Wednesday September 19, 2012 - New York City Ballet are celebrating the Balanchine/Stravinsky collaboration with a two-week festival as part of their Autumn 2012 season. After the first two weeks of the season, other ballets will enter the repertory but the Balanchine/Stravinsky ballets will remain very much in the mix. Tonight my friend Rob and I went to see the 'Greek' ballets: APOLLO, ORPHEUS and AGON. The casting was stellar, with several debuts adding to the excitement - although one anticipated piece of fresh casting didn't materialize: Ashley Bouder was to have debuted in AGON but she was replaced by Teresa Reichlen. Also in AGON, Maria Kowroski danced in place of Wendy Whelan.
The score of APOLLO continues to fascinate; the ballet, dating from 1928, is the oldest Balanchine work in the active repertoire and it seems vibrantly fresh every time I experience it. In the pit, Clothilde Otranto and the NYCB musicians created a detailed aural tapestry against which the quartet of dancers made the ballet speak to us with resplendant clarity yet again.
Chase Finlay gave a superb performance of the title-role; his technical prowess seems to be enhanced with each ongoing performance in his still-young career, and he has the otherworldly and far-seeing gaze of a young god with a sure destiny. Making their debuts as Calliope and Polyhymnia respectively, Rebecca Krohn and Teresa Reichlen seemed to me more gorgeous than ever. I felt a special satisfaction in watching Rebecca tonight, dancing her first season as a principal ballerina. I singled her out right after she started with the Company and, having watched her progress over the seasons, it was very pleasing to experience her dancing tonight. Tess looked ravishing, weaving elegant pirouettes into her solo which was filled with expressive dramatic detail. To watch Maria Kowroski as Terpsichore tonight was as wondrous a time as I have ever had at the ballet. About halfway thru the pas de deux with Chase Finlay, a subtle smile began to light up Maria's face. Yes, it must be heaven to dance this role and to dance it so marvelously.
The performance of APOLLO drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd, and Chase Finlay took a solo bow which was much-deserved.
ORPHEUS has always been a problematic work for me. Although I am a great admirer of Noguchi, I must say that at this point in time his costume designs for this ballet are looking quite dated. I suppose it would be bordering on blasphemy to suggest that they re-stage the piece but in a way I think that is the only way it's really going to speak to us today.
There's a lot of plastique in the movement and not an awful lot of dance; so the work calls for dancers whose bodies and faces are dramatic vessels in and of themselves. This we had in Sebastien Marcovici and Jonathan Stafford as Orpheus and the Dark Angel respectively. Sebastien, his face and hands quite mesmerizing as he expressed the bereft singer's grief, has just the right presence for this role. And I almost didn't recognize Jon, who looked so slender and intense as he moved with reptilian grace. Both men are new to these roles, and they were complimented by an exquisite portrayal of Euridyce by Janie Taylor whose vulnerability and sense of inner tension seemed ideal. The moment when Orpheus finally looks at his wife and she collapses was perfectly timed. This strong central trio maintained the atmosphere of the ballet and just the vision of Sebastien and Jon wandering thru the underworld was moving in and of itself.
Savannah Lowery was a wild, whirling Bacchante queen, Andrew Scordato a poetic Apollo, and Troy Schumacher a sprightly and youthful Satyr. But despite the excellent and committed work of all the dancers and a very fine traversal of the score under Andrews Sill's baton, this is a ballet that doesn't seem to grip audiences and, in my experience, never has. Perhaps it is a work of a certain time which is now passed.
AGON on the other had seemed vitally alive tonight and was both played (conductor Daniel Capps) and danced for all it was worth. And it's worth a great deal. Corpsmen Daniel Applebaum and Devin Alberda made the most of their opportunity in major roles, and Gretchen Smith (debut) and Amanda Hankes had the right touch of irony in the Gailliard. In one of her best roles, Teresa Reichlen was truly impressive. And Sean Suozzi's distinctive energy has an ideal outlet here; he made me think of Edward Villella tonight and that is no idle compliment. Tess and Sean are two of the Company's most generous and committed dancers; every time I see them I'm thankful they are dancing here.
To dance two iconic Balanchine pas de deux on a single evening must be a tremendous satisfaction for a ballerina, and when they are danced with such radiance as Maria Kowroski displayed tonight the result is simply magnificent. In both APOLLO and AGON, Maria stood at the pinnacle of both technique and artistry, and it was vastly pleasing to watch her move thru these sublimely structured and very different duets with thorough musicality and mind-boggling physical suppleness. The audience saluted her at the end of the AGON duet with a prolonged applause. Her AGON partner and paragon, Amar Ramasar, has become a veritable god of the dance as his time at NYCB has evolved. Ever-enhancing his technique, Amar has refined his stage presence and honed a distinctive place for himself in the long list of male dancers in the Company. And he seems always to be moving from strength to strength so that we not only savour each individual performance but have much to look forward to from him in the future. Tonight as he and Maria stepped forward to acknowledge the cheers, I felt yet again that this is a very exciting time to be at the ballet.
Seeing ORPHEUS again this evening put me very much in mind of my friend Kokyat and of the day we went to the Noguchi Museum.
APOLLO: Finlay, Kowroski, *Reichlen, *Krohn [Conductor: Otranto]
ORPHEUS: *Taylor, *Marcovici, *J. Stafford, *Lowery, *Scordato, *Schumacher, *Thew [Conductor: Sill]
AGON: Kowroski, Ramasar, Suozzi, Hankes, *Smith, Reichlen, *Alberda, Applebaum [Conductor: Capps]