After attending the Saturday night performance, I have to say that I've never realized before how FUN Agon can be! The dancers have taken Russell's notes to heart; there were plenty of moments I could hear her corrections (from the livestream rehearsal) in my head, and see how the dancers had adjusted accordingly. Lucien's coupés in his solo were clear; the partnered arabesque promenades at the end revolved smoothly; Mullin's traveling echappes glided in perfect unison with Macy's. I especially enjoyed the gailliard with these two women. Sometimes with the Balanchine black and white ballets I get the sense that the driving emotion is "look how spiky we can be! Look how fierce and neoclassical!" Elements of that were there, but more than anything, I felt that Macy and Mullin were playing a wonderful game onstage, feeding off each other's energy and daring. Oh, and the pas de trois--such excellent chemistry between the two of them and Lucien, and what a glorious tendu ending! In the other sections, Pantastico brought a coy charm to her bransle solo, and Laura Tisserand was both cool and eminently personable as she and Josh Grant wrapped themselves in knots during the pas de deux. I could watch that pas over and over again. With Grant, I still don't think I really have a sense of who he is as a performer, but there was nothing dislikable in his presence or partnering. I mean, I do wish that Laura had reached the floor in the split-walk section, but with those legs I don't think there's time in the music for it! The whole cast kept up such crisp unity from start to finish that it really seemed like they were all pieces in an elaborate game of chess (a very fast game of chess, so there are holes in the metaphor, but you get the idea). There's no hiding in these leotard ballets--and this cast had nothing to hide, just wonderful musicality, teamwork, and sky-high extensions to show.
I was a bit nervous to see Carmina, just because I'd adored it in the past and didn't know how I'd receive Stowell's choreography from an adult perspective. Happily, I found that his patterns, partnering steps, and conceptual flow held up to the power of the music, especially with the beginning Fortuna Plango Vulnera section where the men spring to life from the floor. Chills. Because this piece has such a large cast and often necessitates casting Professional Division students, there were a few moments throughout where one couple would be lagging in partnering, but it didn't detract from the spectacle or youthful exuberance. It's a great learning opportunity for all of them, and I must say that Mark Cuddihee (apprentice) and Noah Martzall (PD) really caught my eye in their commitment to the work, along with Abby Jayne DeAngelo (her face during the kneeling lines at the end captured the whole arc of the ballet). Another young one to watch is Sarah Gabrielle Ryan. She and Steven Loch in Primo Vere had chemistry out the wazoo as they progressed from teasing village couple to the more mature sections in unitards. I also greatly enjoyed Elle Macy as the siren female in In Taberna; she brought a sense of decisiveness and hedonistic abandon to every developpe, and it was interesting to watch her/Lin-Yee shift the power dynamics back and forth in the group. Something in her interpretation seemed fresher than those I've seen in the past: with other females it's felt more like an inevitability that the tavern would orbit around her, but with Macy it was a wicked party that just barely stayed in her control.
Of course, Liz Murphy and Lucien were full of melting arabesques and silky solos in Cour D'Amour, and you could feel the audience stunned into silence during Dulcissima as the purity of Murphy's steps matched the soprano's impossibly high notes. What a treat! But on a sour note, in many of the other sections, someone kept bumping into a microphone, which inserted a horrible "ka THUNK" into the rest of the singing. And it. Kept. Happening. Seriously, I don't know if it was onstage or off, but its recurrence was both irritating and baffling. I heard one of the other audience members mentioning it as we filed out...hopefully the problem is fixed for future performances.
I could go on and on but the last thing I'll mention is just how much I love the Carmina costumes...sure, the nude unitards provide minimal costuming, but the flecks of reflective material and waving pieces of fabric highlight the dancers' lines so nicely. And Murphy's buttercup-colored dressed for Cour is regal in its simplicity. It's so nice that, although PNB presses ahead with new and exciting works, Boal also takes time to revisit classics from the company's heritage: the architecture from Balanchine and gesamtkunstwerk revelry from founding director Stowell.