Sunday October 9, 2011 - Charles Askegard (photo: Rosier) gave his farewell performance at New York City Ballet this afternoon. A dancer renowned for both his magnificent partnering and elegant style, Charles's departure leaves a place in the New York dance scene that will be difficult to fill. But for now at least we need only to say "A bientot" and not "Au revoir": Charles will continue as a force in the dance world as he and former ABT principal ballerina Michele Wiles team up to create Ballet Next, due to debut at The Joyce on November 21st.
Above: Charles Askegard guesting in NUTCRACKER with Maria Kowroski, photo by Chris Clark. The Kowroski/Askegard partnership has been an ongoing joy for NYCB-goers over the past several seasons. This afternoon they danced together in the DIAMONDS pas de deux and in the final movement of Balanchine's EPISODES.
Farewells tend to evoke memories, and I have so many from Chuck's performances which have always remain clearly in my mental scrapbook. One notable Kowroski/Askegard triumph that I'd always hoped to see again was Helgi Tomasson's PRISM (Paul Kolnik photo above). Wendy Whelan has been partnered by superb cavaliers in her many luminous renderings of the SYMPHONY IN C adagio, but there was one special night when Balanchine, Bizet and Terpsichore all smiled in unison on the Whelan/Askegard partnership. Of the zillion or so Sugar Plum pas de deux I've seen, a performance with the rare pairing of Charles with Abi Stafford stands out as a testament to the art of ballet partnering.
During his NYCB career the many moods of the Balanchine repertoire were celebrated in Chuck's performances in STARS & STRIPES, SERENADE, FIREBIRD, FOUR TEMPERAMENTS, CORTEGE HONGROIS and LIEBESLIEDER WALTZES...
...and he was unforgettable in ROBERT SCHUMANN'S DAVIDSBUNDLERTANZE, above with Kyra Nichols.
Charles's Balanchine choices for today's gala gave us Maria Kowroski first in a tutu (DIAMONDS) and then in a leotard (EPISODES); she and Charles danced as one and the high emotional temperature of the occasion was marked by shared smiles between the dancers. Though it seemed to me that Maria was on the verge of tears, she danced radiantly in what must have been a bittersweet performance for her. They have always looked sensational together and the audience saluted their partnership with sustained applause as Maria swept into a deep curtsey to her cavalier.
Three other excellent partnerships made EPISODES very impressive to watch today. Abi Stafford with Tyler Angle, and Teresa Reichlen with Ask LaCour have danced this ballet earlier in the season and they were all looking super this afternoon, An exciting match-up of Jennie Somogyi with Sebastien Marcovici gave a fresh slant to Concerto.
In an uncharacteristic exploration of the dark side, Charles has had a revelatory success in Robbins' IN MEMORY OF... (Kolnik photo, above) which he chose to be part of his farewell programme today; I've seen him in this ballet with Darci Kistler, Kyra Nichols and Wendy Whelan and he is just spectacular in it. (Jerome Robbins personally coached Askegard in the role).
Charles Askegard & Wendy Whelan in IN MEMORY OF... Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Today Wendy was extrordinary both in her dancing and her richly detailed characterization of a young woman stalked by Death. Wendy fights a tremendous battle with Death but in the end she cannot withstand his brutal assault. She later appears -gorgeously - as an ethereal spirit. Jared Angle is passionate and tender as her mortal lover. Charles Askegard as the Death figure gave a sinister, relentless performance, developing a hot-wired intensity in his long duet with his victim. The corps are first seen as villagers and then as angels. They danced beautifully, the girls so pretty in their muted pastel dresses.
As the dancers were bowing I wondered who will succeed to this role on which Charles has put an indelible stamp. I must mention also Kurt Nikkanen's excellent playing of the Berg concerto with Andrews Sill on the podium.
The gala ended with WESTERN SYMPHONY, Balanchine's cowboy ballet (Kolnik photo, above). This has been a classic Askegard role for several seasons and he danced it today - opposite a sexy and provocative Sara Mearns - with a mixture of laid-back charm and easy bravura. The cast also featured outstanding performances from a vivacious Rebecca Krohn with Jon Stafford (on a whirl with his patented air turns), and Adam Hendrickson's handsome daydreaming cowpoke with Megan Fairchild as his pretty, witty Muse. They danced brilliantly.
Then the big royal send-off for Mr. Askegard commenced as a parade of ballerinas each exchanged large bouquets for a hug and kiss from the well-beloved cavalier. The Company's male principals all swarmed on together and enveloped Charles in a congratulatory huddle. As the curtain rose and fell several times, Chuck tried in vain to get his ballerinas to come forward and bow with him. But for once the peerless partner was left on his own to face the music: a standing ovation and waves of affection sweeping across the footlights.