"La Sonnambula," "Prodigal Son," "'Firebird"
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, NY
January 17 and January 20, 2017
By Carol Pardo
copyright ©2017 by Carol Pardo
New York City Ballet opened its 2017 winter season with an all-Balanchine program which, like the recently ended run of "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker," includes sets, costumes and narrative. But this triple bill privileges the dark, the perverse, the tragic -- about as far from the Gemütlichkeit and sweetness of "The Nutcracker" as it is possible to get -- and even further from the pared down plotless works with which the choreographer is often identified.
The evenings opened with "La Sonnambula". The Baron is hosting a masked ball, accompanied by the Coquette. The Poet arrives, intrigued by his hostess, but even more intrigued by a woman in a long white gown who appears to him alone. All we know about her is that she is a somnambulist. We will find out that, goaded by the Coquette's jealousy and his own, the Baron will commit murder because of her; the Poet pays for his fascination with two women in one night with his life.
On opening night, it was hardly surprising that Chase Finlay's Poet (a debut) would fall for the Coquette (Sara Mearns) on sight. Both were golden children, heedless, fickle and headstrong. When he grasped her by the waist and bolted to the back of the stage where they could be alone, she was ran as fast as he. Yet when they danced together, the force and sweep of her attitude penché turned a step into a hammerlock hold. The Poet had met his match and, at that moment, the Coquette could claim kinship with the Siren in "Prodigal Son". Similar economy of means brought home the Baron's possessiveness. Calling his guests to eat, Amar Ramasar first took stock of the state of his party, then with a slight nod, acknowledged each couple as they danced off to dinner. But as the Poet and his conquest approached, his head snapped up, eyes focused and unwavering, a cobra riled and ready to strike.
As the Sleepwalker, Sterling Hyltin, fine boned and light, seemed to be made of tissue paper and spun glass, so fragile that she would vaporize or shatter in a high wind. Her bourées were frighteningly fast. But who exactly is this sleepwalker? We never really found out.
One of the pleasures of watching Tiler Peck that she so quickly grasps the world in which each ballet takes place. Her portrayal of the Sleepwalker (another debut, at the January 20th performance) had an internal logic that made the story clear. The pas de deux between the Poet and Sleepwalker is an increasingly extreme, desperate escalation of action and reaction. Peck and Robert Fairchild made sure that every action was clearly expressed and given enough time to register. That the Sleepwaker was aware of the Poet's presence became obvious; that she evaded him only fueled his desperation and sped the ballet to its violent climax. Rebecca Krohn's Coquette was a spoiled child with a conscious. Deprived of the Poet's affections, she stuck her chin out and pouted but witnessing his death throes, grief and remorse coursed up her spine.
Both performances of "Prodigal Son" were danced by veterans of their parts, Maria Kowroski with Joaquin De Luz or later Teresa Reichlen with Daniel Ulbricht. Kowroski's Siren, bleach white, had the sensuous elegant curves of a marble head by Brancusi. It was no wonder that the Prodigal couldn't wait to touch her. But within that body dwelt the poison and the instincts of an adder. (It was a serpentine night at City Ballet.) De Luz was a happy go lucky boy with a big grin and boundless optimism as he set out on his adventures making his entrapment all the more painful to witness. Although the characters were, as they must be, light years apart in wiles and sophistication, the two dancers were on the same wavelength throughout their pas de deux. The steps just flowed -- I've never seen the duet look so easy -- so, consequently, did the story. The poor boy was just sucked into a velvet lair. This was Kowroski's first performance on pointe since going on maternity leave in 2015, and both dancers rose to the occasion.
Daniel Ulbricht has almost over the top energy and a technique that permits him to do anything, so it was no surprise that his Prodigal felt confined in his father's home and had his eye on the wide open spaces. Reichlen's long limbs enticed but this Siren was stone cold. Their interactions were like those of opponents over a chess board, the one trying to figure out where to go and how, the other biding her time before coming in for the kill; the story unveiled episodically.
The title role in "Firebird" was taken by Teresa Reichlen and Ashley Bouder with Reichlen's long limbs mirroring the mesmerizing line of the berceuse, while Bouder, all bent limbs, brought out the creaturely side of the Firebird. But the big surprise was Ashley Laracy as the Prince's Bride, fleet, elegant, rhythmically delicate and precise. For the first time since Gloria Govrin, the bride was more than a mannequin for a couple of Chagall dresses.
These two performances saw many debuts in other roles as well. To cite just two, as the Prodigal's father, Aaron Sanz conveyed both regret and resignation just by bowing his head. Harrison Coll made the jumps in the servants' solo register like pistons while his fists pounded the air like a child in mid-tantrum; there were eleven more.
Photographs (top to bottom): Chase Finlay and Sterling Hyltin in "La Sonnambula"; Teresa Reichlen and Daniel Ulbricht in "Prodigal Son"; Ashley Bouder in "Firebird" by Paul Kolnik