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NYCB: Spring 2008, Week 1

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I can't believe no threads have been started. I went to the Saturday matinee today to see "Symphony in C," "Symphony in Three Movements," and "Western Symphony."

First of all, I don't think dancers could ruin Symphony in C if they wanted to. The work is so beautiful, so energetic, it practically dances itself. Abi Stafford was an unexpected delight in the first movement. She's been criticized in the past for being hard-boiled but I didn't see much of that today. What I saw was a strong allegro dancer who started the ballet on an energetic note. Then Sara Mearns in the sublime second movement. Oh boy, I am about to sound very unkind but there's that saying, "If you can't balance don't dance Aurora." I think the same could be said for the second movement. Mearns looked alarmingly shaky, grabbing onto her partner Charles Askergard for dear life, thus ruining the fluidity of the choreography. She compensated by a molasses-like slowness. While I like the fact that she dares to be different (very often, even the best NYCB dancers have a "hey, I'm fast! Hey I'm cheerful" anonymity), her tentative delivery and frankly unlovely line were very disappointing. Megan Fairchild on the other hand was less cutesy and stronger technically than I've seen her in the past. The third movement was maybe the best movement this afternoon. The final movement never fails to amaze me.

"Symphony in Three Movements" I've never seen before, and even though it's a leotard ballet, it reminds me of one of Balanchine's "tutu" ballets, with its flood of women and basically cheerful score. Seeing Wendy Whelan is like running into an old friend at the airport. It's always nice to just see her, no matter what she's dancing, because of the energy and commitment she brings to everything she dances. I used to find her very hard-boiled, but age, a bit of weight, and a blonder hairdo, as well as maturity, has softened her considerably.

"Western Symphony" was the hit of the afternoon, and it was a joy to see the ageless Damian Woetzel dancing like a man half his age, and the tall, kittenish Teresa Reichlen in the "Tanny" role, as well as the lovely Kathryn Morgan in the second movement. The finale, with the whole stage zippily turning, might be the most toe-tapping exhilarating Balanchine ending ever, and that's saying a lot.

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Saturday matinee, May 3, 2008

I can't believe no threads have been started...

Nor can I, canbelto: Mr. Macaulay has already posted thrice at the Times! Regarding this afternoon's performance I find myself very much in harmony with the Times criticism of Wednesday's performance of this program.

Symphony in C was, perhaps, miscast at the ballerina level, especially given the alternatives available. Regardless of the technical wonders these ballerinas deliver, there was a trivializing one-note persona delivered by Abi Stafford in the first and by Tiler Peck in the fourth ('though, based on her growth in non-Balanchine roles, I share Mr. Macaulay's optimism re Ms. Peck). There must be more to Balanchine-fast than just one fixed smile. It has been a long time since the first movement seemed a masterpiece, although in recent times I'd learned just to watch Tess Reichlen's thrilling demi-soloist performance here, but she is no longer so cast. One may, I suspect, look forward to the cure when Ana Sophia Scheller takes command next week. In the corps were two I'd cast immediately in the leads: Kathryn Morgan for the first, Erica Pereira for the last. They both have demonstrated sufficient technical chops, and also each always brings extra dimensions that give the bite of life, that take dancing beyond the classroom. Ms. Peck's partner, Sean Suozzi, had that life and delivered a fine performance. In the third movement Megan Fairchild, while not there yet, continues to learn to flesh out her part, to escape from cutesy: there was a pleasing flourish to her dancing, and I suspect Mr. Garcia improved on the Times reviewed performance. Sara A. Mearns, partnered with care, nobility, and warmth by Charles Askegard, is gradually mastering some of the technical hurdles of the Farrell movement. This time her forehead came within an inch of her shin, literally feet closer than at her debut last year. While this remains casting against (technical) type, I did not find her as uncertain as seen by canbelto. As noted by Mr. Macaulay, her absorption with the role was enthralling. Yet, how on earth is Tess Reichlen not given this part, one that she was born to dance?

Symphony in Three Movements was dominated by the central PdD of Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans, although their time is flying, especially elsewhere in the ballet. The duet is still magic, although a new team should be gaining experience while still being able to learn by watching this pair. Airy Sterling Hyltin and airborne Daniel Ulbricht supplied a fine contrast to the lead couple. While one might carp about the corps relative to the Mariinsky's precision, I'll take the home team's for its joy.

The last two movements of Western Symphony were the source of great optimism. Kathryn Morgan's dancing had everything that was missing earlier in today's program. The technical dancing itself was superb, the Italian fouettes tossed off with ease. But for young Ms. Morgan neither this, nor anything else, is a trick. Everything is in context, as her characterization evolves with the music and "story". All-of-her dances, in a grand arc, a complete artistic experience. This is not acting, but inhabiting. Not "just the steps", but the steps in relation to one another, the steps as music. Her partner Adam Hendrickson joined in the experience, a beautiful duo to watch. The final movement is a priori an event, because Damian Woetzel's in it. And was he ever, dancing with that reckless abandon, retiring's gift of freedom that gives to us the artist's final gift: that he will always be for us forever young. And with this came THE ballerina turn of the day, Tess Reichlen dancing bigger and better and more joyous than ever. The Mariinsky has its Big Red, Ekaterina Kondaurova, but we have Tess Terrific. I ain't complaining!

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I too was there this afternoon. I don't yet get Abi Stafford. This afternoon I found her performance quality all wrong. Overselling with a smile & open mouth while not quite fulfilling some of the choreography. Perhaps she is nervous as a new principal. As I said I haven't seen her much.

Sara Mearns showed much to like and much to look forward to. There is a lushness to her movement and a tone that reminds me of a cello. I look forward to seeing her in this role a year or two from now.

Fairchild and Garcia are well matched. I like her more and more as she gains substance to go with her jump and speed.

Loved Tiler Peck.

I enjoyed the cast in Sym in 3 overall. Whelan & Evans are like my old friends who always deliver.

Western Symphony can't be salvaged for me. Fun performances here and there, but a ballet that in my opinion, isn't worth having in the rep.

Meanwhile I long to see Bouder. She seems to be doing little right now.

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Sara A. Mearns, partnered with care, nobility, and warmth by Charles Askegard, is gradually mastering some of the technical hurdles of the Farrell movement. This time her forehead came within an inch of her shin, literally feet closer than at her debut last year.

Ok am I alone in finding the "Farrell move" kind of ugly? I'm sure it was magnificent on her, but Mearns is a dancer without Farrell's flexibility, and to me it seems as if she was straining so hard, too hard, to get that nose to the knee.

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Ok am I alone in finding the "Farrell move" kind of ugly?
No. I have not been to NYCB yet this season, nor have I seen Mearns in the role, so my answer is purely theoretical. The curling down of the neck must be a continuation of the impulse that initiates the arabesque, or else it looks like a stunt and totally inappropriate. Also, Mearns' limbs are not proportionally long compared to her torso, and I can't imagine it being beautiful on her body type.

Thanks, canbelto, for getting things going and to drb and vipa for your reviews.

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SEASONS, the program of Saturday’s evening show, was an interesting one.

The first half of the program was the newly-revived Watermill. Though being a rather controversial performance piece (ballet being the wrong term to use), it is something somewhat special to me. I started being interested in the ballet scene back in the very early 70’s, and Watermill’s premiere was one of the first things I saw. So memorable. Very shocking. I was among what seemed to have been a small portion of the audience who really loved it, and it wasn’t until later that I found out that booing was abnormal at a ballet performance. To really enjoy this work, one must be open-minded.

Anyhow, seeing it again after so long was so nostalgic, but extremely different. The recently retired Nikolaj Hubbe guest danced, being casted as the barely-moving main man. Having missed his farewell performance last season, I was so relieved that I was getting to see him one last time after all. Remaining pensive and calm throughout the whole piece (lasting over an hour long), he just didn’t seem to have the same emotional connection that Edward Villella portrayed to the role. All the same he was a strong figure to watch. There were a few other highlights that helped keep the work an interesting one. Much to my delight, Matthew Renko helped wake up the audience with his splendid rendition of “the adolescent”, which is the most actual dancing you will see in the whole thing. Having seen him in last year’s School of American Ballet annual workshop, I was excited and surprised to see him again in a leading role, considering he is not even yet in the company. He brought a lot of artistry to a role that could have easily been presented passive. He actually looked, may I say, pretty, considering how flexible he is. Another delight of the evening was the gorgeous Kaitlyn Gilliland, doing a rather sexually explicit pas de deux with Zachary Catazaro, another young talent yet to be in the company. Probably the slowest moving chunk of the piece, one could not help but be captivated by her gorgeous body and lines, holding their breath in anticipation of what she was going to do next. Adam Hendrickson was a natural at his part of the lion/beast, in which he physically harasses a young man to his death (I believe). Overall, I feel the dancers gave their best, in which the audience appreciated. I was a little shocked that, despite being over thirty years later, that someone still felt it was appropriate to boo at the initial curtain call. I am sure it did not faze the dancers.

The second half of the program was Four Seasons, which is probably the most classical ballet Robbins ever created. It has been a few years since the last time I saw it, so it was quite wonderfully refreshing, though the show was a little shaky. Megan Fairchild, Sean Suozzi, and Antonio Carmena were a charming threesome in the Winter section. It was going well until some poor corps girl fell pretty hard during the last dance. It was a little alarming. Spring was performed by Sara Mearns and Jared Angle. I am a little surprised by what people have said about Mearns’ second movement Symphony in C, because if it was anything like her Spring it should have been absolutely gorgeous. I have not really seen this young soloist much in the past, but I really liked what I saw. She brought coyness to the part that really emphasized the delicacy of her role. Jared Angle was once again a strong and supportive partner and dancer. The younger Angle brother, Tyler, did a very sensual Summer with his partner Rebecca Krohn. Them pairing up makes a strong, natural couple that I would like to see again in the future. Fall was the crowd pleasure, which could not be helped with the power trio that performed: Ashley Bouder, Benjamin Millepied, and Daniel Ulbricht. Always being a fiery dancer, Ashley was a natural, though in my opinion a little too cheeky the whole time. Millepied was a solid leading man, bring a lot of ABT-esque bravura to his variation. With his school-boy personality and his sky touching jumps, Ulbricht is probably the best faun you will ever see.

It was a great beginning for me as I start watching the Robbins Celebration unfurl and I can not wait until the next performance.

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