(photo of Robert Fairchild and Wendy Whelan in Opus 19 / The Dreamer by Henry Leutwyler taken from High 5.)
I spent all of Saturday at New York City Ballet, watching both matinee and evening performances like the obsessive I am Highlight of the daytime performance was Jerome Robbins’s 1979 ballet, Opus 19 / The Dreamer in which Robert Fairchild and Janie Taylor made their NYC debuts in the lead roles. This is only my second time seeing this ballet — the first was a season or two ago when the main parts were danced by Gonzalo Garcia and Wendy Whelan. (Robbins created the ballet on Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride). My research has revealed that critics don’t consider this to be a major Robbins ballet; Arlene Croce seems not to have written a word about it. Audiences seem to adore it though, me included.
Funny but the first time I saw it, I thought the main male character was a “dreamer” in the sense of being an idealist. Wendy seemed to represent Gonzalo’s ideal. And there often seems to be a kind of charmingly airy, carefree, “head in the clouds” quality to Gonzalo’s dance persona.
Robert was more solid and sharp and weighty than Gonzalo. In his beginning solo, he’d slice through the air with his arms and legs, stretch an arm out, hand bent up, as if to be pushing out against something, or stopping something from getting too close to him. What that something is isn’t entirely clear. It seemed more like he was a literal dreamer, someone lost in a dream that was neither entirely pleasant nor unpleasant, something he kind of wanted to escape from but was drawn to as well. And Janie — I love her! — was all tantalizing, bewitching, taunting little mischief-maker haunting his subconscious, not leaving his psyche a moment’s peace. Whenever she was onstage, she completely captivated — both him and us. Even when she’d collapse in his arms, he’d struggle to straighten her up again. He’d lovingly wrap his arms around her; she’d be out of them in a split second. It was very different from the way Wendy danced, if I remember correctly. I wonder how Patricia McBride did it.
I read a review of a dancer who performed the male lead in the 80s. The writer — Jack Anderson — said the dancer — Jeffrey Edwards — looked like a thinker, very introspective. I always love watching Robert — I think he is one of the most fascinating movers around. I’m not sure if what I saw here was introspection or more like inner turmoil. He was definitely lost in himself — he doesn’t even seem to notice all the lavender-clothed dancers flitting about him, didn’t seem to notice anyone until Janie came darting by and commanded his attention. I guess it seemed more like he was lost in his own angst, haunted by his dreams, than lost in his thoughts or his art. But it would be hard, I’d think, to embody introspection.
They don’t seem to be performing this ballet a lot, but I’d love to see Tyler Angle dance the part as well.
Also during the day was Chaconne, which I’m growing to love more and more — particularly the first pas de deux where the man lifts the ballerina and she has her arms out to the sides and does these large, sweeping steps forward, every few beats lightly tickling the floor with one toe shoe, and it looks like she is flying — and Vienna Waltzes, which, probably ridiculously for me since I’m a ballroom dancer, honestly just kind of bores me. The choreography’s not very intricate or compelling (odd for Balanchine) — it’s mostly straight-forward waltzing, which I can only watch for so long. There’s a middle section composed of high-energy allegro ballet which was danced very theatrically by Yvonne Borree and Benjamin Millepied. That section seriously kept me from falling asleep.
Highlights from the evening program were Peter Martins’s Hallelujah Junction, Joaquin De Luz in Donizetti Variations, and Sebastien Marcovici’s debut as Prince Siegfried in Balanchine’s Swan Lake. I hadn’t seen this cast of Hallelujah before — it was Sterling Hyltin, Gonzalo Garcia, and Daniel Ulbricht. This cast wasn’t so dramatic, so romantic, so intent on telling a little story, as other I saw (Marcovici, Taylor, Veyette), but seemed more focused on simply making the music visual — and they did so to fascinating effect. I greatly enjoyed just sitting back and watching all that brilliantly fast-paced, razor-sharp movement — Gonzalo with his sexy impish bouyancy (he’s not really a small man but somehow he seems like he’s always airborne; I think he’d make a great Sleeping Beauty Bluebird), Sterling with her Russian ballerina-high extensions that she does with incredible speed, and Daniel for his intense precision. This is the best I think I’ve ever liked Daniel Ulbrich before. He didn’t just jump inhumanly high; he really nailed very difficult-looking, intricate footwork and he did so with such sharpness and tautness. If he’d only be given more than just jumping guys parts, he can show that he can actually dance extremely well.
Sebastien danced Siegfried with great passion, expectedly. Balanchine really eviscerated the man’s part in his version of the ballet but Sebastien went as far as he possibly could with it. At one point, one of the corps swans in the back row fell and of course the audience had to go “ooooooohhhhhhh,” but he didn’t let it faze him as his Siegfried searched desperately among the swans for his beloved Odette. He had a minor flub on one of the many traveling turn jump thingys but no big deal. It was heartbreaking when Wendy bourreed back away from him and he reached out to her like she was taking his life with him as she went. Also, I love the black and white plastic swans swimming in the little stream at the beginning and end, but the people working them should just make sure the white swan appears at the right time! One time Wendy wasn’t fully into the wings yet when her swan form began sailing across the stage and Charles Askegard’s Prince Sig didn’t know where to run — the swan or Wendy. This time it was a little late and Sebastien kind of had to go searching upstream for her
Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations was danced brilliantly by Joaquin De Luz and Megan Fairchild. But what I really love about Joaquin isn’t his bravura dancing but his dramatic abilities — how he interacts with the other dancers. Even when dancing a storyless ballet, he’ll look at the others as they do their thing, shoot them a cocky grin — or a genuine smile — and do his thing, his steps a clever or comical response to theirs.
Also on this program was the newish ballet by Melissa Barak, A Simple Symphony – -my second viewing of that. She does borrow from Balanchine, but her choreography also has its own wit, which you notice on multiple viewings. Like Balanchine, the drama is in the actual choreography — every little flex or softening of the wrist meaning something. At one point, the ensemble of ballerinas all turn their hands and flex their wrists, and it looks like they’re cutely shrugging their shoulders. It’s such a pretty ballet with such mellifluous music though, sometimes you don’t want to focus on the choreography; you just want to sit back and enjoy the loveliness of it all.