"Square Dance," "Pavane," "Episodes," "Symphony in C"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
April 27, 2007

"Apollo," "Episodes," "The Four Temperaments"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
April 28, 2007 matinee

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel

There was nothing new about New York City Ballet’s “For Lincoln” celebration in honor of Lincoln Kirstein’s centennial, just the finest dishes in the repertory taken and spread before us over a week’s feasting. They weren’t even made with new ingredients; there were only a few debuts sprinkled through the week. The meal may not have been novel, but the dishes were delicious.

Repertory maintenance at NYCB has always been like the plate spinning act at a circus: One dish starts to wobble and threaten to fall off its stick; someone rushes over to set it right only to have to sprint across the arena to another wobbling plate. At the Saturday matinee, “The Four Temperaments” looked as if someone came over and gave it a few spins to set it on balance again. It was a very fine performance, strongly cast primarily with dancers who have only been doing the parts a few seasons and are now taking possession of their roles. All of the introductory Themes were strong, though Amanda Hankes and Craig Hall in the second would have been better with partnered to other dancers of more suitable height. Faye Arthurs danced a powerful and connected first theme; Megan LeCrone in the third was spicy but passive, oblique, untouchable and just weird enough to be fascinating.

Sean Suozzi and Teresa Reichlen have come a long way in ‘Melancholic’ and ‘Choleric’ since their debuts a few seasons back.  Suozzi has connected the dots of the drama; Reichlen has found her fire. Ask la Cour is also developing in ‘Phlegmatic.’ His interpretation was calm (we’ve often had dancers in the role who seemed more off-kilter than phlegmatic) but that seems to be reflection of his personality. Sofiane Sylve was indeed sanguine; she doesn’t even need to muster confidence to get through ‘Sanguinic.’  That would be beside the point; it’s built into her.

Sylve took the second movement of “Symphony in C” the previous night with the same self-assurance. She’s neither particularly warm nor romantic in the part; rather she was grand and expansive. She was part of a quartet of female leads notable for their astonishing turns. Right now, the company is peppered with women who can turn not only in quantity, but with quality. Last week, across the country in their repertory program seven all the ladies San Francisco Ballet’s cast chickened out of the infamous turn in the reprise. It’s dastardly; they have to snap their leg out to the side, then cleanly bring it back to the knee without getting knocked off balance by their own momentum and land smoothly to a kneel. At SFB, the women brought their leg to a milquetoast 45 degrees and back to around mid-calf. Here in New York, Tiler Peck came out for the fourth movement and knocked it out perfectly without a crack in her beauty pageant smile. 

Ashley Bouder was her usual incandescent self in the third movement; as a matter of pride Joaquin de Luz made sure to outjump her this time. Sylve has the turns and balances down, and her non-Balanchine training gives her an edge for classical port de bras. What she doesn’t have is fast feet; her bourrées don’t ripple dreamily in the adagio. It’s most clear in the ‘Devil’s Dance’ of “The Four Temperaments” when she’s dancing with the Themes and Reichlen, whose feet shoot like gunfire.

Ana Sophia Scheller looks to the manner born in the first movement. Her calm line, which could be a liability in less orthodox Balanchine repertory, looks attractive here, and she was ably partnered by Jonathan Stafford.  Behind them, Gwyneth Muller was a Southern Belle of a demi-soloist, posing and sweetly grinning at Savannah Lowery in demure rivalry. Principals aside, “Symphony in C” is one of the plates starting to wobble.  The corps de ballet, particularly in the first and third movements, had a manic edge as if someone only told them that they were going to do the ballet at 7:45 pm. 

There were veteran performances as well. Among the ballets programmed for the week, “Pavane” was the odd man out. It’s a brief, comparatively inconsequential solo that seemed to be among more substantial works to give Kyra Nichols something to do. Perhaps a flimsy excuse but Nichols gave a lovely performance, dreamy with a bit of mystery. 

We don’t have much longer to watch Nichols or Nikolaj Hübbe either. He assumes staging duties at the Royal Danish Ballet this fall and the full directorship the following year. If these performances are any indication — and let’s hope all goes well and they are — they’ll both leave the right way. As Nichols did in "Pavane," Hübbe gave the kind of performances in both “Square Dance” and “Apollo” that take a decade and a half to

The other major proponent of both of those roles, Peter Boal, is only a memory now at NYCB.  Hübbe was his counterweight, giving more emphatic performances to Boal’s underplayed ones. Hübbe will always push a role; it’s in his nature, but maturity adds authority to the force and discretion as well. Both parts were beautifully thought out and skillfully presented; his solo in “Square Dance” was particularly fine.  It sounds like nothing, but Hübbe knows how to walk, and knowing how to walk with weight makes that solo. Hübbe invested it with a pensive drama for a Hamlet-like soliloquy.

Megan Fairchild danced opposite Hübbe in “Square Dance,” where he lifted her softly as a breath, and in her as Calliope in “Apollo.”  That sort of dramatic role is casting against type for Fairchild, but extends her emotional range.  She’s playing to her strengths in “Square Dance.” She’s another turner with an unshakeable axis and she’s charming leading the women in their dance. With the speed and footwork she has, could we hope for a more articulated gargouillade?  As last season, the corps is mostly on the young side in this most pellucid of Balanchine’s ballets; Devin Alberda is a standout among the men.

Ashley Bouder vamps the audience as Polyhymnia in “Apollo.”   The hard sell is wrong, but I prefer her enthusiasm to the alternative.  Like Hübbe, it’s her nature; we see the same pleasure as she greets a fellow ballerina entering in the reprise of “Symphony in C.” Bouder dances in the moment.  Her technique is such that she doesn’t need to think about it onstage and if she isn’t coached, she’s going to figure out on her own something to explain the dance to herself. Yvonne Borree gave an eccentric reading of Terpsichore. Her lines were weird and awkward, but it seemed as if that went beyond a technical question to a reading of character, as if she felt that Terpsichore were as young as Apollo.

“Episodes” completed the program at both performances with a familiar cast.  It takes repeated viewings to see what Balanchine was up to, bearing in mind that we see only a shadow of the ballet with Martha Graham’s contribution and Paul Taylor’s solo missing.  Balanchine had a different balance of classical vocabulary and distortion in each section; one of the most fascinating things about the first ‘Symphony’ is just how undistorted the dancing is.  In the music, Webern dissects the traditional symphony form and leaves the parts scattered about; Balanchine lets Webern do the work here and shows us all the elements of a court ballet.  The transparency of Abi Stafford in the part points this up. She’s gotten more aggressive in the role, but like Scheller, roles that require astringency are a stretch for her. The orchestra, under new music director Fayçal Karoui and David Briskin, had a welcome rhythmic bounce without pushing the tempos too fast for dancing.

Volume 5, No. 17
April 30, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Leigh Witchel

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