Tuesday September 14, 2010 - Nothing could have pleased me more than to watch Balanchine's immortal SERENADE being performed by the magnificent dancers of the New York City Ballet as the opening work of their first Autumn season. An Ernst Haas photograph of the choreographer above.
Getting ready for the performance, it was an odd sensation to put on 'real' clothes after spending 99% of the summer in my old faded cargo shorts and ratty sneakers. The plaza at Lincoln Center was buzzing with the comings and goings of the Fashion Week crowd, and the Met has hoisted a huge banner in anticipation of their upcoming new - and totally sold-out - RHEINGOLD. Inside,
Peter Martins welcomed us and then called on his principal dancers to step out, one by one, to vigorous applause. Only Benjamin Millepied was absent ("He's somewhere in France..." Peter told us, gesturing vaguely in the direction of Paris). Some of the dancers were in costume already; those who were not dancing this evening came in their street clothes. Peter has dedicated the Fall season to his principal artists, and their photos - by Henry Leutwyler - grace the walls of the 1st Ring Promenade. It was lovely to see them all ranged across the stage. Peter further announced that free champagne would be served during intermission and asked everyone to toast the principal dancers. Champagne in the evening makes me sleepy so I did not partake, but I certainly toast the dancers every single day. Paul Kolnik photo above: click to enlarge.
SERENADE is the ballet I have seen more times than any other, and it is the ballet I love above all else. I never tire of it and even now, some 35 years after seeing it for the first time, I still find it wonderfully fresh and compelling. Balanchine's switching of the order of the musical movements turns what might have been just a beautifully swirling series of dances into something far more poignant and illusive.
In tonight's performance, Faycal Karoui tended to push things a bit in the first movement ; the dancers sometimes seemed rushed in their phrasing. Later the tempos smoothed out and there was more time for breadth of movement, and of expression.
The corps danced beautifully; I love sweeping my opera glasses from one ballerina to another during this ballet and watching their quietly committed responses to the music. The four demi-solistes tonight were just delicious: Faye Arthurs, Alina Dronova, Lauren King and Georgina Pazcoguin.
Of the leading roles, Megan Fairchild's clarity of technique and her ever-maturing artistry were truly pleasing to behold, and Sara Mearns danced with thrilling amplitude. Over the years (decades, really) I have seen the three principal female roles of SERENADE danced by so many persuasive beauties, each convincing me at the time that her interpretation was the ideal. Megan and Sara tonight each seemed just right, and I loved watching them.
Janie Taylor's in-House SERENADE debut struck a particularly deep and resonant chord with me; ever since she stepped out as a mere slip of a girl fresh from SAB in Balanchine's LA VALSE she has brought a special quality of impetuous, unique glamour to everything she dances. She can seem - in the same phrase - both marvelously cool and unsettlingly passionate: a paradox, but there it is.
Having gone thru an injury and illness ordeal that would have defeated a ballerina of less resolve, Janie's performances always fascinate me. Tonight she created her role in a way that made the ballet seem so alive and so...important. Beautifully partnered by Charles Askegard in the second movement, Janie was well on her way to success; yet in the third and fourth movements, aided by the now-perfect pacing from Maestro Karoui, she took us to another world altogether. When the Taylor hair came cascading down, a frisson swept thru the House: how vulnerable she seemed suddenly.
And how beautifully Ask LaCour managed his three ballerinas in that fourth movement, whether simply walking across the stage in unison with Sara and Janie, or catching Megan as she flew into his arms, or - best of all - when the three women lay their heads against his chest. Then there's the passage where the four of them clasp hands in the center and swirl in a circle before whirling off individually to the four corners of the stage. How did Balanchine come up with that simple but oh-so-effective idea? I don't know, but I'm glad he did.
The audience seemed to agree with me that we'd seen something special: insistent applause and volleys of 'bravos' called the dancers out three times: the season is off to a wonderful start.
Who remembers GRAZIOSO? I certainly do. In this charming ballet set to music of Mikhail Glinka, Peter Martins provides four of the Company's virtuoso dancers with many opportunities to shine. In Paul Kolnik's photo above: Gonzalo Garcia, Andrew Veyette and Ashley Bouder. Ashley has a new costume for this revival (I prefer
The music of Giuseppe Verdi (above) - culled from his operas I VESPRI SICILIANI, I LOMBARDI and IL TROVATORE - propels the dancers thru the colorful Jerome Robbins extravaganza THE FOUR SEASONS, always a delightful finale to an NYCB evening. If the ballet is sometimes a bit silly and sometimes outright camp, the dancers know how to bring just the right touch of tongue-in-cheek wittiness to the stage. And Robbins demands bravura brilliance much of the time which these dancers deliver with ease.
Erica Pereira, Sean Suozzi and Christian Tworzyanski were a lively trio in Winter, followed by the one-and-only Jenifer Ringer giving a lovely performance in Spring where her cavalier, Jared Angle, danced his solo passages with impressive clarity. The quartet of bouncing boys - Giovanni Villalobos, Allen Peiffer, Ralph Ippolito and David Prottas - delighted the audience.
In Summer, one of my favorite partnerships at NYCB these days - Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar - looked magnificently grand and sexy and they danced so very well. When their 'season' ended, I wanted to call out "Could you do that again, please?"
But Antonio Carmena's faun had already signaled the approach of Autumn where Tonio, the brilliant and zesty Tiler Peck and the fantastical Joaquin de Luz went wild with spins and leaps, reaping repeated waves of applause as they tossed off balletic feats with total abandon.
Justin Peck's stately Janus sets the ballet in motion, and the four deities - Russell Janzen, Ellen Ostrom, Marika Anderson and Henry Seth - paraded around in their flowing capes. In Fall, several new female corps members were to be seen; we will have to put names to these pretty faces. It was good to see Antonio Carmena, Russell Janzen and Brittany Pollack all back onstage after bouts of injury - may they dance now in the best of health.
Overall it was one of the best audiences in recent seasons - until the end of Winter when some idiot woman in the 4th Ring suddenly decided that someone had 'stolen' her seat (she had clearly come to the wrong tier after intermission) and loudly proclaimed that she was going to find an usher and have the culprit ejected. Of course, we never saw her again - she's probably in Bellevue now, hopefully under sedation.