate legs in the second solo. How he walked, though, was more like a cadet than a prince. As the wooed one, Megan Fairchild should have had more flexibility, more clockwork timing and a touch of grandeur.
Conducting the orchestra of New York musicians with speed and clarity was as a guest, David LaMarche. Elaine Chelton was the personable piano soloist for “Allegro Brillante”. Poetry in the dancing last night was principally Tyler Angle’s contribution.
Photos (both from "Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3" and both by Paul Kolnik):
Sarah Mearns (top)
Megan Fairchild (bottom)