NY City Ballet Review - part 2
by Gay Morris
“Apollo” was followed by “Agon” (1957), the third in Balanchine’s Greek trilogy (The second, “Orpheus,” was not included, since it includes costumes and a more defined narrative). Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar danced the central duet originated by Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell. Kowroski started the season on a strong note. In the past she has often appeared anxious and slightly awkward, as if her tall stature and long legs hampered her movement. “Agon” showed her with new confidence and speed while Ramasar, whose technique has improved immensely in recent seasons, looked equally strong and confident. His body is newly stretched and taut, creating dance images of power. Throughout the season, he showed his range in both dramatic roles, including Death in “La Valse,” and in works that called for pure dancing. Rebecca Krohn and Andrew Veyette were the second couple. Although Krohn is efficient and cheerful, she doesn’t yet show the command of a principal dancer or the individual use of technique that makes a major dancer interesting. Veyette, on the other hand, came back from an injury in the winter to dance with tremendous verve and energy. I usually think of him in dramatic roles, but his solo in the Sarabande had a new elegance and virtuosity that was a pleasure to see, and which was equally apparent in the first movement of “Symphony in C.”
Kowroski and Ramasar also appeared in “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” from 1972, where they again made a vivid impression, this time in the company of Sterling Hyltin, partnered by Ask la Cour. Both of the central duets stress extreme movements, relating the ballet to “Agon.” Kowroski was the lead in more Stravinsky/Balanchine, this time “Monumentum pro Gesualdo” (1960) and “Movements for Piano and Orchestra” (1963), where she again had complete command of the technical aspects of the work, giving her room to add expressive details and to connect with her partner, Ask Le Cour, with an occasional look and smile.
It was interesting to see “Episodes” once again, the 1959 ballet in which Balanchine attempted to show that he, and not Martha Graham, was the real vanguard modernist of American dance. The project, probably conceived by Lincoln Kirstein, who had long sought to wrest the modernist mantle from modern dance, pitted the two choreographers in a “collaborative” venture, in which each used Webern music to create a separate work, mostly for their own companies (among the few cross-over dancers were Paul Taylor, who appeared in Balanchine’s ballet, and Sally Wilson in Graham’s). For her segment, Graham created a costume drama in which she portrayed Mary Queen of Scotts, while Balanchine produced a stark, plotless ballet full of choreographic complexity and unfamiliar, acrobatic movement. A sibling of “Agon,” which he had premiered 18 months earlier, “Episodes” features duets in which four ballerinas execute high extensions and twisted poses. The Graham part of the program soon disappeared, not only from NYCB but from Graham’s own repertory, but Balanchine’s ballet survives (minus Taylor’s solo). This season’s performances marked a rare appearance of Jennie Somogyi, looking totally at ease, despite dancing infrequently.
Ashley Bouder was featured in several of the leotard ballets, including “Duo Concertant” and “Square Dance.” For the former, choreographed in 1972, she was partnered with Huxley, which was a mistake. One can imagine Huxley dancing this work, which needs a touch of vulnerability, with Sterling Hyltin or even Megan Fairchild, but Bouder is a powerhouse who didn’t so much partner with him as bulldoze on alone. She is an extravert of great technical ability but little mystery, which did not work well here. She was much more successful in “Square Dance,” one of Balanchine’s odes to the American vernacular, which he produced during the height of the Cold War. Thank goodness he dispensed with the hoedown caller soon after the ballet’s premiere in 1957. Although he incorporated some square dance patterns, they now look perfectly in keeping with the Corelli/Vivaldi score, showing, perhaps, that American folk dances evolved gradually from the loftier heights of court dance. This ballet is loaded with beats and jumps of every description, including the infamous gargouillade, an egg-beater-like jump that has the feet whirling in opposite directions. Bouder looked happily at home with all the ballet’s challenges. Her partner, Taylor Stanley, was much better matched to her ebullient personality than Huxley. Although his solo in the ballet is slow and reflective, his dancing has an emphatic kind of amplitude that complemented Bouder’s energy.
“Symphony in Three Movements,” a large-scale work created for the Stravinsky Festival in 1972, was, paradoxically, the only black and white ballet to include color: the central three ballerinas wear varied shades of pink leotards. Sterling Hyltin took on the main ballerina role, which she danced with new-found power, partnered by Stanley. Ultimately, though, this is a ballet in which the corps of sixteen women is triumphant. They take the stage like Amazons bestriding the earth, their hair, worn in long pony tails, slashing the space around them. The finale is a monumental deployment of group movement on stage.
In contrast, “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” created for the 1975 Ravel Festival, made a pleasant respite from the hard-lined mechanics of most of the other ballets on these opening programs. It is a charming work for eight couples, mostly from the corps de ballet, which features two quadrilles of dancers in intricate patterns of movements that include none of the lifts and high extensions usually seen in couples’ dances. Or, I should say, there are no lifts until the very end, which includes one joyous sweep upward to crown the finale.
Two more works were included in the black and white programs, these being among the most famous of Balanchine’s choreographies. “Concerto Barocco” (1948) when danced by Sara Mearns and Teresa Reichlen, seems to be the epitome of how the two ballerina roles should be danced. These women are like fire and ice, Mearns all baroque flourishes and ravishing bends, Reichlen cool and precise, like a slim knife slicing through the movement. It was delightful to see Justin Peck, the company’s young resident choreographer, fulfilling his other role as a company soloist. He brought to his duet with Reichlen a disciplined focus, as if guiding her through the steps, experiencing the dance and at the same time analyzing each of its movements.
However, if “Concerto Barocco,” with Reichlen and Mearns, seems to be exactly how this ballet should be danced, “The Four Temperaments” (1946) in its current incarnation, is much the opposite. Most of it seems out of control, exaggerated to the point of parody. The first solo “Melancholic” as danced by Gonzalo Garcia, looked like more like a nervous breakdown, while Ashley Bouder’s Choleric was angry enough to be mistaken for Medea. The corps movement, too, was grossly exaggerated, oddly resembling Graham at her most over-the-top. This movement was inspired by jazz, not Greek tragedy. A little more of the Balanchine command, “don’t think, just dance,” would be in order. The only artist who grasped the concept of the work was Ramasar in the Phlegmatic solo, giving it a contemplative element that recalled Kirstein’s description of the role as an “acrobatic mendicant.”
One last word on these Balanchine ballets, which once seemed so radical. Seeing them together now, they look distinctly mid-century modern, in line with Eero Saarinen’s terminal at JFK Airport, Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, and fin-tailed automobiles. The jazz references recall the cool of Miles Davis or Stan Getz. In short, they are of their time, when a postwar US was flexing its muscles and feeling the full extent of its power.
READ MORE: Go to http://danceviewtimes.typepad.com/danceview/2015/06/highlights-of-the-rest-of-the-spring-season-included-mearns-in-balanchines-walpurgisnacht-ballet-1980-which-allow.html
Amar Ramasar and Maria Kowroski in Balanchine's "Agon." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Dancers of the New York City Ballet in Balanchine's "Symphony in 3 Movements." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Teresa Reichlen, Sara Mearns and Company in Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco." Photo by Paul Kolnik.