Last Thursday (Balanchine’s birthday), New York City Ballet celebrated with a tribute to Nureyev and the premiere of a ballet, Lifecasting (photo above by Paul Kolnik), by young choreographer Douglass Lee.
The evening began with two films of Nureyev, the first of him dancing on PBS’s The Bell Telephone Hour (do wish they still had that show!) with Maria Tallchief in the pas de deux of August Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano. After the little film tribute, out came Kathryn Morgan and Allen Peiffer who danced just that. I really get so much out of seeing the same thing danced twice back to back — I love it when Christopher Wheeldon will do that at Morphoses or when City Ballet does it with a tribute to Robbins, or, like here, Nureyev — and will show a clip of someone rehearsing a dance, and then the dancers come out and do it for real. You get different artistic versions of the same movement patterns, maybe a less polished then more polished version, you kind of remember the movement and see it through the dancers’ eyes as s/he struggles to perfect the same set of steps.
Anyway, interestingly, when I first saw these dancers doing the same steps, I thought, how much would I NOT want to be poor Allen Peiffer right now! To be compared to Nureyev like that!
But in all honestly, he was so sharp and precise and clean and his jumps were so exuberant; I really felt like he performed up to the standards of the legend. And he is a really young guy (did Romeo last year, in, I think in the youngest cast). Great future ahead; he has a lot to be proud of. And of course Kathryn was splendid, as always. I kind of felt like this was City Ballet’s way of suggesting that perhaps there are a contemporary Nureyev and Fonteyn…
On second was overall my favorite dance of the night, Angelin Preljocaj’s La Stravaganza.
It was intriguingly bizarre, and had many different parts to it, with different emotional undercurrents, so you never grew bored or felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. I’m not entirely sure where all it was going (and I’d love to see it again; this was my first time), but it began with a set of dancers dressed in beige leotards moving to the sounds of nature — birds, and running stream water.
Then, those dancers disappeared and another set of dancers, these dressed as pilgrims, took over the stage. In the background was a bright red painting with a log cabin in the center that looked like it had been struck by a Wizard of Oz-like tornado and had been sent spinning through the wind. The music grew harsh, with industrial tones, and it seemed these people were lost in another world.
Soon, the first set of dancers returned, and the dance was about their interaction with the pilgrims. The music — by Vivaldi but with all kinds of excerpts — often contained sounds of industry — I heard train whistles, I think a machine-like assembly line. So, the themes seemed to be people or settlers encountering nature or the elements, and those people encountering industrialism as well. There was a struggle, and eventually the pilgrims came to see each other and themselves differently. There’s one bizarrely fascinating scene where the women are running their faces up and down the mens’ arms, their noses to the clothing — like they’re discovering them anew through smell. Eventually the two groups dance together, weaving in and out of each other, and at the end, we return to the sounds of nature with the first group.
I wasn’t as in love with the new Lee ballet, Lifecasting, although I thought the dancing was lovely. With the exception of one dancer (Ashley Bouder), dressed in a blue swimsuit-like leotard, the dancers are all dressed in form-fitting gold. They looked a bit like fireflies but the music (by Steve Reich) and the movement was too slow for that. I found the ballet to be very Wheeldon-like with a lot of partnering in twos and in groups, making a lot of intricate but abstract shapes that, to me, didn’t evoke anything specific. What I found interesting were the scenes. The backdrop began as a kind of sky blue with some bars at the bottom. Then, that lifted and a black diaphonous scrim took its place. Dancers would enter and exit from a back step, so it looked like they were rising up from a nether-region, perhaps underwater given the swimsuit-looking costume and the bars on the first set that made the stage kind of resemble a ship’s deck. Perhaps the ballet took place under water? At the end, the scrim lifted and the first set with the bars returned, eventually plummeting down on the stage, sending the ballet to quick, somewhat comical close. Unlike the Preljocaj, though, the dance here seemed to remain the same throughout, the only changes being the sets — or at least those were the most noticeable to me.
Also performed were Wheeldon’s After the Rain, a ballet that shows off Wendy Whelan’s tantalizing flexibility (Sebastian Marcovici partnered her) and to me evokes the somewhat sorrowful but gentle aftermath of a bad lovers’ quarrel, and Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, the Tchaikovsky-fueled, insanely fast-paced Imperial Russia homage with all the twisty-jumps. This ballet was performed very very well by Gonzalo Garcia, who was really on that night! — Very dramatic, very caring toward his lady (here, Abi Stafford), very leading man-ly, very Marcelo 🙂