(above image of Joaquin de Luz and Megan Fairchild in Tarantella by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of NYCB)
So, Sunday marked the end of New York City Ballet’s winter season. I was honestly in a blue funk all day yesterday, which shows, I guess, that I am really beginning to love this company since I’ve normally only gotten so sad over ABT and Alvin Ailey.
Sunday was a one-day only program, the All-American Season Finale, which included Robbins’s Glass Pieces, Martins’s Hallelujah Junction, and Balanchine’s Tarantella and Stars and Stripes. Tarantella (this is the only time it showed this season) is always fun, with its cute Neapolitan peasant boy-tries-to-get-girl caricatures, lightening-charged footwork, and series of bravura solos for both man and woman, all performed with a tambourine. I was completely out of breath after watching Joaquin de Luz fly across the stage and ultimately steal a kiss from Megan Fairchild. Joaquin is not just a dancing virtuoso but a dramatist as well and his characters are always these virile, sexed-up, but charming, innocuous men. I really love him.
Glass Pieces and Hallelujah Junction also really grew on me. I don’t know if it was Maria Kowroski or what, but the slower, more adagio section of Glass Pieces was very compelling this time, and it really spiced up the last man-centric, drum-beating, section as well. At first I wasn’t a huge fan of Maria Kowroski, but either she has improved or she has really grown on me. I always thought she had an excellent dancer body, but now she is using it in a much more expressive way, really to say something. The only thing I’m not in love with choreography-wise in Glass Pieces is in the last section, how the men come jogging out, hands powerfully punching the air, doing their ‘man things’ to the booming drums, and then the women daintily slink in to the sound of the flutes. Corny.
I was able to watch more than just the mesmerizing lighting in Hallelujah Junction this time. I love the movement theme –toward the beginning — of the landing a jump or phrase on releve and then swiftly lowering the ankle to the floor. On Andrew Veyette it looked kind of teasing but in a sinister way, like the slicing of a knife. There is something very sinister in general about Andrew Veyette, very virile in a threatening way, which makes him perfect for the devious man dressed in black here.
And I love how Sebastien Marcovici, the man in white, kind of Janie Taylor’s saviour, would powerfully jete across stage after him, threatening him, banishing him. Sebastien and Janie are such the romantic couple, in part because they work so well together and in part because of their respective sizes. Someone very knowledgeable in the dance world told me they thought he’d been working out a lot, trying to build muscle. I do think he seems to have become more muscular lately, especially his legs. Building muscle often decreases the muscle’s flexibility and he doesn’t seem to make a perfect split on a jete like some of the others, but I still think it’s so romantic that he’s so much larger than little Janie; he can just sweep her off the floor and scoop her up into his arms — aw
The program notes state that Stars and Stripes, the somewhat cheesily patriotic but excellently danced Balanchine ballet, was shown at presidential tributes, like that of Kennedy and Johnson, and at Nelson Rockefeller’s NY gubernatorial inauguration. It’s so weird to me to think of that, though I could see it performed back then. But now? At President Obama’s inauguration? It just doesn’t seem like it would fit. It would seem kind of anachronistic, sadly…
Anyway, the talk of the ballet world lately has been Sir Alastair’s New York Times season wrap-up.
Taylor Gordon, my friend and fellow blogger / dance writer, says, “whether you agree with him or not, it boggles me that one person has the power to say these things in basically the one print medium dance criticism has left. Ouch.”
Macaulay basically takes the women of NYCB to task, saying none of them really command authority like true ballerinas,
says Darci Kistler, the last of the ballerinas who worked with Balanchine and who has announced her retirement next year, in effect retired long ago, and he calls Nilas Martins fat — I think the word he used is “portly” — well, you can read that article for yourself.
Just adding my two cents: the renowned dance critic Arlene Croce said that in a democracy the critic has the duty to be critical and to speak his or her mind, and I think that’s perfectly said. If we were all walking on eggshells around each other, scared of how artists might react to criticism, serious arts discussion would cease to exist and the First Amendment would be meaningless. So, it’s Macaulay’s job to say what he thinks and to be harsh if he has to be. But the problem, I think, as Taylor points out, is that the New York Times is the only newspaper that regularly carries dance criticism these days. So, unlike in the past, in Croce’s day when every newspaper and magazine seemed to have a full-time dance critic, there’s now basically only one authoritative viewpoint. Which isn’t Macaulay’s fault. It’s a really just an unfortunate situation. There are other papers and magazines but with a smaller following, and, yes, there are bloggers, but we hardly carry the same weight. I really don’t know what the future will bring.
Anyway, regarding Sir Alastair’s criticisms: at first I found the most aggravating thing about the whole article to be his almost exclusive focus on the women (with only that one comment about Nilas). But then I thought, it’s interesting that he’s so concerned about them. He seems really upset that there are no authoritative, attention-commanding ballerinas these days, unlike, if you read between the lines, the ballerinas of the past — like Merrill Ashley, Suzanne Farrell, Kay Mazzo, and Allegra Kent. Macaulay has been in the dance world a lot longer than I have, and maybe I just seem to have come to dance at a time when it was already becoming so man-centric, but I don’t even think of the ballerinas; I go to the ballet to see the men. I haven’t ever seen any of those aforementioned ballerinas dance live, and I’ve only seen Farrell on poorly-made videos, so I really don’t know what he’s comparing the current crop of ballerinas to. I don’t know just how captivating and enrapturing those prior ballerinas were. And maybe that’s a valid problem. That men are so out-performing the women these days that he wants to get the women off their butts and working harder.
With the exception of Ashley Bouder, whom we didn’t see much of this season (I am told she’s recovering from an injury), there really are no ballerinas who grab you by the throat and force you to look at them. (I’m being hyperbolical of course and I definitely don’t mean this in a bad way). But then, in New York City Ballet (as opposed to American Ballet Theater), there really aren’t many men who do that either — the exception being Robert Fairchild, who I think is the best male dancer overall in NYCB right now. People see him as cute, boyishly charming Romeo, but he is so much more than that. He really brought new light to Elo’s Slice to Sharp and to Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements this season. You can’t take your eyes off him because he brings his own unique interpretation to everything, he does everything so full out, and he dances with such passion and clarity of intent, and such incredible sharpness and precision. I saw him in something of Luca Veggetti’s at the Miller Theater and I don’t even remember him moving that much and every time he did, he was just so brilliant.
Anyway, back to the ballerina “problem.” I mean, I think there are some very good female dancers in the company: Sara Mearns is so passionate and so gorgeously expressive, Maria Kowroski, as I mentioned above, I’m finding more and more compelling, Georgina Pazcoguin is an excellent dramatist, Kathryn Morgan makes beautiful lines and has a Suzanne Farrell-like innocense as well as that undefinable something that draws your eye to her as well (though unfortunately Martins hasn’t given her many lead roles since Juliet), Janie Taylor just has this bewitching presense, almost like she casts a spell on you, and she brings a certain darkness to her roles that you can relate to (which I think Macaulay mentioned as well). I think Abi Stafford has excellent form and makes beautiful lines as well, though I agree with Macaulay that she needs more of a commanding presence. I oftentimes find myself wondering, “who is that great dancer, she’s really good,” and I look in the program notes and find that it’s Abi; whereas with other ballerinas you know the second they step onstage. And I like how Macaulay acknowledges that his lack of appreciation for Wendy Whelan is his own idiosyncracy. And the metaphor he uses to describe her — that she’s like a soprano hitting every note sharp, is obviously hyperbolical, but it is kind of apt. But that’s what makes Wendy Wendy; that’s why she has so many fans, and that’s why she stands out. Her seemingly vertebra-less body and the incredible, almost mind-boggling shapes she can make with it, the way she goes from one angular, highly expressive contemporary pose to another, equally sharp and angular and expressive, is what makes her Wendy Whelan.
I didn’t see Darci Kistler dance in her prime, or before her injury, which Macaulay says marked a changing point for her. But I think she is a fine dancer; I think she partners well with Jared Angle, and I think she’s perfect for the more mature, wise and knowing roles like the one she’s cast in in Davidsbundlertanze. And I think Nilas Martins is always animated and in character, and can still move well, even if he does have a different body type than many of the others. Isn’t that what makes dance interesting anyway — a variety of body types? Why should everyone look the same? That’s one thing I really loved about the dance company, Evidence. There were these amazing, gorgeously large women — large, compared to other dance companies — and they could really move!
And the men each seem to have their thing as well: Tyler Angle is the quintessential Romantic hero, Sebastien the ideal romantic lead, romantic with a small “r” — to Janie or whoever he’s partnering, Andrew is the somewhat sinister kind of Iago-type who excels in the bravura sequences, Joaquin and Daniel Ulbricht the dazzling high jumpers and swift-footed spinners, Charles Askegard the pashmina man :), Amar Ramasar the flashy, charismatic dramatist, Robert Fairchild can do anything, Gonzalo Garcia, and Benjamin Millepied are cast in a variety of roles.
Macaulay says that Balanchine would often cast against type, and wonders how the company would look if Martins did the same. I think it’s an interesting idea: I’d love to see Tyler cast as an Iago-type. In fact, I’d love to see him as Iago in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, though I don’t know if the company would ever do that ballet. I think he would bring a certain sympathy to the character. I know he danced Tybalt in Martins’s Romeo and Juliet, and I wasn’t in love with him in that role, but that was two years ago and he’s young and has artistically matured a great deal since then. What would casting against type be for the women?: I guess casting Ashley in Balanchine’s Swan Lake? Martins kind of did that by putting Wendy Whelan in that role.
(By the way, I haven’t written about their Swan Lake program yet, but will shortly — I have a lot to say about it.)
Macaulay also says the ballerinas are generally little girlish emanating a syrupy innocense, rather than a mature womanliness (my paraphrasing). I have to say, I kind of agree with him, but that may be because most of the female dancers are so young. It’s definitely a different company in this regard from ABT.
I don’t know. This post is ridiculously long, and I still left out a lot of dancers. I apologize for anyone who didn’t see the NYCB season and has no idea what all and who all I’m talking about. Anyone have any other thoughts?