Above: Sterlng Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Justin Peck's PAZ DE LA JOLLA. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Saturday Febuary 2, 2013 evening - Ballets by two of today's finest choreographers book-ended an enigmatic Balanchine rarity at New York City Ballet this evening. The Company's newest addition to the repertory, Justin Peck's PAZ DE LA JOLLA opened the evening, and Alexei Ratmansky's 2008 masterpiece CONCERTO DSCH was the programme finale. In between, George Balanchine's 1974 duet VARIATIONS POUR UNE PORTE ET UN SOUPIR was given a marvelous rendering by Maria Kowroski and Daniel Ulbricht.
Above: Tiler Peck (far left) with the corps de ballet and Sterling and Amar in the final moments of PAZ DE LA JOLLA. Photo by Paul Kolnik. Click on the image to enlarge.
The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu was a child-prodigy violinist who had a natural gift for music but who flunked out of the Prague Conservatory, being cited for "incorrigible negligence". He pursued his performing and composing career independently, eventually moving to Paris where his wider range of influences (jazz, Impressionism) found free rein. Martinu fled war-torn Europe in 1941; he remained in the USA until 1953, teaching at Mannes and at Yale and composing prodigiously. He wrote - among other things - six symphonies, and in 1950 he crafted the Sinfonietta La Jolla for that California city's Musical Arts Society. Martinu returned to Europe in 1953 and died in Switzerland in 1959.
Justin Peck's PAZ DE LA JOLLA is a beach ballet. With what is already becoming characteristic of his style, Justin's musicality and his deft handling of the corps de ballet make a vivid impression here as the dancers, clad in 50s era beachwear, evoke a day on the shore at La Jolla. Tiler Peck is the allegro girl, spinning thru demanding combinations with breezy charm, whilst the inevitable boy-meets-girl scenario finds the suavely handsome Amar Ramasar courting Sterling Hyltin who is clad in an elegant summer-white frock. After a whirlwind opening movement, there's a darkness-at-noon feel as Sterling and Amar stand in a pool of light. We assume an adagio will commence, but instead they sit and watch the sea together: the corps, having donned flowing, gossamer tunics over their bathing costumes, undulate in wavelike patterns. The adagio does eventually transpire, as Sterling and Amar seem to wade along the water's edge. They eventually doze off. The ballet's final movement features a series of brilliant and brief duets for the various corps couples - an excellent touch this - and a celebratory climax.
Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung created the costumes and Mark Stanley the lighting for this attractive ballet which signals another advance in the choreographer's journey. I now have a craving to see Justin explore something deeper and darker; let's see where his path takes him next.
Above: Maria Kowroski as The Door and Daniel Ulbricht as The Sigh in Balanchine's VARIATIONS POUR UNE PORTE ET UN SOUPIR. Photo: Paul Kolnik.
In PORTE ET SOUPIR, the Musique concrète score by Pierre Henry inspired one of Balanchine's most inventive and provocative ballets. At its 1974 premiere, the ballet reportedly left the audience baffled and there is a famous story that Lincoln Kirstein, seated in the audience, booed during the curtain calls. He later explained to Mr. B: "That was me. I thought we could use a controversy." PORTE ET SOUPIR was on the programme the very first night I ever attended a performance at New York City Ballet: November 17th, 1974. Karin von Aroldingen and Victor Castelli danced the leading roles. I have since seen it only a handful of times since, and I always enjoy it immensely.
Tonight, clad in a stage-filling cape of billowing black silk, the imperious Ms. Kowroski deploys her breath-taking extension to astonishing effect while timing her angular gestures to the sound of a door opening and closing on un-oiled hinges. Her mastery of the movement and her ice-goddess hauteur are mesmerizing. Daniel Ulbricht, in clay-like body paint with a shock of hair standing on edge, gave a remarkable performance as the hapless Sigh. His muscular, supple frame wrapped in a grey body stocking, Daniel's athleticism and his skill in sustaining improbable poses created a striking counterpoise to the glacial, forbidding presence of Ms. Kowroski. As the ballet progressed, the audience were drawn into the shifting dynamic between these two incredible dancers. In the end, Maria manipulates her vast cloak into a sinister stormcloud which eventually envelops Daniel entirely. The two rightly drew an ethusiastic reception from the crowd for their thoroughly impressive perfomance of these demanding roles.
The colorful CONCERTO DSCH, set to Shostakovich second piano concerto, is - along with RUSSIAN SEASONS - my favorite Ratmansky ballet to date. Though abstract in feel, there are threads of a narrative woven into the piece. Conductor Daniel Capps and the orchestra gave a finely-honed rendering of the score, with pianist Cameron Grant summoning depths of emotion in his playing of the simple and utterly moving melody of the concerto's adagio which pierces the heart as the composer shifts the harmonics to poignant effect. Janie Taylor's gentle lyricism in the pas de deux wafted her intoxicating perfume into the house as the serenely strong Tyler Angle swept the ethereal ballerina overhead in dreamlike lifts. By contrast, the nimble footwork and sly craftiness of Ashley Bouder - and her flashing manege of flying leaps - impressed yet again as she toyed with her balances and inspired her zesty cavaliers - Troy Schuacher and Joaquin de Luz - to misbehave. Troy, who had stepped into the ballet literally at the last moment earlier in the week, moved fluently thru the combinations; and Joaquin, given a gift of a role by Mr. Ratmansky, passed the gift on to us with with brilliant generosity.