Essential Balanchine
“Mozartiana,” “Piano Pieces,” “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
June 2, 2007

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel

The long goodbye begins. As she moves closer to her retirement on June 22, Kyra Nichols continues to make farewell performances in roles in which she’s become a familiar face. Saturday afternoon was her last “Mozartiana” and it was a proper and impressive but quiet leave-taking, with little fuss beyond the beautiful peonies she received at the curtain call. Nichols’ attack in the ballet was less inflected than she’s done before.  The Preghiera was soft; her port de bras only fully stretched when she wished to make that point. It was a subtle reading; Nichols used rubato rarely. The few times she did it became a contrast. Her frequent partner in this ballet, Philip Neal, who used to mirror her musical playfulness, this time he danced in counterpoint. A series of four port de bras usually done on even counts had the last one held off until the last possible moment. Neal gave an emphatic performance, taking risks that paid off.

Tom Gold danced a witty gigue with a strange transition to the Menuet, looking concerned, as if trying to inject drama that isn’t there. It’s good to be aware of the women, but there doesn’t need a story at that moment.  It’s fine to just wait.

After getting through Robbins’ lengthy “Piano Pieces” I sometimes feel as if it isn’t even the same day. The ballet feels reminiscent of several others, Balanchine’s “Scherzo à la Russe” and Robbins’ own “Dances at a Gathering” among others, but here it was a vehicle for several excellent performances and one could overlook the relative shortcomings.  Jared Angle, Jennie Somogyi and Jenifer Ringer are all dancers we’re glad to see the moment they step onstage. Ringer’s musicality in her languorous variation was beautiful; Angle and Somogyi danced a sweet and tender duet with their customary elegance. Antonia Carmena danced a solo role and has taken a leap upwards since his promotion to soloist. Always ingratiating; he’s now pushing his technique to cleaner, elegant heights.

Ashley Bouder has a knack for convincing you through her confident authority that she’s been dancing for years roles she’s done once before. She’s got reason to be confident in “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.”  Technically, the notoriously difficult lead role gave her no trouble. It would be all too easy to lose it completely during the hazardous turns at the beginning. The turns are swivels that are supposed to coast to a stop. Bouder still had a bit too much momentum and braked slightly instead, but nothing fazed her. It was a daring and committed performance, fully in the moment. Bouder is never in danger, but you watch her as if she were, because she is there, and she takes you with her. She can make you see that a musical repeat isn’t really a repeat because it’s like rushing water in a stream; nothing is actually the same twice.

Jonathan Stafford is a reliable technician and a more than reliable partner, though his air was more political than romantic. That could be my own suggestibility; to me he bears a passing resemblance to a young John Kerry.  In the third movement, Stafford did an interesting air turn with his legs in a low second position that seemed slightly different than the usual jump, but not an inappropriate substitution.  In the second ballerina role, Teresa Reichlen was an interesting physical contrast to Bouder but she matched her in energy and she’s getting there as well in warmth.

In the endless repertory juggle at New York City Ballet “Piano Concerto No. 2” looks like it came out ahead and got some time and care; the corps looked well-rehearsed and tended to. We’ll find out soon enough what lost rehearsal time and has gone to seed in its stead.

Volume 5, No. 23
June 11, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Leigh Witchel

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