"Stravinsky Violin Concerto," Monumentum pro Gesualdo," "Movements for Piano and Orchestra," "Duo Concertant," "Symphony in Three Movements"
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, NY
September 29, 2016
By Carol Pardo
copyright ©2016 by Carol Pardo
George Balanchine often compared ballet programming to creating a pleasing meal, each consisting of an appetizer, main course and dessert (perhaps with a palate cleanser of a sorbet or a pas de deux thrown in), leaving one pleasurably sated whether at the table or the theater. What would he have made of this program, five ballets, music by only one composer (admittedly Stravinsky), one set, a blue cyclorama, and overwhelmingly black and white costumes, only a stone's throw from practice dress? (A hint of light blue barely registered and the three pink leotards, in the final ballet, the only saturated color of the night stunned the eyeballs.) Such a program seems far from a banquet and closer to a dose of castor oil, "Swallow it, it's good for you". But this time out, several debuts, some planned some not, showed each ballet in a new light. There was rigor, but a banquet too.
Much of the power of "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" depends on the weight and counterweight of its leading quartet. Each dancer needs to play off their opposite number; lacking the right foil, the ballet becomes unmoored. Usually it is the men keep the work afloat, but this time it was the women, both making their debuts: Lauren Lovette and Sara Mearns. Lovette is a very appealing performer; it is easy to spend time in her company. Her dancing is light, clear and delicate so that both the folk-inflected footwork and the scooping legs of her first steps were both fleet and elegant.
'Aria I,' the first of the ballet's two duets, is, from the moment the lights come up, a study of a dysfunctional couple, tough, wary, tightly coiled, aggressive, giving each other as wide a berth as possible and immediately looking for ways to break free whenever they touch. Nowhere is this more obvious than the sequence where the woman drops to the floor, twisting and turning on one limb, then another, like a crab that swallowed a Slinky. Initially Mearns seemed lost in her own world, oblivious to anyone's presence. But as Adrian Danchig-Waring persisted and made his presence felt, Mearns became more agitated, like a bear whose lair has been invaded. When she dropped to the floor, her back seemed boneless; rather than a crab, she seemed like a jellyfish, softer, more fluid, but just as lethal. The men were not as compelling. Chase Finlay, in his debut opposite Lovette, has not yet made the leap from individual steps to dances phrases while Adrian Danchig-Waring put himself in service to his ballerina.
In "Monumentum pro Gesualdo", Russell Janzen, also in a debut, was a more traditional swain, in keeping with the Renaissance sources of the score: a cool, elegant courtier, restrained but protective of his lady love. Faced with the long-legged women of "Movements for Piano and Orchestra", lunging, squatting or reaching with amphora-like arms to the sky like trees horror movie forest, he was appropriately, understandably bewildered and frightened. Perhaps this was too literal-minded a reaction, but it was fascinating situate "Mionumentum" in the natural world, rather than in the distant realm of its twelve tone score. It also looked as though the ballets had been relit with whiter, almost LED quality light against a darker blue background. In consequence, "Monumentum" looked sharper and more luxurious, like a sapphire against velvet while "Movements" seemed darker and creepier. Rebecca Krohn, dancing the contrasting woman, has beautiful long legs, here by turn aristocratic or creaturely, and her body seems infinitely flexible. But I wish there were some sense of weight, of a powerful center from which movement originated which would add texture to the flow of her dancing.
Ashley Bouder and Robert Fairchild are veterans of their parts in "Duo Concertant". Bouder is just back from maternity leave and Fairchild is back in ballet form between the New York and London runs of "An American in Paris". Together they returned the ballet to its original focus, the creative act -- and work -- of making a ballet, no pasted on romance or youthful gamboling through unseen fields. It helped that the final movement, choreographed for hands and spotlights, went off without a hitch. When is doesn't, the muse and her supplicant exist in different time zones, never to meet. It helped too that Bouder, who can do anything and wants you to know it, modulated her attack from sparkling to glowing, making the ballet a meeting of equals sharing a common journey. Welcome back, everyone.
"Symphony in Three Movements" also received a comparatively retrained performance. This is the ballet whose final tableau has the cast men poised to leap over the orchestra pit, like zoo animals breaking out of their cages. Instead, it was a chance to examine how this crowded, complicated ballet is made, like getting to look under the hood of a Formula 1 racing car. Like Russell Janzen and Rebecca Krohn, earlier in the evening, Sterling Hyltin and Aaron Sanz, making his debut a week earlier than scheduled, looked perfectly matched in both height and proportions, particularly when the woman was on point. Did that physical harmony make the pas de deux more limpid, more serene? Or did the music, with its allusions to gamelan tonalities muted lead the way? Andrew Litton, the company's new music director was on the podium both here and for the concerto, played with a transparency that provided new links between steps and score. Perhaps the impetus came from the pit.
Whatever the source, or sources, this was an evening that reminded one of the power and durability of classicism. The newest of these works is now forty-four years old; all are fresh, vibrant, ageless. And the New York City Ballet, rather than being a fusty museum, is a living organism in a symbiotic relationship: the company keeps great works alive and those works nourish the company, a feat --and feast--indeed.