“Mozartiana,” “Piano Pieces,” “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
May 27, 2007

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2007 by Susan Reiter

With the countdown to Kyra Nichols’ final performance underway, each of her performances — in an ideal selection of Balanchine masterworks, as it turns out — becomes a bittersweet opportunity to revel in her distinctive glories, knowing we only have a few more weeks to do so. “Mozartiana” is a ballet filled with technical challenges and stylistic subtlety, and Nichols delivered a performance of hushed beauty, made to appear as natural as breathing. Some ballerinas have tried to invest the opening “Preghiera” with a layer of rapt spirituality, but Nichols simply tunes into the delicately reverent music and seems to float along inside it. By letting the dancing happen, she creates a different, poignant kind of prayer, turning it into a benediction for the stage, and the act of performing, itself. The four charmingly poised little girls framing her become acolytes, whose future endeavors as nascent dancers she seems to be sanctifying.

Nichols glided through the subtly intricate sequence of variations on a similar plane of seeming effortlessness, radiating a lovely, benevolent calm as she allowed each detail of the music to assert itself through her dancing. One sensed, through the luminous clarity of her attack, the quicksilver quality of the flute that dominates one variation, or the touch of regret when the melody shifts to minor. Philip Neal delivered his fleet, intricate variations with crisp elegance, never sacrificing neatness for any extra effect, and their duet became a refined expression of harmonious mutual respect.

Tom Gold captured the subtle rhythmic quirks of the Gigue without sacrificing its inherent courtliness. The only less than ideal aspect of this memorable “Mozartiana” was the slightly blurry quality of the Menuet, as though the four women were not always hearing the same music.

Nichols created a central, and glorious, role in Jerome Robbins’ 1981 “Piano Pieces,” which has been revived this season for a new generation. From the late 1970s through much of the 1980s, Robbins featured her in roles that showcased a more expansive, lyrical side and seemed to open up her stage persona. Jennie Somogyi is a worthy inheritor of Nichols’ role, and brought out the introspective delicacy of the “Naila Waltz” solo with subtle phrasing and gracious fluency. I missed the bracing playfulness and charm that Heather Watts and Bart Cook originally brought to the “November Troika” duet, with its mimed pony rides and gentles switches of partnering roles. Abi Stafford and Amar Ramasar were appealing in it, but it made a blander impact. Jenifer Ringer, always an ideal Robbins interpreter was truly in her element in both her heart-stopping elegiac duet with Ask La Cour and the ballet’s wistful final solo. She unspooled its long, fluid phrases so artfully that the solo resonated with a deeply personal, meditative quality similar to the opening male solo of “Dances at a Gathering.”

The overly perky and folksy ensemble sections that open the ballet set an awkward tone that seems ot have nothing to do with the eloquent heart of the work, and Antonio Carmena’s forced, at times sloppy, performance as the jester-like male solo figure removed all the wit from the role.

For Ashley Bouder, the ballerina role in “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2,” in which she made her debut on this occasion, is perhaps the meatiest challenge she has been given so far. She delivered a remarkably complete and commanding performance. Certainly one knew the technical challenges would not faze her, since she is a dancer whose strength and power have always been impressive. But this role exists on a grand scale and demands amplitude and a specific type of authority. Bouder, with her small stature, is more of a natural for roles requiring intensity and energy in brisk, bracing doses. But she has already found her way into much more than the basic outline of this tour de force role, and she went from strength to strength, shaping her sharp, precise steps so that they expanded along with the inherent nobility and gleaming romanticism of the ballet. One could wish for a more expressive use of the back, and perhaps a slight increase of innate ballerina authority. Bouder is such a bracingly contemporary ballerina, but she found a way to meet this heartfelt to old-world imperial ballet convention on her own exciting terms. Teresa Reichlen, as the second soloist, recovered quickly from a slip during her first entrance, but her languid hyper-extended quality lessened the potentially sparkling impact of the extended trio she performs with two men.

Volume 5, No. 22
June 4, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Susan Reiter

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