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2017 Spring Season

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I neglected to mention in my earlier post that one of the four women in Spectral Evidence was Ashly Isaacs. Her role in Preljocaj’s ballet also—obviously—contrasted interestingly with the one in Stabat Mater. Isaacs was actually scheduled to dance in Fearful Symmetries instead of Unity Phelan. Regardless, I think both women had a very productive Festival. 

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How is it that the lighthearted Namouna, A Grand Divertissement follows on a program Russian Seasons, a serious work whose ending is somber and deeply moving, yet does not seem misplaced or anticlimactic? Great beauty in art, I would argue, is inherently serious and poignant; and Namouna—with its unfaltering stream of ravishing movement (for soloists and corps members alike) and delectable melodies—is dazzlingly beautiful. Credit belongs not just to Alexei Ratmansky, but also to the little-known nineteenth century French composer Édouard Lalo: his score abounds with wit and charm, and genuinely touching moments. Although the intimate Russian Seasons is absorbing throughout, its evocative final scene stands out as the finest. Choosing a favorite part from Namouna is not easy. In the spring I was particularly enchanted by the “cigarette segment,” featuring a self-assured, impish Ashley Bouder backed by three of the best women from the corps: Marika Anderson, Mary Elizabeth Sell and Lydia Wellington.


Like every other ballet Ratmansky has choreographed for NYCB, Russian Seasons, too, benefits from a splendid score—by Leonid Desyatnikov. Using the schema from Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as a framework for the composition, and relying on traditional tunes (and text) for a ballet depicting major passages in the lives of ordinary Russian people are both felicitous. Additionally, the soprano voice is employed to haunting effect, especially in the chilling last segment.


Again, just like in the other three ballets, the colors utilized for the apparel and scenery background in Russian Seasons and Namouna are exceptionally vivid and intense—they contribute handsomely to a rich visual experience. (The costumes in the latter—including the headpieces—are fantastic!)


Out of the entire, engaging cast of the evening, the indefatigable Sara Mearns deserves special mention for her efforts in both pieces. None of the women on the NYCB roster looks more like an American than Mearns. However, no doubt partly owing to her passionate nature, no one seems more convincing as a Russian in Ratmansky’s ballets either.


So, from my vantage point, there were no longueurs in Program No. 2 of the Festival!

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Polyphonia and Liturgy were the 2nd and 3rd ballets respectively out of the four which made up the all-Wheeldon Program 1 of the Festival.


In addition to Unity Phelan, the solid cast for Polyphonia included Sterling Hyltin, Brittany Pollack and Sara Mearns. My familiarity with György Ligeti’s strange, mysterious, transfixing music (used in Polyphonia) extends only to hearing it on film soundtracks. Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet (new to me) is divided into ten sections, of which the sixth—beginning as a pas de deux and ending as a solo featuring the always reliable Mearns in the spring—was particularly alluring. Two more pas de deux, with Phelan and Zachary Catazaro, exemplified how appropriate peculiar, contortive movement in ballet can seem when accompanied by suitable music. What impression this work will make with the young dancers in the cast for the upcoming performances remains to be seen.


Liturgy, on the other hand, will again be interpreted by the seasoned Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle. Set to Arvo Pärt’s ethereal music also, this piece resembles the more affecting After the Rain Pas de Deux. I am looking forward to viewing it again though.


These two ballets amounted to neither the best nor the worst of Program 1.

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Since I have recently commented on the works in question in this thread, I will add my thoughts on Tuesday evening’s Here/Now program here. From my perspective, the evening was spectacular!


Performances of Liturgy and After the Rain Pas de Deux, especially if the same ballerina is featured in the pair, should not be offered in proximity to one another. However, Liturgy is quite affecting a piece in its own right; and if anything, Maria Kowroski was even more brilliant and dignified Tuesday night in it than she was a few months ago.


György Ligeti’s piano pieces in Polyphonia sounded, in point of fact, accessible. Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet is enjoyable, and the fledgling cast, which included Emilie Gerrity and Ashley Hod, performed satisfactorily. To those watching it for the first time, Polyphonia is as neoteric as it is to Unity Phelan. This enchanting young dancer was ravishing in a leading role newly assigned, and her interpretation will only improve in the future. Furthermore, Lauren Lovette, who seems to have regained the weight she had unhappily lost at the start of the year (making Princess Aurora’s transition in The Sleeping Beauty from girlhood to womanhood then less persuasive), looked gorgeous: her elegant rendering of the ballerina’s portion only confirmed my favorable impression of the work’s sixth section.


Partly on account of its underlying thematic gloominess and darkness, Alexei Ratmansky’s resplendent Odessa virtually gave me goose bumps. Its profusion of beauty—musical and choreographic, as well with regard to color, lighting and costumes—flabbergasted me. And, in contrast to the previous ballet, what a stellar, expert cast performed it! Tyler Angle, Joaquin de Luz and Taylor Stanley were superb; the masterly trio of Ashley Bouder, Sterling Hyltin, Sara Mearns, awe-inspiring. Yet again, Ratmansky in this work employs the members of the corps throughout with unmistakable assurance and effectiveness. 


Becoming familiar with the music only enhanced my appreciation of the energetic, spirited The Times Are Racing. Everyone on the stage, including the choreographer and a healthy Amar Ramasar, sparkled. Besides the accustomed female, my eyes naturally gravitated, however, to Brittany Pollack, Indiana Woodward and—Ashly Isaacs! The latter’s appearance here—a spellbinding amalgam of tomboyishness and femininity—as well as the enthusiasm and brio with which she tackles this part are irresistible.


In sum, what a memorable evening, which additionally—thanks to the wonderful women of NYCB—left me with the fantastic feeling I had attended a command performance!

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