(photo of Gonzalo Garcia by Chris Hardy, taken from the NYSun)
Those are my friend, Judy’s terms in the title, by the way! Friday night at New York City Ballet was one of the most exciting in recent memory. The dancers were all excellent, the ballets fun, the audience pumped (okay, a little over-pumped in places!) It was just one of those nights to remember. It was an all-Robbins program, consisting of four of his most diverse, but liveliest dances: Glass Pieces, The Cage, Other Dances, and The Concert.
First, of all, Wendy Whelan appears to be out with a minor injury, so it was announced before curtain rose that Janie Taylor would be dancing the lead in The Cage. If anyone heard some psycho girl shout “Yay!!!” — sorry. Didn’t mean for it to echo like that…
Glass Pieces is always enjoyable with that rhythmic music, especially in the first and last sections with the intense strings and pulsating drums respectively, the dancers in the first walking across stage as “normal people,” every once in a while a “dancer” appearing and turning and /or jumping ‘dancer-like’ across stage — the most visible of whom is Tyler Angle. I can watch this ballet endless times just to see him in that first section. He’s beautiful in that golden unitard, and always breathtaking no matter what he’s doing.
(headshot of Tyler Angle, by Paul Kolnik, from NYCB site; all headshots by Kolnik, from NYCB)
The second, adagio section, was danced by Maria Kowroski and Philip Neal. Maria nailed this section like I’ve never seen anyone do before. Her body is of course so long and thin and she’s got such spidery limbs, she can really make wicked lines. I don’t know what the dance means, but every form she made was so pronounced and so full of intent, she was just mesmerizing.
(Maria Kowroski and Philip Neal in Glass Pieces, photo by Paul Kolnik, taken from Roberta on the Arts)
Then, Janie’s Cage! Sometimes you just know that no matter who’s done the role in the past — Tanaquil Le Clercq — whoever — this is just the best; no one’s ever going to outdo that and no one no how has done better before. That’s how I felt Friday night watching Janie. It’s like this role was made for her, even though literally it wasn’t. It’s like she’s very mindful of how each shape she’s making is going to look from every vantage point in the house. You can tell how much she worked at this and thought about it. Maybe it comes from being a visual artist as well (she’s a cartoonist and a costume designer).
Anyway, The Cage is the heartwarming (not) story of a colony of female ants – or some kind of insect — who, like black widows, kill their male counterparts, after mating. (Where did Robbins get the idea? Ballet’s from 1951. Hmmm.) Janie was absolute wicked splendid perfection; she just looked like a spidery-limbed little arachnid as her tiny waify body descended on poor big muscly Sebastien, digging her tentacles into his sides, slapping and clawing him all about. And the way she’d flick her wrists and make those insect-like shapes with her hands at such speed and with such perfect definition, it looked like she was metamorphosing into some creaturely other right before your eyes. It was really rather terrifying.
At one point — either she’s on top of him or him on her, I think it’s the former since she’s killing him — their bodies each curve out from the other to make this big hollow O shape, and it looks like one of those human limb-eating plants (what’s the name?…) Crazy beautifully creepy! Of course the drama is that Janie’s the “novice” here and she doesn’t want to eat this man because she kind of falls for him, but she has to for group acceptance. The way she shows that, wanting to reject the rites, by caving in from her center, collapsing into herself, then rolling herself into a ball and letting the male bug hold her — is stunning as well.
Teresa Reichlin is the ideal Madame of the colony, or whatever you want to call her. Her long legs just beat the air on those battemants, like she is the queen and you don’t question her. I can’t find many pictures, but here is Wendy Whelan talking about the ballet, with some clips of it.
(photo of Wendy Whelan and Sebastien Marcovici, by Paul Kolnik, from Roberta on the Arts)
Then was Other Dances, starring (really, a very apt word) Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia. This is a gorgeous ballet, full of sweetness and romance and virtuosic dancing with high leaps and jumps and spins and all, originally made for Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova. I can’t imagine this one being done better either. Both dancers have such endearing stage presences. Tiler Peck is really growing on me — her obvious love for the music, her playful phrasing, her sweetness and freshness and innocent charm. She was beautiful on those overhead lifts where she lay on her side, her arm behind her head, looking down at him. And Gonzalo’s in love with his audience, and you can tell. He says in this article that he’s naturally shy, but he’s also a natural performer. As I said on Twitter, at the beginning of his second solo, two girls screamed “I love you!” Very very unusual for NYCB! “What is he, a rock star?” Judy asked me. Apparently. Gonzalo is turning NYCB into ABT What is it about these Spanish men?…
The pair in another ballet, photo by Paul Kolnik, from Dancing Perfectly Free)
Tiler and Gonzalo work very well together. There was some weirdness between him and Ana Sophia Scheller, but these two are a very good partnership. I think they’re friends too — I see them together on the street sometimes. They danced the virtuosic leads in Donizetti Variations two days earlier and were equally stellar. I’m told he had a big fan base in San Francisco, where he came from. Well, he’s won me over. Ariel, who came with me on Donizetti day (and who comes with me to NYCB rather frequently), took one look at the program and said, “Wow, they have Gonzalo dancing a lot these days.” I said, “Yeah, particularly when I happen to have tickets. Funny that.”
And the evening ended with the comical The Concert, which Judy loved, as I knew she would. It’s cute and funny and no one does up the humor like Sterling Hyltin as the sweetly goofy music lover who can’t dance her way out of a paper bag, and Andrew Veyette and Gwyneth Muller as the cutely warring husband and wife. Andrew even took curtain calls with his ‘obnoxious husband’s’ pipe gripped firmly between his teeth.
The other highlight of the week to me was Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, danced spectacularly by Robert Fairchild, who I’m positive I will never ever tire of seeing. He’s got to be one of the hardest working young men in ballet these days and it really shows. He’s becoming a real David Hallberg. His movements are so precise and everything is so well-articulated. He bends from the waist more than anyone else (that I can see) and that gives him so much breadth and expansiveness. And he’s always making some sort of statement, even in abstract ballets, particularly in abstract ballets.
I love this Stravinsky choreography as well. There are so many stand-out moments, you just can’t mention them all. I love the part where the man of the first couple (here, the aforesaid Robert the spectacular) stands over the ballerina and turns her, or rolls her. She bends underneath him so he looks like her shadow. If this is the same ballet, I felt like Robert leaned in closer to her before and held his arms around her waist, held her more closely, and almost put his head on her back, and it looked so romantic, so tender and loving. It just melted me. He didn’t do that either night I saw him dance this this week. He still turned (or rolled her — don’t know what to call it) brilliantly, but I feel like someone told him not to lean in and make it tender like that. But I want him to do that again! Unless it’s another ballet I’m thinking of … is it? Does anyone know what I’m talking about??
I also love the rather acrobatic choreography for the second couple — first night I saw it danced by Maria Kowroski and Sebastien Marcovici, second night by Amar Ramasar and Kaitlyn Gilliland (filling in — and doing very well — for Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans). I love how she does backbends and handstands over and around him and he just looks at her with amazement, and follows.
Finally, I really liked Liebslieder Walzer earlier this week, which I wrote shortly about here. I know some think it’s slow, and it wasn’t very popular when Balanchine first showed it in 1960, but I really prefer the choreography here to that in his more popular Vienna Waltzes, which is mainly straight ballroom. The choreography is more complex here, and revealing of character. One man (the night I saw it, it was Jared Angle –who looked sharper and more gentlemanly than ever to me) circles around his lady and she circles the opposite way on the inside of him. It’s a lovely effect and I think it shows they are going in opposite directions, not meeting mentally. The couple danced by Sebastien and Janie seemed the most romantic, at one point approaching one another while making expansive circles with their arms as they entered into an embrace. I do agree with Sir Alastair, though, that the couples need to work on their differentiation from one another in order to amp up the drama. It’s choreographically beautiful though and I hope they keep doing it in future seasons – -maybe not with the equally slow and somber Les Noces though!
(By the way, that program — Liebeslieder and Noces — program 8 — is showing twice more this week and I found it not really to be a program for newcomers to ballet. I brought my friend, Jonathan (who I haven’t seen since law school, don’t want to say how many years ago now ) and if he wasn’t an opera fan who could latch onto the chorals (which feature heavily in both dances on the program), I fear he might have been bored. I think you have to really be into the intricacies of choreography to appreciate it. If you’re new to ballet, or bringing someone new, see Programs 9 and 10 this week — both containing more dramatic, lively dances.)