Tuesday January 30, 2007 - This performance at NYCB was dedicated to the memory of Melissa Hayden. Beautiful sprays of flowers stood at either side of the proscenium and before LIEBESLIEDER Peter Martins stepped before the curtain and talked briefly about Hayden; then he introduced Jacques D'Amboise. Jacques was greeted with great warmth by the audience and gave an endearing, somewhat rambling tribute to Melissa Hayden. LIEBESLIEDER and STARS & STRIPES were two ballets to which Hayden had strong ties. Members of Hayden's family were among the audience. Jacques became quite emotional and the end of his story was very touching.
The evening opened with a very pleasing performance of SQUARE DANCE, a small Balanchine masterpiece set to the enchanting and very dance-worthy music of Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli. The corps of twelve included some of the brightest young faces in the Company; there was a nice mixture of three blonde girls with three dark-haired beauties; I found myself focusing on the very attractive pairing of Rachel Piskin & Giovanni Villalobos. In the difficult ballerina role, Megan Fairchild was a joy to watch, especially in the clearly defined allegro footwork of the final section. Sebastien Marcovici partnered her beautifully and danced his andante solo with great musicality, using his long arms and big hands with a magical, mesmerizing effect.
I spent the intermission mentally preparing myself for LIEBESLIEDER; this unusual ballet calls for great concentration in order to derive the full benefit of its poetry. As the house lights dimmed, I was in a state of calm readiness. Peter's appearance and Jacques' speech broke my mood - I do wish they'd done the tribute before STARS & STRIPES instead - and the extroversion & humor that Jacques brought to his homage took me out of my LIEBESLIEDER reverie. Then the ballet finally started and the oddest noises were coming from the audience. It took me a moment to realize that a wheelchair-bound orchestra patron was in a state of distress and was talking and moaning loudly. This went on for a few minutes until it became exasperating; I nearly got up and walked out. But finally they wheeled the poor person out; too late, though, because the whole first half of LIEBESLIEDER went for nought. As always, there was something of an exodus during the brief pause after the first part of this work; I think some people just don't have the patience for this long & subtle ballet. But when the curtain rose again, my mood was restored and eight of our outstanding dancers gave us a magnificent experience. Charles Askegard, Nilas Martins, Nikolaj Hubbe and Jared Angle all looked so handsome in their elegant costumes and their refined manners. But this is the 'ballet of the ballerinas' if there ever was one, and I expect I shall never see this line-up again. I will only name them since it would take hours to describe their performances: Darci Kistler, Kyra Nichols, Miranda Weese and Wendy Whelan. After such dancing, words seem woefully inadequate.
By way of radical contrast, the evening ended with a dazzling STARS & STRIPES in which three of our top soloists led the Regiments and the all-American stellar duo of Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette capped the evening in spectacular fashion. Sterling Hyltin (in the Kolnik photo, left) was incredible; she always dances well but tonight she was on astonishing form with her turns and extension flashing, her balances uncanny and her full-out but delicate jumps so alive. She swept away as the next Regiment took the stage. Abi Stafford's lively & spirited dancing is always so musical, and she flashed the Stafford smile to illuminate the theatre. Then the boys came on and Daniel Ulbricht left Wei & me dumbfounded with his indescribable flurries of air turns to the knee which he delivers with utter ease and a sharp salute. Throughout the Third Campaign, Daniel delighted us with his revelatory performance. The boys were hard-pressed to keep up with him. Bouder & Veyette then appeared and let fly with all manner of brilliant feats and gave everything that extra pizzazz. Bouder plays with the music and with her unparalleled technique, her wry smile and ingratiating wit keeping the house captivated. Andrew is the all-American boy next door who just happens to be able to dance up a storm. He manages to look elegant at the same time - a paradox - but there it is. The audience responded with enormous enthusiasm and Ashley & Andrew were called before the curtain three times, which is an increasingly rare occurrence tribute these days.
This was the programme insert announcing the Hayden tribute. She had stopped dancing shortly before I started going but I have watched the Six Balanchine Ballerinas video dozens of times and you can tell a lot about her on that tape: not just the clips of her dancing or even so much the things she says in the interview segments; it is the scenes of her teaching and coaching her students that I find most moving. Her deep affection for the piece (SERENADE) and the way in which she urges the girls to find and express themselves as dancers is quite touching. Jacques D'Amboise I did see many times and his witty, passionate and tender tribute to Hayden was so heartfelt; I think even people that never saw them dance were moved.
And finally, from the current Playbill, Sara Leland writes about the ballets we saw tonight (click to enlarge). I am not sure how many people in the audience realized the performance would be in Hayden's honor or how many more might have shown up had they known. It was a good-sized house and if I am not mistaken Gillian Murphy, Ethan Stiefel and Paloma Herrera were seated in the orchestra section. So it was a starry night in so many ways.
The photo at the top of this item is by Paul Kolnik, from LIEBESLIEDER.