New York City Ballet
The David H. Koch Theater
New York, NY
February 24, 2011
Copyright 2011 by Michael Popkin
Square Dance at NYCB on Thursday night was perfectly cast and received a near perfect performance. Ashley Bouder and Taylor Stanley were the dancers and it was debut for both. In a beautifully inflected and sensitive performance, they and the strong ensemble got the spirit and feel of the work just right, as well as the physical execution: all American, all new world with the freshness and spontaneity of American folk dance; and yet all classical, with a Corelli/Vivaldi score and a dance lexicon accompanying it founded on the purest elements of academic classicism; and all done with both modern day facility and classical dance technique. They made the eighteenth century modern and colloquial: the tradition was alive; what more can we ask?
Bouder is the best in this role at NYCB since Merrill Ashley, who of course is the gold standard for this particular ballet par excellence since Balanchine expressly re-choreographed it for her in 1976. But as in all things at the theater (you hope) the rule, sooner or later, is "The Queen is dead; Long live the Queen" (though we've waited nearly fifteen years for this particular succession). And I don't claim this mantle for Bouder only on my own authority: half a dozen people at the theater had the same thing to say about the performance, spontaneously and quite independently of each other, the moment the curtain went down; it was a rare case of consensus. Of course Bouder was born to dance the role, as the cliche goes (the only wonder is that they waited so long to give it to her) so well suited is she to the part by type and talent; but she seized the occasion for her best performance in that theater in a couple of years. Her expression was quietly radiant; she danced with a sense of joy; everything was done easily; and her shy and evident pride were totally natural. Above all it was a totally innocent performance and that is Bouder at her best. (It's funny, but I can't really think of a more honest dancer than Bouder; even when she oversells it's from the heart, but there was no overselling here last night).
One should mention that it was a wonderfully musical performance in the rubato of her phrasing and in where she stopped and found stillness in the score; but above all in the succession of pure and beautiful lines she developed. And then there were those jumps - two big circles of sautes de Basques - the first accomplished with amazing elevation and ease; the second with a courtly elegance and spring to her step. I also can't forget some flying pas de chats off the stage into the wings. The pointe work for its part was sparkling, brilliant and perfectly schooled. And it was here that her visible sense of pride added a final flourish: "See this; I give it to you; to all of you; it is my gift."
That the pas de deux were as moving as they were (and Bouder here carried her arabesques better through her back, and got more feeling out of them, then she did in Swan Lake last week) was of course also due to Stanley's strong partnering. (Precociously strong - I can't remember such a young man, except perhaps for Robert Fairchild, recently coming to this element of his dancing more naturally). What a debut for him; about twenty years old and in his first full year at NYCB, it was not only his first time out in this role, but his first in any principal role.Tallish, he has exotic looks with an Hispanic overtone and long, stretched lines. His waist is high, so that the legs appear longer than the torso. To long arms and expressive hands, he adds a beautifully flexible back and has thankfully also stayed out of the weight room to this point (please, please keep out of it) so that the body remains quite lyrical.
As a mover, interpretive dancer, and performer respectively, he has a soft pliee; expressive, sweeping lines; and is gifted in how he relates to and interprets music. Naturally a principal dancer, from the very first moment (when he stood in a circle of men) you knew who the star was, no mistake about it. A particularly beautiful turn in high attitude rear, on demi-pointe, sticks in my mind twenty-four hours after seeing it, and perhaps the image will stick there forever. The solo with the deep backbends was superb; and if he ran out of gas a little towards the end (but not very evidently) who could blame him - at twenty years old and in his first performance "in the big room," you can't really quibble at that.
Bouder and Stanley will dance Square Dance one final time this season, Saturday night February 26 at 8:00 p.m.