BWW Reviews: New York City Ballet - Martins, Robbins and Balanchine
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by Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn
New York City Ballet: The Waltz Project | N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz | Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 | February 5th, 2013
Co-authored by Ellen Dobbyn-Blackmore
Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 closed this mixed repertory program with an exhilarating bang of energy and excitement. Once again, Ashley Bouder prevailed as the reigning prima ballerina at the company that eschews stars. The problem with reviewing a dancer like Bouder is that there's nowhere left to go once all the superlatives are used up. Let's try a few: Her performance of Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 was definitive in every respect. Need more? Partnered by Tyler Angle, Bouder was the paradigm of the 21st century American ballerina. Also true. The transparent ease with which Bouder tossed off the brief quotations from Petipa's great classical ballets asserted her preeminence. No doubt about that. It's Ashley Bouder's New York City Ballet and you are welcome to visit.
The thing that all great dancers have in common is perfect economy of motion in which every step is looked upon as an opportunity. Bouder's every small glissade becomes another step that can in some way give a deeper expression to the sonic texture of the music. Her passages of balletic pantomime reveal character and plot in a ballet that ostensibly has neither. Each balance Bouder sustains is not so much a chance for showing off (well, perhaps just a little bit of that) as much as it puts a visual punctuation mark on a musical phrase. This ballet requires its lead to be a prima ballerina in the fullest sense. Every lift, jump, fouetté, pirouette and piqué turn in the classical ballet trick bag is here and Bouder does it all with perfect clarity. There's no extraneous adornment to her dancing and yet nothing less than everything you could possibly want is delivered.
This artfulness is in everything that Bouder does onstage and it is why she's easily the best dancer in the company right now. Not to say that there weren't other fine performances turned in by the rest of the company. The company is overloaded with top-notch talent and it is a continuing pleasure to watch.
Tyler Angle was a superb partner and performed his own steps with a warm and princely affect. He delivered clean beats in his assemblé jumps and his double tours en l'air were light and well finished to the knee. He moved with calm confidence and distinguished himself but there's no mistaking that it was all Bouder's show.
In the second female lead, Savannah Lowery was radiant but not as sharp as she had been in The Waltz Project that opened this program. She began the first movement with plenty of energy but it may have been too much for her to dance two ballets on one program as fatigue seemed to set in toward the end of the third movement.
Dancing behind Lowery were two over-achievers in the soloists, Brittany Pollack and Ashley Laracey. Pollack in particular is a dancer still on the rise. With the surfeit of superb dancers in City Ballet right now it is crowded at the top, in the middle and even at the bottom, but Pollack is one of those dancers to watch. She is a classic New York City Ballet allegro dancer with rapid-fire pointe work. Even her fingers are lively and active and they compel the audience's attention without being affected. There's no other way to describe it except to say that she has princess hands. There's an archetypal air of glamour in the way she carries herself and she will no doubt continue to move up in the company ranks.
Justin Peck in Jerome Robbins' N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz
Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet
In the middle of this repertory program, N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, a Jerome Robbins ballet from 1958, celebrated American youth at a crossroads. At first glance it is easy to shrug off this ballet as a relic that should have been left in mothballs but then you get served bad girl sass courtesy of Georgina Pazcoguin.
In every way, this ballet captures a moment when America was just "going on" 1960. It perfectly describes the sensibility that sex, specifically teen sex, was about to break free of its conventional fifties confines... but not just yet. In this ballet the putative kids engage in humorous self-censorship whenever anyone begins to shake his or her hips lewdly. Such excess gets quickly squelched with shocked murmurs from the other dancers. Open sexuality is not to be tolerated, except in Georgina Pazcoguin.
She comes out brash and assertive, like a defiant refugee from West Side Story's Puerto Rican Sharks gang. It would not have been a surprise if she had started tossing a switchblade while snapping her gum with scorn. When she shook her fanny in front of the boys it was equal parts taunting and invitation. This is a girl who knows what boys want and she's got it. Pazcoguin really sank her teeth into this role with an intensity that was not quite matched by Justin Peck. There was an element of humor to her portrayal but it was laced with enough serious attitude that the ballet as a whole became something more than an artifact. It came to life. The boldness of her interpretation is absolutely essential to breathe life into a period piece like this that might otherwise wallow in nostalgia.
In the Passage for Two, Ashley Laracey and Chase Finlay delivered a slowly smoldering pas de deux. This is pas de deux as foreplay. It was delivered with balletic grace and real heat. Theirs is a really good partnership.
Robbins' gift as a choreographer was in being able to deftly capture a sense of character with deft economy of movement. In N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, a bygone era is brought back to life. The company dancers deftly conveyed the swaggering, pent up, youthful energy of the steps without going over the edge into caricature.
Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Peter Martins' The Waltz Project
Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet
Peter Martins' The Waltz Project opened the evening with a meditation on partnership in dance and romance. Cameron Grant's piano accompaniment was right on the money. These pieces were culled from Robert Moran's 1976 Waltz Project which assembled waltzes by great twentieth century American composers. Grant's playing was luminous and made the music truly danceable by giving it rhythmic sweep and lyricism across a challenging range of compositional styles.
Of the four alternating couples, the most fun to watch was Tiler Peck with Robert Fairchild. Their evident pleasure in dancing with each other was infectious with flirtatious exuberance and just a little bit dirty, especially in the way she shook her hips in the Dejavalse section. Martins' choreography gives them the best waltzing and flying movement to really let go and they did. Whether in point shoes or sneakers, Peck soared with abandon while Robert Fairchild exuded forceful masculine energy.
Among the other three waltzing pairs there was also plenty to see. The partnership that at first glance seemed unsuitable turned out to be another great combination: Teresa Reichlen and Amar Ramasar. On pointe, Reichlen looks nearly a head taller than Ramasar but somehow the height disparity disappeared as they worked together seamlessly to express heartfelt longing. Megan Fairchild, partnered by Andrew Veyette, astonishingly managed to curl up into a ball of anguish while being held in the air. It was a beautiful display of vulnerability by a dancer of great sensitivity. The first couple was Savannah Lowery and Adrian Danchig-Waring who delivered the push-pull of ambivalence in their relationship. Lowery delivered her best dancing of the night in this piece, moving with power and authority.
Overall this was another fine night to celebrate the art of dancing with the New York City Ballet. Now someone needs to give the audience a lecture on not bolting for the exits as soon as the final curtain drops. It is disheartening to dancers when they come out to take a bow and see everyone scrambling to get out. Yes, you are all paying customers, but please wait five minutes and give the artists their due. What they do is a rare and wondrous thing. Taking five more minutes to offer tribute is not too much to ask.