Saturday May 10, 2008 - The same programme with the same dancers twice in one day. Reason to go twice: Wendy Whelan debuting in Balanchine's BUKAGU in addition to repeating her mysterious role in Ratmansky's RUSSIAN SEASONS. Equally attractive components of the day: Teresa Reichlen debuting in THE CHAIRMAN DANCES, Darci Kistler & Jared Angle in VALSE TRISTE - a favorite duet - and Tiler Peck, Damian Woetzel, Sara Mearns and a 'cast of thousands' in AMERICAN IN PARIS. I was upstairs for the matinee and downstairs for the evening. If they'd scheduled a midnight showing I would have done that too. The photo of Wendy is from Kyle Froman's book, IN THE WINGS.
Evan has written about the matinee performance for her blog DANCING PERFECTLY FREE. I love Evan's special perspective on things since her own dance training gives her a keen view of technical matters and a deeper understanding of and appreciation for what the dancers are called upon to do in a given ballet.
BUGAKU is a ballet that Wendy once named in an interview as something she would really like to dance. A few years back when it was revived she happened to come in the store and I said: "BUGAKU?" and she gave a wry smile and said "No...but I've learned it!" Fast-forward to a later series: I saw outside the theatre and said "BUGAKU?" and she laughed gently and said "Not yet!" And so today her wish and mine came true. Can you understand why I would want to be there twice?
Over the years that I've been going devotedly to NYC Ballet I've tried to define what it is about Wendy Whelan that so hypnotizes me. But more recently I've given up trying because it's indescribable, really. Musicality, clarity, strength, delicacy, mystery, allure, spirituality, refinement, vulnerability, humor, romance, grace and passion are all words that come to mind while watching her. She has all of that. And more. It's the "more" part that eludes me. And keeps me addicted.
All of the qualities listed above were part of Wendy's success in BUGAKU. Of course the ballet calls for incredible stretch and flexibility on the part of the woman. This was undoubtedly the most torrid rendition of the BUGAKU pas de deux I have seen. Wendy's elasticity and weightless quality allow Albert Evans to easily manipulate her into the uncanny poses. And manipulate her he does, with a sort of tender ruthlessness that had the audience watching the ritualistic de-flowering in a state of awed silence. Later, in a series of lifts it almost seemed like Wendy might float skyward. (Photo: Paul Kolnik).
In their opening solos, Wendy and Albert had each defined their characters: Wendy with a refined, demure quality that also has a gentle air of irony and Albert in his stylized macho posturing with an interesting trace of vulnerability thrown in. These elements were sustained in the pas de deux even as their passion reached the boiling point. Wendy and Albert sustained the sexual tension right to the final moment of the ballet and as the curtain fell there was a collective ripple of sighs throughout the house and the man behind me summed it all up with his quiet "Wow!" as the applause began.
The four attendant couple have some very complex partnering of their own to deal with as well as the manipulation of the gauzy trains of the women's costumes. At the evening performance Wei and I were afforded the added benefit of watching Faye Arthurs and Kyle Froman showing us what Balanchine had devised for these couples and to be dazzled yet again by Faye's effortless, silky extension.
My admiration for BUGAKU and its evocative score has grown steadily over the years and today's double viewing set it clearly in my top echelon of Balanchine favorites. Wendy and Albert seemed very happy to have shared their success but BUGAKU only took up half of their dancing day because after a break they reappeared in another joint delight, Ratmansky's RUSSIAN SEASONS.
This was a very long programme but I would not have wanted to give up any of the three ballets in the middle section. Damian Woetzel, getting down to the wire at NYC Ballet, was his genial self in Wheeldon's colorful AMERICAN IN PARIS with an exceptional performance from Tiler Peck and a joyously sexy beret-girl from Sara Mearns. Georgina Pazcoguin, as always, was a scene-stealer with her sultry street-walker.
In VALSE TRISTE, Darci Kistler and Jared Angle look wonderful together and their shared sense of the music and of the illusionary quality of their encounter made the short ballet very attractive.
Teresa Reichlen has another very congenial role as she dances her way into new repertoire: THE CHAIRMAN DANCES. This visually splendid ballet about the 'Hollywood" aspects of Madame Mao's younger days has a brilliant, witty John Adams score. Tess was at her most relaxed and playful while her pretty facial expressions indicated she was always "ready for my close-up!" Among the girls, Kaitlyn Gilliland and Briana Shepherd seemed especially captivating.
RUSSIAN SEASONS is a ballet I have enjoyed many times but today's performances made me appreciate it all the more. Aside from its folksy humor and underlying sense of spirituality, it is also a very demanding ballet technically. I guess in the past I'd been too wrapped up in trying to determine what RUSSIAN SEASONS is 'about' to see beyond themes and motifs to the combinations the dancers are called upon to deliver as they tell their stories. As the Leonid Desyatnikov score and Mr. Ratmansky's choreography have become more and more familiar over the past two years I find that I anticipate certain passages. Seeing it twice in one day, the ballet seemed to me to be one of the Company's strongest current offerings. (Photo: Amar, Sean, Rachel & Jon)
Violinist Arturo Delmoni and mezzo Irina Rindzuner along with Clotilde Otranto's expertise on the podium made the score more mysterious and compelling than ever; Ms. Rindzuner was is especially fine voice with some amazingly sustained piano singing.
Albert's spacious dancing of his opening phrases captured my imagination right from the start of the matinee performance and the fascination with RUSSIAN SEASONS carried right thru to the final curtain in the evening. Albert's performance shows us both his partnering perfection and his generous heart as well as his velvety technique. Wendy, in a filmed interview being shown in the lobby, remarks on the difficulties of this ballet - difficulties which she and her fellow dancers turn to their advantage with their generous, expressive performances. She and Albert reign over the community and gently send them off to their dreams at the end. Rachel Rutherford's wonderfully detailed performance has continued to deepen emotionally each time I've seen it. Abi Stafford has some really complex speed-of-light footwork and rises into unexpectedly sustained balances; she seems to revel in the demands and in her partnership with Adam Hendrickson. Adam and Antonio Carmena have some gently competitive passages which they dance with flair. Jon Stafford's character has a humorous aspect but also an air of tender sincerity and Sean Suozzi continues to impress with his committed, full-out style. Glenn Keenan and Alina Dronova bring their distinctive personalities to the ensemble. In a most impressive performance today, Rebecca Krohn (in Red) danced her opening solo with commanding technique and a vibrant dramatic edge; later her duet with Amar Ramasar further enhanced her success - they make a very intriguing partnership.
After a long and arduous day, the dancers basked in the audience's warm applause at the close of the evening's performance; Albert's spontaneous, courtly welcoming of Ms. Rindzuner for her curtain call was a nice moment, and the day ended with everyone in good spirits as the diminutive Ms. Otranto gazed up admiringly at Albert and Amar.