Seeing "Harlequinade" again after quite a few years at this matinee performance, with an audience filled with many youngsters, I appreciated the skillful, charming way Balanchine revisited a work from an earlier time and managed to both retain its quaintness and also invest it with some brash, clearly contemporary flair and humor. Forty years after its premiere, it is amazing how the personalities of the two distinctive, brilliant principals—Patricia McBride and Edward Villella—for whom Balanchine created the ballet still shine through those roles. Both were in their prime and in the midst of an amazing roll during the mid-sixties, when Balanchine created a series of enduring roles shaped around their abilities and personalities.
Colombine bears McBride's imprint in so many ways—her blend of warmth and piquancy, her elegant, articulate legs and (especially) feet and the precise yet expansive way she used them. Whoever comes out in her initial pink and concluding blue costumes, I always momentarily see McBride herself. Engagingly radiant yet never cloying, she was sweetness and radiance personified. Harlequin, that mercurial and engagingly feisty rapscallion, exudes Villella's rough-and-ready eagerness and dynamism. Balanchine gave him not just buoyant, vividly characterized choreography, but a whole body language that expresses who he is—cheeky, determined, irreverent, and sure to get his way.
NYCB unveiled a second cast in which the four leading roles and most of the supporting ones were different from last week. The only debut was an impressive one: Adam Hendrickson as the woebegone, much-abused Pierrot. This versatile young soloist—who has bravely taken on major character roles usually handed to those nearing the end of a career, while also displaying vivid strengths when dancing in a variety of age-appropriate roles—made the character 's physical and emotional spinelessness evident from his first moments onstage. Roughly pushed around by the brutish, narrow-minded Cassandre (Andrei Kramarevsky), he toppled to the ground with helpless, rubbery inertia. His unfortunate mismatch of a marriage to the much more alert, tuned-in, proactive Pierrette was evident from his first encounter with Amanda Edge, who tormented him mercilessly and was clearly far more dedicated to her mistress' romantic matters than to her husband's plight. Pierrot is slow-witted and hopelessly allied to the "wrong" side in this simple little tale, but Hendrickson still made you empathize with him.
For Alexandra Ansanelli, Colombine would appear to be an ideal role at the ideal moment. She danced with pearly clarity and dewy warmth, yet avoided any hint of simpering cutesiness. Colombine is not as complex or inventive a heroine as Swanilda; she just wants to be with Harlequin rather than any wealthy fop her father may select for her. He leaves the conniving and manipulating to others, but as portrayed by Ansanelli, you root for her to get what she wants, because she's so winning and dances with such a neat blend of purity and verve. Yielding and ardent in her duets with Harlequin, she didn't quite make the dreamy legato solo in act two, which celebrates the triumph of their romance over all silly obstacles, unspool with all the magical radiance it can have, but overall, this was a strong, engaging portrayal perfectly in tune with the ballet's blend of fairy-tale innocence and gentle irreverence.
Benjamin Millepied makes Harlequin a more elegant, somewhat reserved figure. He can caper nimbly when the choreography calls for it, and pulled out the stops quite impressively in his main Act Two solo, but he isn't the natural extrovert that the role ideally calls for. Dancer such as Damian Woetzel or Joaquin de Luz take amore obvious delight in playing to the audience, which is part of Harlequin's make-up; his body language alone makes us root for him while so many around him appear to be ineffectual fools. Millepied couldn't quite capture this quality of co-conspiratorial glee, so his Harlqeuin kept us more at a distance.
The children's sections of the ballet, often excerpted in recent years (for the SAB Workshop and last spring's live NYCB PBS telecast), are so full of charm and adorableness that you can forgive the ultimately excessive series of cloying Drigo selections that start to wear out their welcome. After the brief, abrupt wrapping-up of the plot at the top of Act Two, things turn into a dancing free-for-all - not always logically structured, and verging at times on too much of a good thing. However, it must be said that for this matinee audience, the ballet evoked sheer delight among both young and old spectators alike. The small girl in front of me jumped to her feet and applauded vigorously after each of the children's dances, and I'm sure she was begging her mom to sign her up for ballet classes before she left the theater. The response at the end was prolonged, with more than a few in the orchestra section saluting their dancers with a standing ovation.
This all-Balanchine program (an increasing rarity these days) opened with a pleasant, if not thrilling, performance of "Allegro Brillante." Jenifer Ringer, while not always able to attack the more bravura portions with the boldness of attack and slicing limbs that some ballerinas have brought to the role, did phrase her choreography with exceptional musical sensitivity and shaped every phrase with expansiveness. She luxuriated in the romantic sections with the attentive, precise Philip Neal. The quartet of men in the ballet's mini-corps supported him ably, but the same cannot be said for the four women, who looked lazy and seemed not to be concerned with the music at all.