“Circus Polka”, “Walpurgisnacht Ballet”, “Jeu de Cartes”, “Firebird” 
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
February 17, 2007
, matinee

by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2007, Susan Reiter

There were young girls aplenty in the audience for this matinee, which featured lots of bright colors, high spirits and enough girls, girls, girls (of all ages) to make Ziegfeld proud. With a title like “For the fun of it,” this was clearly an ideal matinee program, but that does not mean it was an afternoon of fluff. When it repeats on Friday none other than Kirov director Valery Gergiev will be the conductor — because at NYCB, “fun” is nonetheless synonymous with lofty musical values, and three of the program’s four scores are by Stravinsky.

Jerome Robbins’ irresistible “Circus Polka” opened the program, with exuberant, sly ringmaster Robert ;a Fosse genially cracking his whip to bring on the rows of girls — students from the School of American Ballet — in three squadrons of 16 each, with the tiniest (and of course most adorable) entering last. In its own way, this brief work indicates Robbins’ theatrical ingenuity and savvy. Not only is it entertaining, and entirely appropriate in its choreography for young students; it also echoes (or foretells) the kind of ensemble patterns they will be populating as adult dancers — they flutter their arms like miniature swans; a line folds over in reverence in canon as La Fosse passes by. Then there is the lovely moment when they corm three concentric circles with the outer and inner ones going one way and the middle one another.

And no one but Robbins can create perfectly timed theatrical punctuation marks like the moment when one little girl “loses” her place and La Fosse cracks his whip with mock irritation to send her scuttling back to her place. No one rivals him when it comes to creating “buttons” to conclude a dance, such the way the mass of girls assemble themselves to form the initials “I.S.” (it’s those periods — each embodied by a little girl sitting with knees up and folded over — that make it truly a touch of genius. Kudos to Garielle Whittle, who rehearses the children who participate in NYCB’s repertory and elicited charming, unmannered performances from all four dozen of these junior ballerinas.

After a brief pause, we feel we are watching the adult counterparts of those girls when the curtain rises on “Walpurgisnacht Ballet,” and 16 lovelies with their hair in ponytails sweep on to Gounod’s delectable music from “Faust.” While this easy-on-the-eyes work is purely a divertisseerment, it contains some exquisitely musical choreography that reveals Balanchine’s way of getting inside the music in a manner that makes the movement loom inevitable — as though no other steps could have been possible to those notes. The two sections led by the demi-soloist feature moments of musical subtlety that induce sighs of delight no matter how often one has seen them. Abi Stafford, looking particularly expansive, made her springy jumps ride along the musical crests in a performance only briefly marred by excess tension in her arms and shoulders.

Kyra Nichols scaled her movements down so that the lush grandeur with which Suzanne Farrell used to imbue the role was not all there, but what was notably on view was deep musicality and seeming spontaneity of effect. In the adagio, with Philip Neal partnering attentively and elegantly, Nichols gave a less-is-more demonstration, phrasing with glorious subtlety, making it seem that the choreography was emerging from the music for the first time. Her first solo was fluent and lovely, but her second one was marred by some rigidity in her normally relaxed bearing — possibly the fact that conductor Richard Mann suddenly accelerated the tempo in mid-variation.

With the bevy of lovely maidens in “Firebird” still to come, it was up to Peter Martins’ “Jeu de Cartes” to give the men a chance to make their presence felt. This 15-year-old work has in the past seemed to meander shapelessly, but the current cast gave it a sparkling energy and verve from top to bottom. The six men of the ensemble — mostly among the youngest and newest in the company, attacked every entrance with engaging crispness and precision. The two contingents of women –their tutus decorated with either diamonds or hearts — also sustaining a high level of energy; Georgina Pazcoguin’s bracing exuberance was a particular pleasure.

Sterling Hyltin is ideally cast as the tireless gamine who struts and leaps through in snappy, jazzy passages both alone and with three partners. She reined in her sometimes flyaway looseness, and brought the right ready—for-anything playfulness to the role. Her passages with Benjamin Millepied had a cheeky commedia dell'arte flavor. He was in particularly fine form, sailing through his buoyant choreography with fine snap and flair. Jared Angle was Hyltin’s more subdued, courtly first partner, and when Andrew Veyette joined in, his long-legged elegance and zesty resilience added to the fun. (Hyltin and Veyette made their debuts in these roles when the program was performed earlier in the week.)

Ian Falconer’s inventive costumes come close to being too much — the stage can start to look awfully busy, and the costumes for the principal men have a heavy look. Toning things down — and not having the ballerina in screaming red tights — might enhance the overall impact.

The program was completed by "Firebird."

Volume 5, No. 8
February 19, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Susan Reiter

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