The Ballet Season Might Be Better Than Christmas

New York City Ballet May 2 and 4

Yes, I know I’m late. Sorry about that.

Serenade

Right off the bat, I have to tell you that these performances were my first Serenades, first Firebirds, first Kammermusik no. 2, and first DGV: danse a grande vitesse. If you’ve seen these pieces a million times, my opinion may sound like a three year old who has just figured out that spinning in a circle really fast makes you giggly: very excited and mildly insane. I would apologize for that, but, again, I’m excited and insane, so apologies are not currently on the top of my list. On that note… on we go!

It might seem weird to say that I saw professional dancers become ballerinas, but it happened and I’m still reeling. That moment in the very beginning of Serenade was breathtaking, and all they did was turn out their feet and put their arms in first position. How many times have you done that in class? How many times have you done it beautifully? How many times have you tried to do it beautifully? Serenade isn’t Balanchine’s most complicated ballet by any stretch of the imagination; it’s simple, but it’s also lovely, joyful and sad at the same time. It embodies everthing I’ve grown to love about Balanchine: he tells a story with no plot and somehow, even though the audience may disagree as to the « meaning » of the ballet, (does she die? is she just heartbroken?), the only part that matters is your personal reaction to what you’ve just seen. Balanchine didn’t make Serenade to shock or transgress; he used the natural movements of the few dancers he had in 1939 to create a ballet that makes the audience feel. Simple.

From NYCBallet’s Facebook Account

In the weeks leading up to the performance, I shut myself off from Serenade. I made my friends fast forward through videos, refused to listen to the music, and avoided interviews about it. I wanted the experience to be as genuine as possible. The music makes me slightly misty when I listen to it on the subway, so you can imagine my reaction upon seeing it for the first time after weeks of self-inforced quarantine (yes, I cried). Since these two nights were the first times I had ever seen it, I can’t really talk about the choreography, but I can talk about the dancers:
Janie Taylor danced the lead both nights. (Sara Mearns was apparently injured on Friday, drat!) I am convinced that Taylor is made mostly of liquid mercury. She doesn’t seem to put any force or huge amounts of effort into her dancing, yet she’s graceful and sinuous. It’s like she slithers, it’s both beautiful and incredibly disconcerting and is especially suited to Serenade. I also loved her in Afternoon of a Faun; she does well in these plotless stories !

Ashley Bouder is someone I’ve always considered a powerful dancer and at her best when she gets to be a very fast one. She’s Taylor’s opposite. Bouder tends to explode into the scene and give 100% of her energy every moment she’s on stage, so I felt that, though I certainly could find no technical faults, Serenade was not her best fit. This particular ballet needs dancers that are just slightly more subtle in their expression. I do love her, though, and she did get to dance in something much more suitable. I saved it for last.

Kammermusik No. 2

So, I’m supposed to write about Kammermusik no. 2 now, but the problem is, I didn’t really care for it, so I paid less attention than I should have, which means I have very little to say. I know Kn2 is supposed to be important because it’s one of the examples of Balanchine giving the men in his company a real chance to shine as a group, but I feel like one could say the exact same thing about Agon. The critics that I read said that Kn2 is « fun. » Well,  yeah, of course it is. It’s a fast Balanchine ballet. In my humble opinion, it’s just not the best one. I could see Agon instead and get wonderful male corps work, penches on heels, and all the fun of Kn2 with a better pas de deux. In conclusion, I won’t be terribly dissapointed if this one goes out of the rep for another 8 years. Moving on.

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux

This was without question the best TPdD I’ve ever seen. Holy mother of everything, Joaquin de Luz was fantastic. As always, he was a total ham (big smile and winks) and looked like he was having a great time. I just expect to be blown away by him every time at this point, so while he made me very happy, it was actually Tiler Peck that really blew everything out of the water. I’ve seen her dance before, but I never really paid that much attention to her as there was always another dancer that I was interested in on the stage with her (usually Mearns or Fairchild), but when she had the stage to herself, she seemed to decide that it was going to be her moment, and she was more than a match for De Luz. By the last death-defying jump into the fish, everyone, including my not-easily-impressed ballet teacher, was yelling and applauding like mad. Oh, that was fun! More please!

Firebird

Honestly, I’m disappointed. Kowroski is fine as the Firebird. She has the perfect body for the role, and she can move her hands and feet like a bird would/should, but… something’s kind of missing. I had the same problem with her last year in Diamonds. Technically fine, but just kind of boring. The second night I saw her, she fell during the first pas de deux, but that could happen to anyone. The part that bothers me is that, unlike say, Ashley Bouder, she didn’t get up, shake it off and keep going. She was more cautious for the rest of the ballet, and that disappointed me. Ask La Cour was her partner both nights, and, quite frankly, I’ve never liked him. Facial expressions are a foreign concept to him, but he must be a very in-demand partner, because he’s in almost everything. You’d think then, that he would have learned to point his feet by now. No dice. The monsters, which according to both Jacques d’Amboise’s and Jock Soto’s autobiographies are supposed to be absolutely terrifying, look more like muppets. Would you be terrified if Kermit jumped on your lap? Neither was I. Then they kind of just stand in the corner and punch the air. One of them lost their wig the second night. I felt bad for that dancer, but it was rather hilarious. I’m so sad that I don’t like Firebird, because its history is wonderful. Maria Tallchief loved dancing it, and it’s a legend in the Balanchine cannon… I just don’t get why. Maybe I need to study it more.

DGV: Danse A Grande Vitesse

I. Loved. This. Ballet. Between Alice in Wonderland at the Royal and this, Wheeldon might be my new favorite choreographer currently alive. (I’m still completely in love with Neumeier and Kylian, though. No Worries.) It’s hard to explain, but in a word, it was just powerful. Very much like the train it was made after (the TGV for all the non-frenchies out there). This is what Peter Martins tried to do in Fearful Symmetries, but I must say that DGV squashed FS like the high-speed train it is. Just… wow.

I am so so happy that I saw Ashley Bouder dance alongside Wendy Whelan in this. As I mentioned, Ashley is just a firecracker, and it looked this ballet had been made specifically for her. She was a perfect ball of concentrated energy. Watching Whelan, though, was like watching a laser; she’s totally focused on what she’s doing, which lets her execute all the fast, powerful steps precisely, but also makes her able to take that concentration into a pas de deux where she seemed to radiate control and poise. The woman is a national treasure. Given maturity, I think Bouder could get to this level in a few years, and that transition is going to be an absolute joy to witness.

Sorry everyone, I couldn’t find any footage of the actual ballet and neither could Cléopold or James, so it truly must not exist. I humbly submit some of the music for your listening pleasure.

All in all ? Not too shabby a start to the ballet season! Symphony in C is next up for me at NYCB with brand new costumes. I’m already excited!

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