"The Four Seasons", "Circus Polka", "Easy", "A Suite of Dances", "Something to Dance About"
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
May 3, 2018
by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2018 by Mary Cargill
New York City Ballet's Spring gala celebrated Jerome Robbins' 100 birthday with three of his works, a premiere by Justin Peck, and a lavish compilation of Robbins' Broadway choreography. Maria Kowroski introduced the evening with a gracious speech and reminded the audience that she is the only dancer at NYCB who actually worked with Robbins. She remembered him in rehearsals stressing "easy does it", not, she insisted, that the choreography was easy, but that the dancers should make it look easy and spontaneous.
New York City Ballet in "The Four Seasons" photo © Paul Kolnik
"The Four Seasons", to Verdi's infectiously danceable tunes, is Robbins' salute to classism, complete with tutus, tiaras, flamboyance, and elegant scenery. The four seasons trope has been done many times, but rarely with such panache, as Robbins poured on the steps. Indiana Woodward played down the cutie pie aspects of Winter and used her fluid arms and bouncy charm to great effect. Sara Mearns gave Spring an unusual gravity, as she danced with an almost hesitant strength, as if Spring were a rare and delicate miracle not to be taken lightly. Teresa Reichlen's astringent crispness did not really work for the oozy Orientalism of Summer's hip-swaying ease and at times it seemed the air conditioning was on. Her partner Aaron Sanz (in a debut) however, as absolutely mesmerizing, moving as though he had that rhythm in his bones.
Tiler Peck gave Fall a grand gleam, as she danced it with a true Russian flair, a grand ballerina with an extravagant personality and technique to burn -- her turns seemed to control time -- which she combined with a light and musical approach. This is great fun, she seemed to say, and her wit, which seemed both to smile at and honor those Russians of yore, enlarged rather than diminished the role. Zachary Catanzaro, her partner, is a lyrical dancer and his bravura turns almost pushed him over the edge but he was a gracious and secure partner. Daniel Ulbricht's warmth and sparkle as the hyperactive Faun had a graciousness that invited the audience to revel in his technical triumphs (he really did seem to sit in the air before deciding to float down) and his dancing won smiles as well as gasps; it really did look easy.
Ask La Cour's Ringmaster in Robbins' "Circus Polka" won smiles too, as he corralled the numerous SAB students into the choreographer's initials. Justin Peck's premiere "Easy", to jazzy music by Leonard Bernstein, was an homage to Robbins; with its rather frantic gaiety, neon pastel costumes, and tennis shoes, it looked a bit like "Interplay" on steroids. The six dancers (Preston Chamblee, Harrison Coll, Claire Kretzschmar, Unity Phelan, Sean Suozzi, and Indiana Woodward), especially Coll and Suozzi in a loose-limbed dance-off, sparkled, but there was a certain paint-by-number feel to the choreography, as if form were substituting for feeling.
Joaquin De Luz debuted in Robbins' "A Suite of Dances", which was created for Baryshnikov, who worked with De Luz. The exploratory and improvisational feel of the choreography suited De Luz's eager but never pushy stage presence and (despite a few overly cute somersaults) the work has a casual and moving dignity.
"Something to Dance About", a reworking of some of Robbins' Broadway works by Broadway choreographer Warren Carlyle, was not casual, as the extravagant costumes and are cast scurried through "New York, New York" and "West Side Story" via Siam ("The King and I") and Russia ("Fiddler on the Roof"), with various stops along the way. It was a wonderful nostalgic wallow, but not really representative of Robbins' ability to integrate dances in a narrative -- Tony and Maria wandering through Anna and the King's polka was certainly musically effective but dramatically vague. The episodes swirled by, anchored by the heavily and sometimes erratically miked singing of Jessica Vosk. Andrew Vedette showed a Broadway dynamism and vocal clarity in "All I Need is the Girl" from "Gypsy" and Tiler Peck's Charleston from "Billion Dollar Baby" was cheap at the price and made the audience feel like it had swallowed a whole bathtub full of gin. The finale, as Vosk croaked "Something Wonderful", veered into sentimentality ("This is a man you will forgive and forgive/And help and protect, as long as you live") as a gigantic photograph of Robbins was projected on a screen. But, as Kowroski said, these dancers never worked with him, so the problematic issues can fade and leave behind what is easy.
Photos © Paul Kolnik:
First: New York City Ballet in "The Four Seasons"
Second: Sara Mearns in "The Four Seasons"
Third: New York City Ballet in "Easy"
Fourth: Joaquin De Luz in "A Suite of Dances"
Fifth: Tiler Peck and Taylor Stanley in "Something to Dance About"
Copyright © 2018 by Mary Cargill