Wednesday May 30, 2007 - The revival of BUGAKU was the centerpiece of this all-Balanchine evening at New York City Ballet. As Susan pointed out, this was a programme which displays Balanchine's enormous range in matters of music, style and content. We go from the wafting beauty of SERENADE thru the stylized and erotic BUGAKU and emerge at the end with a bunch of riotous sailors while cannons thunder as the curtain falls on UNION JACK. It's an exciting journey if you let yourself take the ride. The orchestra sounded great last night, Maestro Kaplow giving us a weighty and plush SERENADE and evoking the quirky dynamics of Mayuzumi's score for BUGAKU - a score which can be pretty tantalizing. Then Nicolette Fraillon came on with a dynamic reading of UNION JACK that swept the evening to a joyous conclusion.
SERENADE has come a long way since this photograph of Balanchine in the midst of creating his masterpiece was taken. Over at The Winger, Gwyneth Muller has provided a beautiful glimpse of the moody blue atmosphere backstage just before curtain-rise. Dear Gwyneth was among the veritable feast of beautiful ballerinas onstage in this piece which is ideal for corps-watching. The demi-solistes were wonderfully contrasted: Alina Dronova, Ashley Laracey, Geogina Pazcoguin & Rachel Piskin. In a brief solo passage, Megan LeCrone was strikingly precise in her pirouettes. The two Katies - Bergstrom & Morgan - looked angelic. I could go on and on. Darci Kistler seemed a bit earth-bound on her first entrance but she built the role into a full lyric drama, using her beautiful hands, turns and hair to make the woman live and breathe. It seemed to me that the role takes all of Darci's technique and concentration at this point but the result is very moving; Wei was especially taken with her. It's great having Charles Askegard back, lithe and skimming the stage in airy jumps and partnering like a charm. Ashley Bouder's spectacular dancing illuminates the stage each time she sails across: whether lingering on her balances - tempting the music - or hurtling into Stephen Hanna's arms with sheer abandon, Bouder is breathtaking here. Stephen looks very slender and elegant, hopefully ready to resume his very promising career after what seems like a long hiatus. The ravishing beauty of Sara Mearns is such that it almost wouldn't matter how she dances; the nice thing is that 'beauty is as beauty does' and Sara's dancing creates a world of luxuriant arabesques and lush port de bras - all the time daring you to take your eyes off that remarkable face.
BUGAKU with its colorful set and ritualistic atmosphere is a ballet I have liked but not loved since I first saw it years ago with Patricia McBride & Edward Villella. But after this performance my estimation of it soared, thanks to Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans. Bejeweled and in her flower-petal tutu, Maria's delicate manners and stylized gestures in her opening solo were presented with great control and hypnotic refinement. Albert's first solo has the feel of a caged tiger, a slightly brutal quality lurking just under the surface. Returning in airy robes for the 'bridal duet' the dancers are stripped down and engage in a stylized erotic pas de deux which calls for other-worldly extension and stretch from the woman and god-like partnering skills from the man. Having seen dozens of gorgeous Kowroski performances over the seasons, I found this a real eye-opener: I thought it was impossible to esteem her any more highly but this was really sublime. I vividly recall Albert's first performance of this role, stepping in for Jock on very short notice a few years ago. Here he was at the zenith of his powers; it's easy to love Albert because he's sexy & beautiful but beyond that there's his imperial, velvety technique and serene command as a partner. During the calls, the dazzling star quality of Maria & Albert filled the theatre.
UNION JACK is fun because EVERYONE is onstage...it's a great piece to watch for favorite corps dancers and to see the soloists pressed into service to fill the ranks for the opening gathering of the clans. There's Faye, and Pauline, and the fetching Sophie Flack. Sara Mearns steals your opera glasses in the second row. Elizabeth Walker...Amar...Ana...Craig Hall...Glenn...everyone is there. In Philip Neal's tall regiment, the towering Ask LaCour & William Lin-Yee seem like giants in their bearskin hats. Adam Hendrickson can make you look away from Damian Woetzel in Dress MacLeod and that's saying something. I loved seeing Abi & Ben Millepied together briefly. Yvonne Borree's sporran flew off, Wendy took a slip-slide almost into a full split but recovered swiftly. Nilas Martins & Kyra Nichols turned their dance hall number into a delight, Kyra's comic flair a fun contrast to her wicked Carabosse. Wendy, Adam and Aaron Severini were on a romp as sailors and Damian was astonishing in his solos, the audience lavishing applause. Then Tess Reichlen capped the evening with her brilliant Wren, her extension off the charts and making the role her own.
I loved seeing Edwaard Liang in the audience but would have loved it even more if he'd been onstage.