American Song & Dance and Russian Treasures

I had a most excellent ballet weekend. Friday night at NYCBallet was one of the best nights I’ve had at a ballet of mixed bills. The program was titled “American Songs and Dances,” and included three ballets — two by my favorite American choreographer Jerome Robbins and one by NYCB artistic director Peter Martins. The first “Thou Swell,” by Martins was one of the best things I’ve seen by him. It was a ballroomy ballet heavy on pas de deux (my favorite) in which four couples dance the night away to American classics like “Getting to Know You”, “Isn’t it Romantic”, “Blue Moon”, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”, and “The Lady is a Tramp” etc. etc. etc. The style is jazzy, Art Deco-y 1930s and a large, interestingly-shaped mirror hangs down over the back of the stage. I thought the mirror ever so cool both in its cut and how it allowed you to see the dancing from several different angles, but the guys next to me complained that it created distracting shadows.

(photos by Paul Kolnick)

Well, all I can say is there is no one sexier than a male ballet dancer in ballroom attire 😀 Perhaps that is to say there is nothing sexier than dance that looks like ballroom and IS a form of ballroom, but takes on a different cast and is all the more brilliant when combined with the poetry of ballet.

After Nikolaj’s farewell, I now can’t take my eyes off of Yvonne Borree. (all headshots by Paul Kolnick). She’s so sweet and so lovely. She danced here with Nilas Martins, my “Nikolaj replacement” and he did a fantastic mad sexy job both partnering her and with his own brilliant expressiveness. Whoever told me he was like Nikolaj in that department, that that ability to express and evoke and emote, bringing you to the edge of your seat, is a Danish thing, was so right! They were charming together and they are the new couple.

My other favorite couple was Amar Ramasar (duh!), dancing with Sara Mearns. He was so gorgeously dapper and, tall, dark and handsome, he stands far out from the crowd whether in a pas de deux or ensemble. And there is something so polished about his dancing. With his long legs, his kicks attain greater height than everyone else’s, and, overall he’s just always so suave.

Second on was “Ives, Songs” by Robbins, danced to the music of Charles Ives, the lyrics of which were, nicely, reprinted in the Playbill. A man, here the legendary (now retired) Robert LaFosse wanders around the stage watching dancers of various ages, perhaps his family, act out various dramas. It has a kind of “Norman Rockwell” evocation and makes you a bit sad as he relives scenes from his family life. Here Kathryn Morgan stood out to me — she kind of reminds me Margot Fonteyn. She just steals the scene without trying. I’m starting to notice Justin Peck a lot too. At one point his character goes off to war and he crashes to the ground with the perfect degree of pathos, a fallen soldier. But the person who really blew me away here was the singer, Philip Cutlip. His voice was a miracle and he enunciated every word so smoothly and with such emotion. Yet he didn’t take over; he was a perfect accompaniment to the dancers.

And third was Robbins’s magnificient, thrilling “West Side Story Suite.” Andrew Veyette completely blew me away. He danced the part Nikolaj did in his farewell — the leader of the Jets, with the singing role during “Cool It.” He belted out those lyrics far better than Nikolaj — I couldn’t believe a dancer could sing like that! Wow! And he and Amar, as leader of the Sharks, did the fight scene brilliantly. I don’t know how people don’t hurt themselves. Georgina Pazcoquin — oh my, that one can do anything! Anything! She played Amar’s girlfriend, Anita. She sang and danced “In America” like I’ve never seen it done before. She easily got a standing ovation. She must be seen more! This season she has easily become one of my favorite women. Robert Fairchild reprised his Romeo role, playing Tony here with all the youthful angst of the teenager he, unbelievably, still is! I think I stood behind his mother in the press ticket line — I’m not sure because she seemed very young (but then I have to keep reminding myself how young he is) when she happily announced her last name to the ticket guy.

Sorry for going a bit headshot-happy here. I just noticed Robert has a new one up, and I thought it was really good. :)

(photo of former cast, by Paul Kolnick)

The only thing here: Amar. Surprisingly, he wasn’t all that hard-assed as an intimidating gang leader. He is just more the dapper ballroom gent, I guess. But I think it was partly his costume. I was sitting in the fifth row and I could have sworn they had him in corduroy pants, while everyone else was in jeans. The cords, with their flaring, preppy, schoolboy front pockets made his black tennis shoes look like top-siders. He just looked like a young college professor. Maybe it’s just that I’d just read a Jhumpa Lahiri short story in the New Yorker and the way he was dressed I kept thinking of the male model they had in the accompanying picture, but I just didn’t see him as a Tybalt-esque thug here.

Saturday night was Russian night :) Entitled “Russian Treasures,” it celebrated Balanchine’s creations — some of his greatest — to Tschaikovsky’s music. First on was “Serenade”, one of my favorites, which I’ve written about here and here. Again, Yvonne Borree stood out here in her sweetness and charm. Second was “Mozartiana” — my first time seeing this one, as well as the one that followed, “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2” also titled “Ballet Imperial.” Since hearing Terry Teachout rave on about that latter one, I have been dying to see it and it was definitely my favorite of the two. “Mozartiana” (an early Balanchine) had a lot of the very typical back and forth of classical Petipa: pas de deux, male solo with bravura leaps galore, female solo with bravura fouettes galore, male solo ditto, female solo ditto, back to pas de deux again ending in faux happy togetherness. I’m not so into that; it bores me. I did like Daniel Ulbricht in this though — he was the perfect young Mozart as he jumped about youthfully illustrating his solid technique and perfect lines. He didn’t overdo it this time with sky-high leaps, and I liked him for that.

Balanchine created “Ballet Imperial” in 1941 for a traveling American Ballet Caravan, which, under the sponsorship of the Roosevelt administration, toured South America. He wanted to create a ballet that celebrated classical dance, while remaining uniquely his own. And that he did: it reminded me a lot of the “Diamonds” portion of “Jewels”, the last third of that ballet in which Balanchine pays loving homage to his native land with majestic ensemble dancing to a familiar, much- cherished Tschiakovksy score. (I wrote about that ballet here.) Originally, the program notes state, it was performed with a scenic backdrop illustrating the Neva River running through St. Petersberg, and Peter and Paul Fortress and gorgeous Winter Palace upon it. But, typical for Balanchine, he took out the background in 1973, feeling the ballet and music could stand on their own, which they can, but I still would have loved to have seen that backdrop! Jonathan Stafford stood out to me here, for the first time. He was magnificient in some high-flying assembles and with his height, he’s the perfect nobleman. Oh, and I just have to say, the pianist, Susan Walters, was breathtaking here! This company sure knows how to find the most excellent musical artists.

So sad though — this is the last week of NYCBallet’s Winter season…

4 Comments

  1. Don’t be sad, you have the ABT Spring season coming and in no time it will be the New Winter season and galas and excitement.

    Anyway you need a pause only to get your ballet itch going and needing to be scratched!

    There’s more where that came from.

    Nice review. I sometimes wonder about gals like you drooling over all the men in dance. How do you keep your head on straight? hahahaha

  2. That was a great review of American Song and Dance. A lot of people dismiss “Thou Swell” as another mediocre Martins ballet but I for one (and I’m delighted that you agree) think it is first-rate. I love the music, the jazzy ballroom style and yes, the MIRROR (I felt it added a wonderful dimension to my viewing experience). Nilas, like his father, also comes in for a lot of criticism but I agree that he performs superbly in this piece.

    Ives, Songs is not one of my favorite Robbins’ ballets but I still found it very haunting and moving. It’s funny – I have on several occasions had the thought when watching Kathryn Morgan that she reminded me somewhat of a young Margot Fonteyn but I’ve almost been afraid to say that to some old-time balletomanes lest they charge me with blasphemy. When you made that comment about her, I said “Yes, I’m not crazy – Tonya sees it too!”

    I think that NYCB does an absolutely great job with West Side Story Suite and I enjoyed all the performances but oh – Gina Pazcoguin – is she fabulous as Anita or what? Both dancing and singing, that was what they call on Broadway a “star turn.” Chita Rivera, who performed the role in the original stage play, and Rita Moreno, who performed it in the movie, are both legends but after her rendition of the role, Gina does not have to take a back seat to either of them.

    Next Sunday, I see the Serenade/Mozartiana/Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 program and I love all three ballets so I can’t wait!!

  3. I’m glad to hear you thought that too of Kathryn, Bob! Oh, blasphemy — bah! I wasn’t aware Nilas got a lot of criticism too… I haven’t seen a lot of him, for some reason, but so far, I love him! I have one more Nilas sighting this season… You’ll love Sunday’s program; it’s really beautiful.

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