(Above images, Concerto DSCH by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of NYCB; top dancers: Janie Taylor and Tyler Angle, botton: Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied)
I can see how ballet is so addictive, especially to those with dance training who’ve either danced the roles they see onstage or pick up choreography on sight. It’s so interesting to see different dancers perform the same roles, to see what they can each do with something, where they can take it. A ballet can look completely different depending on cast.
Janie Taylor recently debuted as the female lead in Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH and I absolutely loved her. I thought she brought a certain vulnerability, delicateness, and romantic touch (both big and small “r”)to the role and as such created a poignant centerpiece to this ballet that is mainly full of fast, frolicking fun. She was perfect partnered with Tyler Angle, who gives everything an emotional, Romantic quality. There’s one point where the girl bourrees (tip toes) backward from the guy and he steps toward her in a series of lunges, arms outstretched. It was rather heart-grabbing when Janie and Tyler did that. It was like Tyler was reaching for her with all his might, but she just kept falling away from him, telling him no, it couldn’t be.
The original cast for the romantic couple was Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied, and when I saw them perform it again a few days ago, I looked for that part. I almost didn’t see it until Wendy had bourreed practically into the wings. Benjamin, instead of reaching toward her with all his power, bent his knees and performed those walking lunges close to the ground, kind of bouncing up with every step forward. His arms were still outreached but the deep kneed, close to the ground walks gave it overall a more playful feel, or perhaps like he was looking up to Wendy, his supreme ballerina. Wendy’s of course such an icon in the ballet world and she’s stronger and less vulnerable and delicate than Janie and so it just had a kind of man worshiping woman instead of a boy trying desperately to hang on to his love feel.
Ashley Bouder has been out with an injury so Ana Sophia Scheller is filling in for her in the main allegro ballerina part, still dancing alongside Joaquin de Luz and Gonzalo Garcia.
(photos of Garcia and Scheller by Paul Kolnik, taken from NYCB website)
There seemed to be a slight bit of drama going on between Scheller and Garcia at first — I don’t know what it was — he was his usual sexily mischievous, charismatic self and she seemed nervous and holding back a bit (albeit not with Joaquin), but hey, drama is always fun I think that has been all worked out though. The last time I saw them dance this together they were right on. She appears to be a lovely dancer and I’d like to see more of her.
I’ve also seen two very different casts in Scotch Symphony: the first Benjamin with Jenifer Ringer, the second Robert Fairchild and Kathryn Morgan. This is a sweet Balanchine ballet, telling the story of a young kilt-clad Scotsman lost in the Highlands who becomes completely smitten with an ethereal goddess dressed in Romantic tutu. He keeps trying to reach her but is thwarted right and left by a group of Scottish guards. Finally, they meet and dance a lovely pas de deux.
My friend, Alyssa, now has a huge crush on Benjamin. I don’t know how it happened; we were standing in line at the box office to pick up tickets one night and he was talking on the overhead screen, likely about his new ballet (I’m not sure because the sound was off) and Alyssa became mesmerized by his face. “That’s the guy who recently premiered a new ballet,” I said. “Oh, he’s a choreographer? He’s cute!!” Then when we got inside and were looking at the Playbills she screamed, “look, the cute guy is dancing!”
(Millepied headshot by Paul Kolnik; all headshots by Paul Kolnik, taken from NYCB website)
Afterward at dinner all she could talk about was how other dancers (like Daniel Ulbricht, who we saw in Tarantella that evening) were great jumpers and technically perfect and all, but Benjamin just brought so much more to the dance. “He was just so … so… he was perfect in everything he did, but he wasn’t just perfect, he was… ” she waxed unable to come up with the right word. It was Ethan all over again (whom she fell for after seeing at Martha’s Vineyard merely introducing his Stiefel and Stars and saying he was unable to dance because of the knee operations).
I nodded. He does have a certain beneath-the-surface charm (Benjamin that is), and he is a very good dancer, always coming through with those ever so challenging fast-paced Balanchine roles.
But of course I was dying to see Robert Fairchild in the same role, with Kathryn Morgan as his ethereal love object. They were so beautiful together. She’s just so angelic, and he always dances with such passion and boundless amounts of energy, and of course he’s always got that boyish charm that he’s had since debuting in Romeo two years ago at age 19 but that I don’t think is every going to go away. He’s such a hard-working young guy, you can tell — he puts everything he has into his dancing. He had a tiny fumble coming out of a jump and had to check himself with a couple extra steps to secure his footing (but he didn’t fall), and at one point he was a bit too far from Kathryn during a supported arabesque penchee and she couldn’t get her leg all the way up in the air. But, to me, honestly, when a dancer makes a blunder it only makes him or her all the more endearing, more human.
(Robert Fairchild, Kathryn Morgan)
I loved Tiler Peck in Tarantella — another role that usually belongs to Ashley Bouder, but Tiler brought a certain freshness and wit to this cutesy extreme high-speed dance. Ashley usually brings a sexy, flirtiness to it; Tiler was more sweet and smart. I like both, and, again, it shows dancers often make the dance.
Daniel Ulbricht (photo above by Paul Kolnik), as always, delivered on the technical and difficult athletic aspects of the dance — the high jumps the turns and all. Audiences always go absolutely wild over him. I personally like Joaquin de Luz a bit better (in this and the other roles he dances — he and Daniel usually alternate) because he delivers on the virtuosity as well but he makes it more about the character. At the end, the boy here steals a kiss from the girl. With Daniel, the high jumps and theatrics are the dance, the kiss is just a little reward at the end; with Joaquin the whole thing is about that kiss, the mad leaps and spins and turns with the tamborine are simply leading up to it. But audience do go completely wild over Daniel.
I saw the new ballets once again — Benjamin Millepied’s Quasi Una Fantasia and Jiri Bubenicek’s Toccata, and both grew on me. Funny, but I sat in orchestra this time for both — first time I was looking down from the first ring side, and it’s really interesting how different the ballets look from different vantage points — especially the Millepied. Looking down from above, this ballet really seemed to evoke a flock of birds, at times sinister and foreboding. Looking at it straight on, it was still unsettling — with that haunting Gorecki score — but at times the dancers resembled insects reminiscent of Robbins’s The Cage, and later, just figures — one weak and somewhat broken, the other strong — moving in various groupings. My friend Michael and I both noticed how he’d make various groupings or formations with the dancers — phalanxes, Michael called them. Sir Alastair had noted the same, saying he likely got the ability to work a large ensemble like that from Balanchine. I don’t always notice such things until someone points it out — I’m usually more focused on the theme, what the choreographer is trying to evoke, or make me think and feel.
I wish I had a picture of what the dance looked like from above. Overall, I think I still see Hitchkockian birds
I still don’t know exactly what Toccata is about but I love how there is a great deal of really intense partnering, sometimes several duets happening at once, the dancers by turns pushing and pulling, sliding, strugging with and embracing each other, and I love how at points the bodies just kind of mesh into one another, just melt into each other. It’s really kind of sexy in its own way. I love Robert Fairchild in these kinds of abstract roles. As I think I’ve said before, he always makes a little character out of a role no matter how abstract, and he dances with such expansiveness. With that and his immense charisma he devours the whole stage.
(Robert Fairchild and Georgina Pazcoguin in Toccata, by Paul Kolnik, from Oberon’s Grove)
I’m also liking Maria Kowroski much better. I heard she is taking acting lessons and it shows. Every little step is meaning something, saying something, a little quip perhaps, a little retort, to her partner (who has often been Sebastian Marcovici these days) and to the audience. I particularly liked her in Balanchine’s modernist Movements for Piano and Orchestra and his sweet, more classical Chaconne. Huge kudos to Sebastien in the latter for doing some really intensely fast footwork and really nailing it all. He is a large guy and that’s not easy. A friend told me afterward he thought Sebastien looked a bit “heavy” in the role, and I can definitely see that — a smaller dancer would have looked much lighter and more frolicking and playful — where Sebastien brings more virility and power and intensity — but, again, what makes ballet so addictive is the different bodies, different strengths, different personalities, different interpretations.