(photo of Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall in Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain by John Ross, taken from Ballet Co)
NYCB’s Spring season began on Tuesday and I spent much of the weekend at the Koch theater. Friday night was my first time seeing Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, (set to Mozart), which Arlene Croce called one of his greatest ballets, and I can see why, particularly with all the complex, richly detailed variations. The ballet begins with an Allegro section danced by the whole ensemble, the women entering the stage first. But I have to say I felt like the dance properly began when the three male leads — Tyler Angle, Amar Ramasar, and Andrew Veyette– came onstage, particularly Angle and Veyette (I prefer Ramasar in the more dramatic roles but he always has a charisma that draws your eye). With the exception of Sterling Hyltin, who is becoming one of my favorite ballerinas, the men just stood out more. At one point, after executing a step perfectly on beat, Andrew looked out at the audience and flashed a knowing, mischievous grin that made me and my friend (and those around us) giggle, and that set the tone of the whole night for me.
Though all of the women seemed to keep time with the fast-tempo and execute all the intricacies of that insanely quick-footed choreography, Sterling’s dancing had the most dash and flair.
And it’s the same whenever I see her dance. Ditto for her Symphony in Three Movements on Saturday afternoon. She has the ability to make the fullest, most extensive shapes — she has wonderfully huge extensions on the arabesque penchees, almost like a Russian ballerina, and her back arches are so miraculously pronounced — even moving at such high speed. She is really standing out to me as an allegro ballerina.
Tyler Angle just has such breadth of movement, and he moves so perfectly and so controlled, he’s always a pleasure no matter what he’s dancing.
Friday night’s After the Rain (by Wheeldon) was particularly breathtaking, at least the second section. This was actually my first time seeing the dance in whole. There’s a first section danced by three couples, including the main couple, danced, as usual, by Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall. I often need time for Wheeldon ballets to grow on me, and so, probably predictably for me, I didn’t like the first section nearly as well as the more familiar second, danced only by Whelan and Hall. It’s set to an entirely different piece of music (no raindrops, no lump in your throat sadness) and the dancers are wearing these bright silver unitards. It seemed like it didn’t flow easily into the section section. But the second was danced gorgeously. I don’t know if it was because I was sitting up close and could home in on faces, but Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall seemed to dance it with more emotion than ever before.
Friday night ended with Firebird. I was really wanting to see Ashley Bouder in this, a role she was really just made for, but unfortunately, it seems she is still out with injury. Instead Maria Kowroski danced the lead. And she danced very well — her arms were like water and she was very expressive and danced with pathos. But she’s not the same kind of dancer as Ashley — she’s far taller for one — and her series of continuous jetes around the stage weren’t as high nor as spectacular. And there was no Ashley-on-fire leap into the wings. The audience went wild over Maria though, cheering every time she left the stage and during her curtain calls. Audience went wild over the sets too; when the curtain rose to reveal the dramatic Chagall painting, there were substantial oohs, aahs, and even applause.
And then the Saturday matinee: I don’t really see how Concerto Barocco is considered one of Balanchine’s best ballets, but I can really lose myself in it nonetheless. Bach’s Violin Concerto is so soothing, and, of course as is often the case with Balanchine, the movement mirrors the music, and so here is soothing as well. The leads were Wendy Whelan, Ellen Bar, and Albert Evans and Bar danced her role a bit tempestuously, which made for an interesting contrast with Wendy’s more lyrical, poetic figure.
There was something seriously awry in Tschaikovsky Pas De Deux, danced by Gonzalo Garcia and Ana Sophia Scheller. The partnering was off, but of course you never know whose fault it is unless you’re one of the dancers. Garcia danced better in his solo than I’ve ever seen him dance — he was very dramatic and put everything he had into those bravura fouettes and pirouettes and leaps and twisty high jumps. Scheller seemed more cautious in her solo. When they danced together, caution took over and it lacked magic. Scheller never threw herself with Ashley Bouder’s wild abandon into Garcia’s arms, so some of those lifts looked a bit stunted. And, as the two were dashing off into the wings, Garcia took a tiny slip, though he didn’t fall.
La Valse was rich and luxuriant and decadent and full of high drama as always, one of my very favorite Balanchines. Sebastien Marcovici danced more dramatically than I’ve seen him before in this role. He was devastated by Janie’s demise and he really drove home the tragedy of the ballet. Janie Taylor was hauntingly beautiful as innocense corrupted but I agree with Sir Alastair that she needs to take it up a notch. Sometimes it looks like she’s just wandering around and somehow, out of curiosity, finds her way into the dark, instead of really being compelled by it, propelled toward it. I really wonder how Tanaquil LeClercq looked in this role. I’m going to seek out a video. And Tyler Angle owns the role of the poor Romantic boy lost in the disconcerting swirl of waltzing women. No one does that expansive port de bras from the floor like he does. Sir A faults Philip Neal for not emanting enough evil enough but I thought he was sufficiently devilish. I haven’t seen anyone else in the role though and it makes me wonder who Macaulay might be comparing him to.
Saturday ended with Symphony in Three Movements, one of my other favorite Balanchine ballets. I love the intense Stravinsky, the at times animalistic, at times athletic and competitive nature of it. I love the beginning with those thrilling jumps to the side, male and female (here Daniel Ulbricht and the excellent Sterling) teasingly — or maybe not so teasingly — competing, arguing — each jump a statement, a counterpoint to the other. I love the end where the men are crouching, crablike or like they’re ready to take off running a marathon, the women holding their arms up, palms forward, as if in surrender. As I said before, Sterling stood out far and above the rest. I like Abi Stafford as well, though she seems to be moving more cautiously, not making the same kinds of intense shapes as Sterling. But there’s a sweetness to her that always shines through. Though he’s not yet a hugely thrilling a dancer to me, I noticed Adrian Danchig-Waring, who had excellent form. And I’ve already expressed discontent about the MIA R. Fairchild.