the Rain," "Octet," "Concertino," "Stravinsky
Lately composer Arvo Pärt has been a popular choice for choreographers, particularly his “Spiegel im Spiegel.” While the tension between piano and violin in the work invites dance’s physical intervention, the deeply melodic phrasing can easily lead to a syrupy, overwrought interpretation for many choreographers. But, as the dance world seems to be realizing, Christopher Wheeldon is not just another choreographer. The 31-year old resident choreographer at New York City Ballet has a special touch, all the more special when he has the right instruments, and in the second section of his “After the Rain,” he has the best instruments to parse Pärt, Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto.
Created for the company’s winter season, “After the Rain” seems to be two ballets rolled into one, the first a taut work for three couples to Part’s “Tabula Rasa,” the second a pas de deux for Whelan and Soto to “Spiegel im Spiegel.” In the first section, three couples move in a whirlwind, stirred by approaching rain clouds. Wheeldon creates tension in the atmosphere by always having the couples connected. Though they rarely perform in unison, they seem to dance driven by similar gravitational pulls, particularly in their entrances and exits. Wheeldon creates an onstage world at the center of a larger world; his dancers seem to be pulled back into the space of the stage. On Thursday, the three couples—Whelan and Soto, Sofiane Sylve and Amar Ramasar, and Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour—might have been tied together by invisible bungee chords, their connection was so immediate. Whelan and Soto were made to dance together and Kowroski and the lanky la Cour make an attractive couple as well. Though Ramasar is a standout among the corps, onstage amidst such talented, mature principals he looked immature. His timing, particularly in Wheeldon’s tricky partnering, was slow and he and Sylve had to muscle through some sections in order to catch up to the other dancers.
Perhaps watching the effortless connection between Whelan and Soto in the ballet’s second section will provide ample tutorial for Ramasar and other young dancers. Whelan has always been a technically brilliant dancer, sharp enough in her angles to poke an eye out with her hip bone, but for “After the Rain” she has accessed a pool of femininity and softness that I have never seen before in her dancing. As she walks forward in the pas de deux’s opening notes, her slightly bowed head and delicate neck exude beauty and vulnerability. Throughout the duet, Soto partners her with an intimate understanding of that softness. The dance progresses and she grows stronger in her movements, more extended in her extremities, but never loses the quiet tenderness communicated in those opening moments. In the partnering, the two never make eye contact. Once, their bodies intertwined, she reaches for his face, her hands caressing his cheeks, but his head does not turn, their eyes never meet. What a beautiful dance for two wonderful dancers who make each other better with each step.
But Wheeldon creates a complicated beauty, managing the sweetness of the score well. He breaks Whelan’s lines, touching various moments with an angularity that juxtaposes well with the music, a physical harmony for the swelling musical melody—high above Soto’s head, she flexes her feet; dropped to the floor in a backbend, her elbows bend so that her forearms rest on the floor. Curves are interrupted again and again.
Curves seemingly have little place in Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” a ballet with the iconic, streamlined, angular poses for its two lead couples, on Thursday, Whelan and Soto and Alexandra Ansanelli and Nikolaj Hübbe. But watching the performance, particularly the two pas de deux, I realized that though the 180 degree penche for “Aria I,” with Whelan’s forehead touching her knee, may be one of the most easily remembered poses from the ballet, it is the range of the presentation of the body that makes both that moment and the work as a whole complex. “Stravinsky” is scattered with images of a loose body, maybe just as much as it includes moments where the body is at a point of high tension. Just before Whelan dives into the penche, she falls back into Soto’s arms, draping her arms over his, her hips lolling just above the floor, legs relaxed. In “Aria II,” shortly after Ansanelli bends into the signature attitude, she rests in Hübbe’s arms, walking under his direction as her arms flop at her sides. Balanchine manages to explore all the least energized to the most energized states of the body and everything in between.
The other Balanchine work on Friday’s program was Divertimento from ‘Le Baiser de la Fee,’” danced by lead couple Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz. The short work, an homage to Tchaikovsky by Stravinsky according to program notes, on Thursday was marred by de Luz, who can’t seem to leave enough of himself behind in order to assume a role. He constantly breaks the fourth wall, grinning at the audience so broadly that he distracts from the choreography and from his partner. In contrast, Fairchild allows her dancing to speak for her; she connects with the audience through her body, but remains slightly removed in a way that invites a closer glance.
In Jerome Robbins’s “Concertino,” Sylve was the story. Her athletic approach to the trio with Stephen Hanna and Ask la Cour was indominitable. Often in a pas de trois with two men and one woman, the woman looks to be controlled and manipulated by the men, but Sylve’s dancing and manner is so strong, she stands on equal footing with her male partners.
In “Concertino” and “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” the orchestra was ably conducted by Maurice Kaplow. Andrea Quinn conducted “After the Rain” with Arturo Delmoni and Richard Moredock playing violin and piano respectively (Delmoni also performed as solo violinist for “Stravinsky”) and Colin Metters served as guest conductor for “Le Baiser de la Fee.”