NYCB Brings Back “The Magic Flute” and Ashley Bouder Astounds in “Serenade”

On Thursday evening, New York City Ballet performed for the first time since 1982 Peter Martins’s The Magic Flute (pictured below – both photos by Paul Kolnik). But first on was Balanchine’s Serenade, with Rebecca Krohn (in the photo at left, the ballerina the farthest left) debuting in the role of the “angel.” Jenifer Ringer (center) was the “lost girl,” and Ashley Bouder (on the right) the dancer who dominates the first section.

Every time I see this ballet I see something new and though she wasn’t debuting in the role, this was my first time seeing Ashley Bouder. She completely blew me away and brought to life a “character” I never really even noticed before. I use quotes because of course Balanchine insisted that this is a story-less ballet and he didn’t create any such characters, but over time viewers have come to create their own story and now, for example, everyone calls the ballerina whose actions seem to bless and save the woman who falls and seems distraught over a man, the “dark angel.” Anyway, I realized for the first time when I saw Ashley dance that her character is supposed to be the A-student, the one who can do all the astounding feats and just flies all over the stage in those jetes. I kept thinking of Natalia Osipova. Wow. That’s always been my least favorite part of the ballet – that “class section” at the beginning; I always long for the final, more poetic part when what can most be read as a story takes place, with the angel and a male figure representing to me blind justice save the tragic woman’s soul.

Anyway, for the first time I really didn’t want the first part to end. Ashley was just so spellbinding. It wasn’t just that her jetes were so stunning though; it was that she created a character who ate up the stage, but not out of competitiveness and need for attention, but simply because she was so good she couldn’t help it. That’s what her dancing conveyed to me anyway, and then I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Rebecca Krohn did very well in her debut as the angel. Only thing was that she was so much shorter than tall Ask la Cour (in photo above) that when followed him from behind with her hands wrapped around his eyes, she really had to stretch.

Jonathan Stafford also made his debut in this ballet, as the “distraught girl’s boyfriend,” if you want to call him that. I thought he danced very well, but I think I personally prefer Charles Askegard in this role because I see that man as tantalizing her, tormenting her, and responsible for her downfall, and there is just something innately cocky about Askegard. Jonathan Stafford is too sweet :)

Okay, so The Magic Flute. NYCB as I said hasn’t performed this in a while and it’s kind of obvious why: it just doesn’t seem to fit at all in their repertoire. It was a short story ballet filled with slapstick and cutesy characters. It was danced very well – and Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette are two of the company’s best actors and they did in my mind as much as could possibly be done it. Everyone did well, actually, and it seems the dancers enjoyed the opportunity to do something they never get a chance to.

The story bears no relation whatsoever to the Mozart opera. It’s the story of a farm girl (Megan) who likes a peasant boy (Andrew) but she is betrothed to this incredibly hilariously dorky older man, the town’s Marquis (played well by Adam Hendrickson).This is where most of the slaptick comes in – in trying to seduce them the Marquis falls all over the village women, goes to kiss Megan’s hand but ends up with Andrew’s, literally falls all over poor Megan, etc. etc. Eventually, a strange hooded character indicates to the peasant boy that everything will be all right, he will get the girl, but he must watch for something to fall from the sky. That something is a flute, which comes bearing a huge sign for all the audience to see: “If you play this flute, people will dance against their will.” Audience cracked up at this of course.

So, Andrew grabbed the flute and tried it out on his friends, realizing it works! I have to say Andrew’s flute playing was very believable. Of course the flutist is in the orchestra pit but damn did it look like Andrew was making that music!

So, now every time the Marquis tried to grab Andrew and toss him off Megan, Andrew would starting playing the flute and the Marquis would start hopping around like a madman. Angry at his lack of control, he pulls his men on peasant boy, eventually tries to get the court involved, and soon everyone is madly hopping about. There’s no choreography for the uncontrollable dancing – everyone just hops about punching the air at random. Eventually everything works itself out and Andrew and Megan end up happily together.

The costumes were cute and the sets were very well done (it was suggested at intermission that ABT might want to hire set designer David Mitchell for their productions), I’m just not sure this ballet really belongs at NYCB. But it’s nice for a change.

The program ended with Balanchine’s patriotic Stars and Stripes set to Sousa. Savannah Lowery had the lead in the second section – the “second campaign” – and she fell during her stage entrance. It looked like just a slip but then she didn’t dance her part full out at all – jetes were very low and she looked very concerned going on pointe. It soon became clear she’d really hurt herself when she didn’t return for her solo seconds later. The company didn’t have time to replace her with another ballerina right then, so the corps members just kind of looked on and sweetly smiled as they stood still during what should have been Lowery’s solo. It was kind of like that experimental Jerome Bel film where the camera focuses solely on the corps members while the Swan Lake music swells.

Anyway, by the end, after the fourth campaign when all campaigns return, she’d been replaced by trooper Gwyneth Muller, who my companion noticed seemed not to have much makeup on. There probably aren’t too many emergencies like this where a dancer who thinks she’s done for the night (she’s played Megan’s mother in The Magic Flute) but hasn’t yet left the building has to get in costume and run back out onstage for a main solo! Anyway, she did well. I hope Savannah’s okay though.

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