Farewell To A True Artist

(photos by Paul Kolnick; I couldn’t decide on the two, so I chose both)

So sad! So, yesterday was Nikolaj Hubbe‘s final performance with the New York City Ballet. He will now return to Denmark to head the Royal Danish Ballet. I am really going to miss him. There are lots of great dancers, but he was a true artist, bringing every step he did to a higher level.

A wide range of dances were on yesterday’s bill, showing his extreme versatility. The afternoon began with Balanchine’s poetic 1928 “Apollo,” the story of a boy / god who matures into a man, with the help of course of three other-worldly muses, or as Tobi Tobias defines it, “the saga of a soul … finding its identity.”

We then saw “Flower Festival in Genzano,” a short piece choreographed by August Bournonville, fitting since he founded the Royal Danish and Nikolaj excelled in his ballets there early in his career. Here, Nikolaj did not perform himself but two young dancers whom he’s trained in the School of American Ballet — the marvelous and charismatic Kathryn Morgan, whom I’d seen as Juliet in Martins’ Romeo + Juliet, and a young corps member, David Prottas, whom I’ve noticed before but only in the corps, and who blew me away yesterday. He has lovely long legs that make a breathtaking line and, as I’ve noticed before, he does every little step with such clarity and precision. He stands out. I’m serious about noticing his curly headed, long-legged excellence in the corps before — in ballets like “Square Dance;” I just never said anything because I was once told by a critic friend that it’s bad luck for an up and coming dancer to laud them too much early on — like it jinxes them or something, and perhaps because I just didn’t have the confidence to say what I thought of someone no one else had mentioned. I’m so glad Nikolaj used him in this all-important piece on his farewell program. It makes me feel like I’m not a total idiot and can spot talent and artistry too :)

Then came “Zakouski,” a Peter Martins ballet. To be honest, I’ve never been all that in love with Martins’s choreography (apart from the recent “Grazioso”) but once Nikolaj stepped out on that stage I felt completely different. It’s a cute story of the different facets of one couple, actually performed by two different pairs. Nikolaj danced one of the pairs with his longtime partner, Yvonne Borree, and the other partnership was danced by one of my new favorites Andrew Veyette, and sweet Megan Fairchild. Nikolaj and Yvonne had the more mature roles, their dance infused with sexy tango-like movements, which he performed perfectly sharply, sexily, manly. I love him! He also brought out the magic in Yvonne — so, he brought out the magic in both Peter and Yvonne.

When they took their curtain call for this one, it was so sad. Yvonne was crying uncontrollably; his shirt was wet all down one side with her tears. It almost made me cry. Below is a Paul Kolnick picture of them together, not in this dance but another.

The last section was “Cool” from Jerome Robbins’s “West Side Story Suite,” in which Nikolaj actually sang a little! And the program ended with Balanchine’s cowboy and saloon-girl-inhabited tribute to the American West, “Western Symphony.” I guess it’s good that I got Nilas Martins confused with Nikolaj a couple of times in this final ballet. There will still be a Nikolaj-reminder for me in the company.

Here’s a nice little write-up on Nikolaj’s career in Playbill.

As always with hugely important performances like this, the whole day is just one big event, in which everyone in the ballet world, and often beyond, partakes. I no more than got seated when I heard a man and woman fighting behind me. Apparently, she had said too loudly, “Look, there’s Baryshnikov!” thereby embarrassing him. I looked and looked but could not find him. This is likely because I’d just seen my love, hairy-faced and sporting big black chunky glasses, make his besuited entrance. He sat in the first row right smack in the center and chatted with lady next to him. During each intermission I caught him with dancers in his usual hang-out place — on the right side of the theater either on the promenade or the ground floor. Anyway, after I got myself seated for the second intermission, I tucked my legs under me to let passersby get to their seats, and right as his leg brushed mine, I looked up and saw Misha’s face. He was just sitting a few seats down from me and I didn’t even notice him! In the row behind me was Alexei Ratmansky, the director of the Bolshoi who may take over as artistic director of NYCBallet. During second intermission, I saw Philip and Wei and Philip asked me to ask him what his decision was on that (apparently he had to decide by the day before or something). I said no way, I’m way too shy! I also ran into Sarah, and Monica. Others wrote accounts of the day by the way: here is Philip’s and here is Sarah’s.

Of course the final curtain call was horrendously sad. It went on for maybe twenty minutes. There was confetti, bizillions of flowers, everyone in the company past and present went up onstage to hug and kiss him. Here are some pics I took:

Nikolaj and Damian Woetzel embracing.

Nikolaj will give his final dance performance in April with the Royal Danish. During intermission Monica said under her breath, “Hmmm, I wonder if I have any reason to go to Copenhagen in April?…” I was thinking exactly the same thing. Do we need more of a reason though?!

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15 Responses to Farewell To A True Artist

  1. SanderO says:

    Tonya,

    Beautiful review. Thanks and the pics were super.

  2. jolene says:

    Loved your entry – With every farewell, it always runs through my mind that each dancer will be irreplaceable, and there will be no one better for this role, or for that one, and it’s always a sad event. There have been too many farewells in the last year, I can’t take any more!

    Funny, I too didn’t recognize Baryshnikov when I saw him. I suppose his stage persona is bigger than any one person could ever be.

  3. SanderO says:

    It’s like a river… always the same but always different. Talents come and go and new ones follow on.

    We honor those who gave their all and rose to the top.

    We await the new. They’re coming. Eyes wide open.

  4. tonya says:

    Thanks you guys. I’m glad you liked the post. Oh and I meant to thank you, Jolene, for that article you linked to on my earlier post!

  5. Ariel says:

    Nice photographs! I can’t believe you saw all those famous people! How cool! I hate that I missed the show.

  6. jennifer says:

    thanks for the review…I feel very lucky to have seen him dance, what a presence on stage!

  7. Bob says:

    What an incredible afternoon and you captured it so well! All of us who were lucky enough to be there will never forget it. It was not only a great tribute to a remarkable artist – it also was an afternoon of some truly extraordinary dancing. And in all the farewell programs at NYCB that I have attended over the years, I do not recall any more emotional onstage goodbye than what we experienced between Nikolaj and Yvonne.

    One minor correction to what was otherwise a super review – Ratmansky may be taking over as resident choreographer, not as artistic director at NYCB (I don’t think that Peter is ready to hand in his retirement letter). My thanks to you and Philip and Sarah and everyone else whose personal reflections on Sunday’s events have helped further enrich our experiences of the day.

  8. tonya says:

    Oh haha, thanks Bob — I can’t believe I said artistic director! Of course I meant resident choreographer!

  9. Sarah says:

    Tonya… It was so good seeing you on Sunday.

    I love your review and your pictures (you got the back of my head and my camera in that first one hahahahaha!).

  10. tonya says:

    It was great seeing you too, Sarah! That is hilarious — now I totally recognize you in that top picture!

  11. cathy says:

    this must have been quite a night! wow!
    I’d have been extremely starstruck, and probably would have fainted by the time Misha passed by also!
    thanks for the review, very fun reading as usual!

  12. Selly says:

    Sounds so fun. Sad, but fun.
    Oh, and the Misha thing is pretty funny, too

    Selly

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  15. Jeff Nelson says:

    Tonya, great review! One thing I disagree with. If there is someone you find captivating that isn’t a star yet, laud away! It’s your opinion, after all. You have every right to give it. If they’re not officially “sanctioned” by the ballet establishment yet, so what?

    Dance careers can be surprisingly short, because it is a physical art form, after all. You don’t really know how long that person will be active on the stage. It could only be a season or to. Carpe Diem, I say! And yes, I speak from personal experience. Cheers!