(photo of Liebslieder Walzer by Paul Kolnik, taken from Washington Post review).
New York City Ballet is closing out its Winter season — and first ever Classical season — this week. Tomorrow begins Balanchine’s masterpiece (imo), Jewels (which continues through Sunday); last week were two programs of mixed rep, which included Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer and Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, and Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering and West Side Story Suite.
Making his debut in Liebeslieder was corps member Justin Peck (headshot above by Paul Kolnik, from NYCB website); he danced the part that Nilas Martins is dancing in the photo at top, along with Jennie Somogyi (who is also in that photo). I thought they really did well, and they stood out the most to me of the four couples.
This ballet is divided into two sections: it begins with the ballroom section where the women are in ballgowns and dancing in regular heeled ballroom shoes, and the section section where they are in long skirts made of tulle, and toe shoes. The men remain in tuxedos throughout. Balanchine has said that in the first section, it is the couples who dance; in the second it is their souls.
And that sentiment is really beautiful. But I don’t see a real difference, except for the obvious — the women’s costumes and shoes. I still thought each section was lovely though, particularly the opening ballroom section, but that could be because I’m trained in ballroom.
Critics have also said that each couple is supposed to represent a man and woman at a different stage in their romantic lives (one couple was supposed to be young love — which I thought would be Justin and Jennie; another more mature love, etc. — so I thought Darci Kistler and Philip Neal). But I didn’t really see that — I thought at points Justin and Jennie represented young, sprightly love, but then at other points their movement is slower and more deliberate and less scoop-me-off-my-feet — and at one point he picks her up and carries her horizontally, as if she’s collapsed, either from fainting or from sleep or perhaps sickness? It’s a beautiful lift whatever it means. And then at points Darci will run playfully and let Philip chase her. It’s sweet and made me fall in love with them momentarily and become involved in their story. But it didn’t seem then like they were this more mature couple. Not that you can’t run and jump and be excited and playful if you’re not “the young ones” of course, but I mean, the couples didn’t really seem different to me. And the fact that I couldn’t discern any particular story behind any of their actions made me less involved in the ballet than I wanted to be. But I still found the movement and the music (Brahms Opus 52 and 65) relaxing and engaging. Maybe I need to see it a few more times.
Every time I see Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 on the program I think I’ve never seen this Balanchine / Tchiakovsky piece before, and then once it begins, I realize it is the ballet ABT calls Ballet Imperial. I think ABT has a set though, which resembles a palace, which makes it seem more “imperial.” At NYCB the stage is bare. This is the ballet with all the beautiful brises for the main man — the jumping from side to side with many beating together of the feet in the air. Here, that man was Stephen Hanna and he did an excellent job. Teresa Reichlen and Kathryn Morgan were the female leads. Hanna was most memorable to me though. Hanna partnered Reichlen very well, and I’m thinking he and Jared Angle are probably two of the strongest male partners in the company.
The Dances at a Gathering production on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 21) was the best I’ve ever seen of that ballet. SLSG favorite Gonzalo Garcia (!) was the guy in brown, and he did an excellent job. That character really sets the ballet in motion as, at the end of his opening solo, he looks out with a bit of nostalgia at the stage, surveying it, kind of preparing the audience for all of the characters who will appear on it — who seem to be people from his life, his memories. It’s like he’s taking you on a journey with him and Gonzalo set that up perfectly. And then everyone else was just so on! Maria Kowroski was the carefree, independent girl in green cutely shrugging off male onlookers, Jenifer Ringer and Abi Stafford were the younger, frolicking girls; when Jenifer partnered with Jared Angle those two did some of those lifts with the most sweep I’ve ever seen — the audience exclaimed practically in unison.
And Jared Angle was stunning with his tour jetes and his series of corkscrew jumps flowing right into the Russian folk-steps afterward. He is definitely one of the best men overall at NYCB right now — in terms of his technique, his form, his ability to both partner strongly and dance those bravura solos perfectly. You don’t think of him as a bravura dancer, and he’s not really — he’s more of a great partner, which is probably why I’m just now recognizing his brilliance, during this classical season where strong partnering is essential for being a successful romantic lead.
Sara Mearns was brilliant (again) as the dreamy, pensive woman in mauve, and I realized at one point what it is that makes her a favorite of mine. She was dancing alongside two other women — all three were partnered by men and they were all doing supported slides with the women in a dipped position, the men sliding the women across the floor like that. Well, the two other women immediately brought their free arm down at the beginning of the slide and held it in that position, which was pretty and created a nice line. But Sara brought hers down slowly and made a fuller, kind of half-circle motion, nearly brushing the floor with it. She doesn’t seem to strike poses so much as she is always moving and I think that’s what makes her so captivating — she’s always doing something, carrying out the line and extending the shape, and embellishing the music.
As for the other dancers: Antonio Carmena was very on with all of his jumps and turns, as was the fast-moving Megan Fairchild, and Jonathan Stafford and Amar Ramasar stood out in their roles as well. Amar always looks good in those strutting walks and that Russian folk-like movement Robbins uses in many of his ballets.
And that day ended with West Side Story Suite, which the audience went wild over. A woman behind me exclaimed that it was better than what she’d seen on Broadway. This ballet is always a romp, though I think it starts to lose some of its thrill the more times you see it. Still, I always love Andrew Veyette as the leader of the Jets and watching Georgina Pazcoguin do all those gorgeously high kicks and belt out the tune to America. I can’t imagine ever seeing anyone else in that role. And of course she gets loads of applause at curtain call. Benjamin Millepied danced Tony, which I’ve seen him dance before. He did fine, as always, but I wondered what Gonzalo might be like in this part?
Okay, on to Jewels!