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8.6.17

New York City Ballet: Balanchine, Ratmansky, Peck


Sterling Hyltin and Joaquin De Luz in Odessa, New York City Ballet (photo by Paul Kolnik)

New York City Ballet is back in town for a week-long run at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Its first program, seen on Tuesday night, represents the best the company has to offer, past and present. It is one of the most beautiful and diverting mixed programs seen in recent memory. With no sets, only glowing colors illuminating the side drops and back wall, this selection of choreography put all its attention, and ours, on the movement of bodies.

The evening began with two choreographies by George Balanchine, NYCB's founding ballet master. In Square Dance Balanchine made a brilliant connection between classical and folk dance styles. Selections of Baroque concertos by Vivaldi and Corelli (Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op. 3 no. 10, by the former, and Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, no. 12, by the latter), where American folk music traces some of its rhythmical, repetitive roots, offered striking contrasts of tempo and spirit. The musical performance, complete with actual harpsichord on the continuo part, was conducted sensitively by Andrews Sill.

In particular the alternation of refrain and solo episodes of different characters in ritornello movements worked beautifully for dancing. Six men and six women, costumed in white and gray dresses or T-shirts and shorts, made paired patterns that recalled the inward-facing format of square dancing. (Originally Balanchine had a caller on stage who yelled out the moves to the dancers, a more explicit reference to square dancing, wisely excised in later years.) Balanchine kept the movements mostly classical in style, with a few simplified steps as a nod toward the square dance. Two principal dancers, Megan Fairchild spirited and elegant paired with a slightly rough Chase Finlay, were an ardent duo in the pas de deux accompanied by lovely violin and other solos in the first plangent slow movement. Fairchild's series of slow pirouettes en pointe in the Vivaldi slow movement were exquisite.

Balanchine's Tarantella was the odd man out in this program, a cutesy but charming bagatelle included to feature two younger, non-principal dancers. Erica Pereira and Spartak Hoxha, in Neapolitan peasant costumes (designed by Karinska), burst onto the scene waving to the audience. The choreography is breathless, an almost constant movement of arms and legs, which the dancers pulled off with a smile. Hoxha was so enthusiastic with the tambourine he played at one point that he knocked two of the metal zills loose from it. The music, Louis Moreau Gottschalk's Grand Tarentelle for Piano and Orchestra, op. 67, is a semi-corny Romantic finger-buster, reconstructed and orchestrated by Broadway orchestrator Hershy Kay, Balanchine's favored arranger, which challenged guest pianist Susan Walters at times.


Other Reviews:

Sarah L. Kaufman, New York City Ballet’s knockout punch is delivered at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, June 7)

Alastair Macaulay, For the Couples in This Alexei Ratmansky Ballet, Love Is Not Enough (New York Times, May 5)

Apollinaire Scherr, Ratmansky premiere, Lincoln Center, New York — tremendous (Financial Times, May 5)

Siobhan Burke, No More Gang Rape Scenes in Ballets, Please (New York Times, May 15)

The second half of the program featured new works by NYCB's most talented living choreographers. The company premiered Alexei Ratmansky's Odessa just last month, and it is one of the best new short ballets seen in recent years. Ratmanksy drew his score from the 1990 Soviet film Sunset, a set of tango- and klezmer-infused musical cues by Leonid Desyatnikov. The subject matter came from the same source, Isaac Babel's play about Jewish gangsters in Odessa after the Russian Revolution, in turn based on his collection of short stories The Odessa Tales. The ballet's story does not seem to line up with the play exactly, but the air of jealousy, abuse, and desperation does. Keso Dekker designed the colorful tango costumes, glowing like stained glass under Mark Stanley's lighting.

Ratmanksy follows three couples, who are first to enter the scene. One of them, danced here by Sterling Hyltin and Joaquin de Luz with tender grace, is not happy. Ratmanksy's choreography is generally busy and rife with ideas, and that profusion of ideas here obscures the story line, unclear even after going back on Wednesday night to see this program a second time. That impenetrability does not make the ballet any less powerful, and some of the tableaux are breath-taking in their originality and beauty. The male dancers at one point become like puppeteers, lifting Hyltin and de Luz into the air in their pas de deux (pictured above), which degenerates into a gang attack scene, accompanied to heart-sickening circus music. The score, dotted by charming solos for tuba, accordion, and the space-age sound of the flexatone, provides many delights.

Justin Peck showed a lot of chutzpah in taking on Aaron Copland's music for Rodeo, set originally to an evergreen choreography by Agnes de Mille, even if it was the symphonic version with the "Ranch House Party" movement excised. Rather than a single Cowgirl among a group of boisterous cowboys, Peck's mostly male dancers seem like a bunch of athletes, with costumes recalling gymnasts, racers, or soccer players. They line up at the start line on one side of the stage to open the ballet, running across the bare stage, and when not exercising together, they walk around casually, leaning on each other.

Into this all-male gymnasium setting comes the delightful Tiler Peck (no relation to the choreographer), a gymnast who seems to like physical activity as much as the men. One of them, danced by the choreographer himself, finally notices her, dancing with her to the "Saturday Night Waltz" music. Although touching, this duet somehow did not seem as tender or sincere as the dance for the five men of the blue-costumed "soccer team" in the "Corral Nocturne" that preceded it. Male and female worlds were reconciled in the concluding "Hoe-Down," a whirlwind of athletic activity given its start humorously by Justin Peck, who knelt down at the stage edge and pulled on a cord, like that of a lawnmower, which cued a drum roll.

This program repeats on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Opera House. We will review the second program offered by NYCB on Friday evening.

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