Splendid Weekend of Balanchine and Ballroom

As I said in my last post, I’m in the midst of another crazy weekend running back and forth between New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center and the Manhattan Amateur Classic in midtown, so this will be kind of short. The last two programs I’ve seen at NYCB made clear to me why Balanchine’s considered such a genius. I’m going to write reviews for ExploreDance.com (which I will definitely link to when they’re up, and which I hope people will read :) ) so I’m not going to write all that much now, except to point out some highlights.

Highlight #1: seeing PRODIGAL SON performed live for the first time! (Photo above by Paul Kolnick). I’ve been dying to see it ever since reading Terry Teachout’s short Balanchine bio, ALL IN THE DANCES. This is a story ballet, mirroring the Biblical tale of the boy who leaves his family to find his way in the world, where he is seduced by a Siren and beaten and robbed by her cohorts, and left naked and to die, only to find his way painstakingly back home, where he is taken in again by his forgiving father (only thing missing from the dance is the obediant son). Damian Woetzel had the lead and he was excellent. He exuded perfect youthful angst, wonder and amazement at the Siren, and complete boyish helplessness as he falls under her spell, then perfect pathos as he crawls along the ground, beaten and having lost everything, trying to find his way back home. What I love about the ballet is that there really doesn’t need to be much “acting”; the story is all in the choreography, from the youth’s energetic, high, lashing-out kick/jumps, to the siren’s seductive leg raises and splitting lifts, to her cohorts’ grotesque crab-like, bent-kneed sideways walks. Woetzel, about to retire, is a dancer at the prime of his artistry; a much younger dancer, Daniel Ulbricht, is scheduled to debut in the role next weekend. He is thus far known for his bravura dancing (high jumps, big leaps, turns upon turns with no end in sight). No doubt he’ll excel in the beginning “angsty young man” parts, but it will be interesting to see whether he can move the audience the way Woetzel did as the story evolves.

The other highlight from Friday night was Andrew Veyette from the first piece on the program, Balanchine’s SQUARE DANCE. This is one of Balanchine’s many plotless ballets that well illustrates his ingenius skill at making uniquely American ballets by combining classical ballet steps with American social dance. Andrew had the principal male part. I hope this isn’t offensive, but I was actually taken with him because I found something about him sweetly relatable. He has a tall, thin body kind of like David Hallberg‘s, and therefore perfect for ballet, and he is really a very good dancer. But I don’t think he knows it yet! I feel like he gets nervous and it shows on his face and his body; when he did a series of sharp staccato jumps at one point, it looked like he was lifting his body by his shoulders instead of his legs. He wasn’t; it only looked that way because nervousness leads to tension which leads to hunching your shoulders up rather than keeping them down and connected to your center. I know because this was one of my big nerve-induced problems… But at one point, in the middle of the ballet, he really let go and you could tell — he did these beautifully high jumps and he was really soft and fluid and at ease, and his face relaxed and his dancing just shined. I think it just took him a while to warm up, and then he got nervous again toward the end. It’s just funny because this is so me; always so tense … Anyway, I think he has the potential to be a really beautiful dancer and it’s just a matter of him relaxing and trusting himself :)

(image of Tarantella from NYCB website). Saturday highlights were the beautifully haunting La Sonnambula, and for sure Tarantella! The latter is a fast, fun, sexy, sassy little dance consisting mainly of back and forth “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better”-style solos between male and female 19th Century peasant types that are each full of so much bravura dancing, it is almost a competition. It was danced by the beyond -compare Ashley Bouder, and Gonzalo Garcia, a recent transplant here from San Francisco Ballet. (Above image by the way, is of different dancers). Gonzalo is a really good dancer, but you don’t walk away from a competition with Ashley still standing! You just don’t! Anything anyone can do, she can do better :) She is fast becoming my favorite allegro ballerina, not just of NYCB but overall. Once she starts, she just never stops; I was getting dizzy watching her… She owns roles like that.

(headshots from NYCB website — Hubbe by Paul Kolnick; Whelan by David Michalek)

And other highlight was La Sonnambula, a story ballet about a poet who finds himself at a masked ball, the object of the grand mistress’s affections until he falls in love with a beautiful sleepwalker, danced by the wonderful Wendy Whelan. The hunky Nikolaj Hubbe danced the poet, and by ‘hunky’ I mean both good- and heavy-looking; because at the end, after he is killed through the jealous mistress’s orders, tiny Wendy picks him up and carries him away. Philip and Ariel think it looks near-impossible. But Wendy is a powerhouse and Nikolaj was holding himself very tightly, so I could see it being real; a man can definitely hold himself up enough for a woman to lift him, especially at waist level. Pasha actually made me do the same to him once, so he could show me how to hold myself. Of course I only lasted about 1/10 of a second before dropping him (but it was okay, because he was prepared the whole time to be dropped!), and with Wendy having about 200-300 times more muscle mass than I (while still managing to be thinner), she could definitely manage him.

Oh, Nikolaj is so good — he was so poetic yet human as he fell for the hauntingly beautiful, ghost-like sleepwalker, holding out his arms in front of her to trip her out of her slumber. Each time he lay his arm out on the floor, she would tiptoe, on pointe, right over it without looking down. So, was she really a woman who was simply sleep-walking or was she some ethereal being meant to save the poet’s soul and get him out of that stiflingly stupid ball??

Anyway, then Saturday night I went to the Manhattan Amateur Classic, the biggest amateur ballroom competition in the New York area. I’ve never followed the amateur comps (only the professional ones; and sometimes pro/ams having done those myself), so I’d never been to this one before. I loved it. As with all ballroom competitions, somehow I’m just transported into another world. Not to sound corny, but seriously, something about sitting there for six or seven hours watching all these dapper, handsome gentlemen dressed in tux ‘n tails whisking their glowing ladies in gorgeous ballgowns around the floor, interspersed with the fun, sensual rhythmic Latin dancing, just takes me away from my problems for a time. And since this one was held not in a hotel like most, but in an actual ballroom with a balcony, it reminded me of Blackpool. I almost wanted to cry at the end of the night when the final Standard trophy was given because it meant my week in England was coming to an end and I now had to return to my quaint little B&B for three hours of sleep and mad packing so I’d be ready to catch the early morning train to Manchester. But then no one sang “God Save The Queen,” and I happily told myself; it’s just a subway ride home… Everyone who’s into ballroom has to go to Blackpool at some point; it’s magic, it’s mandatory!

As I said, I don’t really follow the amateur comps, but here are some highlights:

A favorite Standard couple of mine (this is from the open Adult championships). They placed, I think, second. He looks a little like Jose Carreno :)

The Latin Youth division — meaning ages 16-19. Some real up and comers!


Some of my favorites from Latin Youth. The guy was very tall, which is usually problematic for Latin — you just can’t move as quickly as the smaller dancers. But this guy was amazing; he reminded me of Vaidotas Skimelis, the pro dancer who’s been making it to the finals in recent comps. He doesn’t let his size slow him too much, and really uses it to his advantage by playing up the hyper-masculine charm. Of course I guess the original large Latin uber mensch is Maks Chmerkovskiy… Anyway, this couple placed second, so go me for calling it :)

Another of the “tall couple.”

I retreated to the balcony; things were getting a bit too crowded (and melodramatic) down on the floor… These are the Youth Latin finals; the guy in the middle with his arm out — they were the winners, which I called as well. They were overall my favorites. There are some amazing dancers in the amateur division — especially in the Youth, since they’re likely gonna go on and become pros, but also in the adult (21-35) division too. People think amateur means bad, but in ballroom, it really doesn’t. At least not necessarily. Some amateurs have sponsors (like Freed shoes, Taka Dance costumer, etc.), so they don’t have day jobs, but rather dance full-time. Because of this, they’re sometimes even better than some of the pros, who do work (as ballroom teachers; the definition of a pro in the ballroom world is someone who gets paid to teach ballroom dance). So, you can see some really excellent dancing at these amateur comps.

Long shot of the Latin Youth finals. They have a board at the front of the ballroom floor for announcing heats, which I think is a great idea and one I haven’t seen used a whole lot at competitions.

Cuties from the under 16-Latin. This adorable couple made the finals.

Back to Adult Standard. The couple in green (lady in green that is) were very striking to me, though they didn’t make the finals. I remember the guy from my studio. He used to train in Latin, and he was a great Latin dancer. Now he’s apparently competing in Standard. It amazed me how well he was able to switch between the two because they’re extremely different, not just technique-wise, but personality-wise as well. Sexy, grounded, hip-swaying Latin guy into soft on his feet, floating-above-the-floor, dapper ballroom gent is not an easy transition to make. To be sure, his ballroom was a little Latiny, which is likely why they didn’t make the finals. He leads her pretty hard and fast, making their Tango absolutely electric, but some of the other dances, like their Quickstep was not light enough. Still, I think his Latin-ness brought a real charm and sexiness (in a smoldering kind of way) to his Standard dancing.

Okay, I have to run off to the Guggenheim, for another Works & Process event. Here is my album of the MAC; I think there are a couple pics I left out!

7 Comments

  1. Ah, I’m missing Gonzalo Garcia here on the west coast. In the past few years, I would see flashes of brilliance which reminded me of what a great dancer he really was. It sounds like he’s doing well at NYCB, which I’m happy about.

    Sounds like a great weekend! I know some people who don’t like Balanchine, and I’m glad that you agree with me that he’s a genius. I think casting is so important for Prodigal Son, in particular the son and the Siren, more so than other pieces.

  2. Off topic:
    I’m going to The Pulse THIS WEEKEND. I can’t wait. It should be interesting. I know we’re either doing Hi, 2:19,or Vagabond Cabaret, and the Mia MIchaels wood nymph one.

  3. Jolene — I see why you miss Gonzalo — he’s a great dancer with a lot of charisma! In a way he reminds me of Rasta Thomas. It’s funny, I used to not be so into Balanchine. I think it’s the combination of reading the Terry Teachout book and the fact that NYCB has been putting on a lot of Balanchine’s masterpieces lately — Serenade, Concerto Barocco, Jewels (in its entirety and not just Rubies), and now Prodigal Son. Casting is super important for Prodigal Son, i agree!

    Selly, have fun! I can’t wait to hear about it!

  4. I love Nikolai Hubbe’s dancing! I’m upset that he is retiring from NYCB next month!! He is an amazing actor, you can just tell by his James in La Sylphide. The Royal Danish Ballet video starring Hubbe was shot after he had only a couple hours of rehearsal and when he was 19! If you haven’t seen it, I highly reccomend it. He’s going back to the RDB as artistic director (I think).

  5. Hi Lindsey! I’m rather new to New York City Ballet and now I’m so sad that Nikolaj is leaving because from what I’ve seen, I love him too. I feel like I’ve missed out on an era… I will definitely look for that video!

  6. HI..
    I’, trying to find an old friend Lindsy..nycb early 90s

    fabrice

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