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Winter Season

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Alistair Macaulay's review of the Tuesday night opening of the ballet brought back to me all the ballet joy I experienced that night. He wrote how City Ballet is dancing 27 ballets this winter season, more than any other in the country I believe, and they have a wealth of Balanchine repertory. We all know that, but it is lovely to be reminded by a critic who did not spend his entire career in New York City. His descriptions of the ballets, all Balanchine, were so detailed and impressive. Four Temperaments is a wonder that I always am amazed at. It epitomizes (for one thing) Balanchine's attitude toward money: He took his earnings from Hollywood movies he choreographed in the late 30's and gave it to a composer to create a ballet score. That's how Four Temperaments came about.

I always am surprised at how Macaulay does not appreciate Wendy Whelan, who I feel is a sinuously beautiful dancer. I loved her dancing and Charles Askegaard's, especially the partnering. I am not enough of a connoisseur to see the missteps (faux pas) if there are. Perhaps Wendy fell off balance at one point, but it was almost unnoticeable.

Another Winter Season at City Ballet! Cause to celebrate. And Balanchine's birthday celebration coming up. More ballet joy!

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I always am surprised at how Macaulay does not appreciate Wendy Whelan, who I feel is a sinuously beautiful dancer. I loved her dancing and Charles Askegaard's, especially the partnering. I am not enough of a connoisseur to see the missteps (faux pas) if there are. Perhaps Wendy fell off balance at one point, but it was almost unnoticeable.

I attended on Tuesday evening, and it was wonderful. I'm surprised the review doesn't mention how great Somogyi was too. I was particularly thrilled with Duo Concertant. For many, many years, the female role was not danced at the level it should have been at NYCB. With Hyltin, I could see each and every step gorgeously articulated. Robby Fairchild's performance was also fantastic. I have to say that I agree w. the review with respect to Whelan and Askegard. I'm usually a big fan of Wendy's, but I thought her technique was weak, especially her lack of clean lines. Askegard, who is the finest partner that NYCB presently has, also was lacking in technique. I'll chalk it up to the possibility that since it is the first rep performance of the season, maybe Whelan and Askegard are not yet firing on all cylinders.

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I, too, have to agree with the Whelan assessment -- I don't think Wendy's technique is up to the demands of this kind of role. Having seen Sara Mearns in it, the difference is clear -- where Mearns was a tornado, whirling wildly around the stage, in keeping with the mood of the piece, last night I kept thinking "I hope Wendy doesn't hurt herself."

Agreed that Duo Concertante is newly brilliant with Hyltin and Fairchild -- the energy they have is amazing.

Somogyi was wonderful in 4Ts -- she owns that particular role (Jared Angle was also great - his footwork is so clean and precise). And Tess Reichlen as Choleric- wow! Her series of gargouillades were perfect, she looked like she was floating. And I like that she is so incisive and responsive to the music. A lot of other Cholerics at city ballet move too languidly. I think Tworzyanski was supposed to debut in the third couple of the Theme, but was subbed back to the first couple role (which he's done many times, very well) because someone else got injured and there was some role shuffling. Hopefully he'll get his debut at the next performance!

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I just saw the dress rehearsal for the new Susan Stroman ballet, Frankie & Johnny & Rose, and I think it will be a great audience favorite. There is an amusing story, good Broadway moves and virtuoso dancing. That Johnny is real two-timer or maybe a three timer.

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I was at the Divertimento No. 15 performance last night -- I thought the casting of the men in that ballet particularly disappointing. Why were the Stroman and Wheeldon ballets on the same night so much better cast in terms of the men than one of Balanchine's masterpieces? We had 3 men debuting -- Finlay, Applebaum and Peiffer. The "theme" danced by the men didn't even register. None of the three had very good technique -- Finlay could barely get around on the double tours in his solo, and Applebaum had no entrechat to speak of. Of the three, Peiffer was the best but even he didn't make much of the "theme" that was so brilliantly danced by Ramasar and Fowler recently. The partnering, too, was very white-knuckled and distracting in how it looked so effortful. I think this ballet deserved men with better technique and more partnering experience, especially considering how wonderful the women were. When I turned the program page to the Wheeldon ballet and saw Tyler Angle, Andrew Veyette, and Amar Ramasar listed for Polyphonia, I wished I could have seen them in Divertimento instead! Veyette and Ramasar were great in Divertimento the last time City Ballet performed it. Now that the ballet has the women, it needs better men -- not just three tall-ish dudes all from the corps.

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I attended last night's performance of Swan Lake, with Sara Mearns and Jared Angle dancing the principal roles. It was my first time seeing NYCB's full evening Swan Lake, which I found I mostly disliked, but putting that aside...

Sara Mearns was wonderful! Her Odile was truly stunning, one of the very best I've seen. So many ballerinas dance Odile so seductively and vampishly as to tip over into camp (I'm thinking of you, Irina Dvorovenko!), but Mearns isn't one of them. Her Odile was utterly self-possessed, completely in control of the ballroom but existing in a world of her own. No pawn of Von Rothbart, this one. It was a really distinctive and fully realized interpretation of the role. Her use of her arms was particularly wonderful: her movements with them were so strong, it was like she was almost literally carving out a space apart for herself.

I wish that her Odette was up to the level of her Odile, but I didn't find it to be. While she danced beautifully, I didn't find her Odette to be engrossing and artistically fleshed out like her Black Swan was. It was lovely, but it wasn't unique. Jared Angle was not much help here: though he partnered her ably and very responsively from a technical standpoint, I felt like he and Mearns had zero chemistry together.

As for other performances...

Daniel Ulbricht was a really impressive Jester. So much fun to watch, it made the pain of looking at his horrifically ugly costumes tolerable. :)

Tiler Peck was absolutely delightful in the pas de quatre in the second act: so quick and light and clever. Alina Dronova was another highlight of the second act, in Neapolitan. I find her to be a really charming dancer and I wish she got featured a bit more.

I really look forward to seeing Sara Mearns dance Odette/Odile again next season. I think that her Odette will only get better, and I can't wait to see what she eventually brings to the role.

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I went too and had the opposite reaction. I felt that while Mearns was absolutely exquisite as O/O, Martins' staging of the work is so ugly and muddled that it's not something I'd ever sit through again willingly.

I have no idea why Peter Martins remains so loyal to the designer Per Kirkeby, who designed one of the ugliest decors I have ever seen in any production, and that includes all the so-called "Eurotrash" regie opera productions. Kirkeby loves pumpkin-orange and lime green. In both "color" acts orange and bright green are the main colors of the corps de ballet costumes. He's fond of cut-outs in costumes as well, for no apparent reason. He also apparently likes mud-brown (the color of the backdrops). The clash of colors is absolutely horrific. It's not often that I can't look onstage because it is so visually ugly, but Kirkeby has managed to do just that for Act One of Martins' Swan Lake. What's worse, Kirkeby's designs create no sense of a "court" for Prince Siegfried, but some abstract rustic in-the-middle-of-nowhere picnic that gives us no idea of Siegfried's side of the story. Martins seems determined to make Act 1 a show-case for abstract dance. That really doesn't work when Swan Lake by design has Act One as the "character" act and Act Two as the greatest act of "abstract dance" ever choreographed.

As for Martins' Swan Lake overall, I scratched my head at some of the choices he decided to make. For the lakeside scenes, he decided to preserve most of the choreography Balanchine made for his one-act Swan Lake. This resulted in some beautiful corps de ballet formations (in this ballet, they really circle around Siegfried and Odette, like a real flock of birds), but also some ungainly cuts to the score that are acceptable in an abridged Swan Lake but not for a full-length ballet. In Act 3, he had a glittery pas de quatre that showed off the kind of allegro dancing in which the NYCB excels (Megan Fairchild, Tiler Peck, Abi Stafford, and Joaquin de Luz danced tonight -- A-list casting), but then had a weird, Sheherazade-like Russian dance in which the lovely Janie Taylor was wearing harem pants and reduced to wiggling her hips. And then he made the oddest choice of all -- after the climactic Black Swan pas de deux, Siegfried pledges his love to Odile, but instead of the usual sinister black puff and cackling center-stage, there's some milling about by the courtiers (dressed like Power Rangers) while the big drama was happening upstage. Odile and Rothbart disappeared from the party and Siegfried was in despair, and the audience barely noticed. And then between the transition from the Black Swan act to the lakeside scene, Martins has the jester poke his head into the court and settle on the bench, for some cheap laughs. I already spoke about Act One, but I noticed that in Act Three and Act Four (the final lakeside scene) Martins is almost embarrassed at actually telling the story. When there is supposed to be the most drama, Martins seems determined to undermine it, to be Seinfeld-like in a "no lessons, no hugging" way. Rothbart expires in a heap of orange for no particular reason, but then Odette is whisked offstage -- why? Martins' choices are not worse than Kevin McKenzie's equally dreadful Swan Lake for the ABT, but they do make it hard for the Odette/Odile to make an emotional impact.

Mearns was absolutely exquisite -- vulnerable, lyrical, deeply human and passionate as Odette, and wonderfully seductive as Odile, but I saw her once, she was fabulous, now I have no desire to see the work again.

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Thanks for those responses to the Swan Lake. I was impressed by Alastair Macaulay's review in today's NY Times, especially his comments about Sarah Mearns. Macaulay makes her seem like a fascinating dancer,

Question: is the following long passage from the Macaulay review true to what you have seen in Mearns's performance -- or is it over the top?

These virtues are true of Ms. Mearns but on a larger and more complex scale. If you want to understand why “Swan Lake” is a more profound work than “Black Swan” suggests, there is no better performance to start with than hers. Without an ideal physique (her shoulders are high) or a defeat-all-rivals technique, the beauty of her performance is that she guides you to larger things. The way her face takes the light and her eyes pay burning attention to others onstage gives her a movie-star luminosity, and though she can’t quite whip off fouetté turns as fast as Fayçal Karoui’s (sometimes inconsiderately fast) conducting asks, in every other respect hers is a multifaceted technique that superbly contrasts tight-closed positions with wide-open ones, rapid sparkling details with large shapes.

The most profound pleasure of her dancing derives from her phrasing to music. The start of one phrase, the end of another, the felicitous timing of steps tiny and large (piercing into the music’s beat) show musicality on many levels. The finest dancers always seem to have time, but Ms. Mearns — a naturally dramatic performer — fills that time with meaning. The lingering opening of one phrase as the Swan Queen Odette adds a nuance of tragic reluctance, while her scintillating rhythm as the illusionary Odile acts as another layer of dazzle to the music’s orchestration.

Her spine is no less eloquent. It’s tempting just to marvel at the phenomenal way it yields or bends, but actually with her these points are always dramatic. As Odile she ends one rapid solo sequence by arriving in Siegfried’s arms in an astonishingly rich backbend, telling him, bewilderingly, at the same moment that she belongs to him and that she is straining to get away. As Odette similar backbends are charged with a more personal sincerity: we feel the character’s supreme need and fluctuations of hope and despair, never monotonously expressed but always moving on in the journey of the narrative.

Then there is the heroic scale of her dancing. Her line lights up the stage space like a search beam. After Odile and Siegfried first meet, they sweep off together into the wings, but Ms. Mearns pauses in an imperious arabesque so suspenseful that it makes you impatient for her return.

There is no sentimentality to Ms. Mearns’s Odette. She doesn’t make the widespread mistake of looking searchingly into Siegfried’s face as he unfolds her at the start of the “White Swan” pas de deux; the drama begins with her reluctance even to meet his gaze. During this pas de deux, however, she takes one fleeting glance into his eyes, and then another, and each is a punctuation mark that perfectly illustrates the gradual progress of what her dancing has already demonstrated. Every time she withdraws from his arms, we understand her diffidence; every time she returns to him, we feel the courage and hope that motivate her.

I am only scraping the surface of this remarkable interpretation.

I've only seen Martins' production once and long ago. It would be wonderful to hear comparisons of the various casts from those of you who get to see more than one.

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Everyone, including MacAuley, is in agreement that the set and costume designs are the worst ever seen. I agree. It makes it so difficult to look at the stage.

So far, everyone, including MacAuley, is in agreement that Sarah Mearns is astounding. I also agree. My two or three cents will add nothing to the interesting comments above. Sadly I get nothing, nada, zilch, less than zero from Jared Angel. His line is decent, his energy, commitment, expressions -- blank. I hope there are reports later telling of better, more exciting Princes.

But I (like MacAuley) have to add that I feel Karoui's tempi were cruelly fast. In particular, the delightful pas de quatre in the lakeside scene (as opposed to the one in the divertissments) was turned into a torture for the four dancers, and I think that they and the choreography suffered for it.

But Mearns, long may she reign.

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In Friday night's performance, I was struck by how Mearns and Angle created an imaginary world that completely drew us in. To me, it seemed that both lake side scenes were about the suffering of Odette and her need for the Prince to rescue her. She didn't seem so much to fall in love with him as to see him as the instrument of her delivery, which I thought was a valid interpretation and one well suited to Mearns, who given her physique can not be a frail Swan Queen. It particularly worked for me as it was all expressed by their large scale dancing, their movement, not just a few facial expressions.

The dances for the swan corps do much the same thing, telling the story thru great sweeping movement and to see this corps with the typical NYCB energy moving en masse is truly exciting.

Janie Taylor also created her own world in the Russian dance. Taylor is sui generis in this or probably any company and she gives this variation a kinky, kind of sexiness and glamour that is very compelling.

The ability to create a world or mood onstage isn't limited to story ballets. At the Saturday matinee, Whelan and Hall told a story about love lost and love remembered in After the Rain that was incredibly poignant. We seem to be looking into this couple's bedroom, it is almost unbearably intimate and maybe Wheeldon's best work.

Jenifer Ringer created a special sunlit spot in Spring in Robbin's The Four Seasons and was ably supported by Tyler Angle. This kind of perfume is what was missing from Tiler Peck's performance in Fall. She can do all the steps, almost too easily, but lacks the Bolshoi panache or even vulgarity that would make this part a showstopper - as it needs to be. (See Bouder's performances in the same role or Struchkova in the Bolshoi version of Walpergisnacht.)

But unhappily, Bouder was almost vulgar in the climatic woman's variation in Divertimento #15. She mugged,scaled the steps and the accents peculiarly and generally seemed to think she was in the ppd from Stars and Stripes. Happily, she calmed down a little for the ppd and the finale. Lately, she seems always to be pushing too hard as she did in her early days, which is a shame. The only time, she hasn't recently that I can recall was her debut in Scotch. It was soft, romantic and perfectly danced. And she created a wonderful, imaginary world all her own.

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I wrote this about Sara Mearns performance on Friday:\

Sara Mearns from the moment she grand jeted onstage was that most rare of combinations -- an Odette who both projected the aloofness of someone not quite human, and the passion of a woman trapped in a swan's body. I've mentioned this before on the blog but Mearns doesn't have a typical body for a ballerina. She has broad shoulders, a short neck, and a curvy, somewhat thick torso. Mearns is also an unusual dancer for the NYCB. The repertory of the NYCB (and Martins' personal preference) tends to favor ballerinas who are efficient allegro, terre a terre dancers. My impression of the stereotypical NYCB corps de ballet girl is that they tend to be good technicians but a bit blank and brittle. Mearns is an adagio dancer among a sea of allegros. She is not afraid to move slightly behind the beat of the music, to accentuate a step or show off her luxurious classical line. She stands out among the small, brisk swans as a real Swan Queen -- regal in carriage, a Woman among girls. In both appearance and style she reminds me a lot of Galina Ulanova, who also had a short neck, thick torso, and a uniquely lyrical way of dancing. Mearns has both the Russian back (extremely flexible) and the traditionally "Russian" upper body -- highly expressive. But she also can shock the audience with lightning-fast pique turns and a lower-body strength on pointe associated with the NYCB.

Mearns is like all great performers, in that she's turned her shortcomings into strengths. She might not have the most beautiful body, but whereas with other ballerinas I often find myself staring at their feet, legs, hands, face, whatever, with Mearns I instead was mesmerized by the way she moved. This was not an Odette that traveled slowly from pose to pose, with stops in between. You could take a snapshot of Mearns at any time and it would be gorgeous, but her O/O was vibrant and vital, and it gave energy to the whole performance. I loved the magnificent sweep of her leg in arabesque penchee, her luxuriously curved back, that she could maneuver into all sorts of ways without detracting from her overall plumb line. She could be deliciously subtle too, like when she bourreed around the stage noiselessly, smooth as silk, and her sissones were feather-light. She made wonderful use of her long arms. In the lakeside acts, her arms embraced Siegfried so tightly it was almost frightening, the urgency with which this Odette wants to be freed. And in arabesque, Mearns often slowly moved her arms upwards, as if she were imploring the heavens to answer her prayers. As Odile, Mearns' arms became sinister and spidery, her luxurious cambre's purposefully vulgar, her arabesque stiffer, more at a 90 degree angle, and without the grand sweep. I've rarely seen an O/O willing to make Odile artificially seductive, rather than just purely va-va-voom seductive. Her fouettes traveled downstage, and she didn't throw in doubles or triples, but I admired her tenacity, because the NYCB isn't a company where ballerinas regularly have to practice those 32 fouettes. In the last act, Martins chooses for Rothbart's spell to be broken, but for Odette to leave Siegfried anyway. It's a rather aloof way to end the ballet, but Mearns made her final embrace of Siegfried long and lingering, before she bourreed offstage.

Mearns gave Martins' cold, sterile Swan Lake a beating heart and soul.

I too was disappointed in Angle. This is what I wrote:

The dancing was also off-point. One of the corps de ballet girls took a nasty spill at the very start of the Waltz, and the rest of the corps seemed rattled for the rest of the dance. Jared Angle (Siegfried) is one of those danseurs Peter Martins seems to love -- self-effacing, solid, reliable, and ... not much else. This could be seen by the way this Siegfried shuffled onstage dully with his buddies. An Angel Corella or Marcelo Gomes know how to make an entrance, even in a cavalier role like Siegfried. They don't just shuffle onstage with their buddies. To spice things up maybe, Martins decided to have a Jester (Daniel Ulbricht), who did the best he could but ... I always find the Jester a terminally irritating role in any production of Swan Lake. The pas de trois had a last-minute substitution in Anthony Hurley as Benno. Hurley made the classic mistake of remembering to punch out all the big steps, while forgetting, it seems, the small connecting steps. So the pas de trois looked awkward and ungainly when it should theoretically be a seamless flow of allegro dancing. Erica Pereira and Ana Sophia Scheller danced with him and this is another example of how Kirkeby's designs actually undermine the performance -- they were dressed in these tiny, ugly dresses that looked more appropriate for Sunday dance-recital students than NYCB company stars.

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Sara Mearns has such an expressive face. She makes you feel her tragic pain through her expressions. She is almost like a silent movie star in the way she can communicate with her audience, not to mention her flexible spine and lush, expansive movements. Like some of the posts above, I found Jared Angle a blandly boring presence who partnered Ms. Mearns ably. (Can you imagine what a Mearns/Gomes performance might look like! Amazing.) I thought Tiler Peck and J. DeLuz were terrific in the ballroom scene.

I've been at a number of performances other than SL lately, as well. I thought Teresa Reichlin was fabulous as the Siren in Prodigal. She uses her long limbs like daggers - a cool, voluptuous snake. Unfortunately, Ulbricht does not seem to have the imagination to convey the expressive aspects of the Prodigal's downfall and ultimate reconciliation with his father. He is too robust in these scenes, and his performance lacks nuance and detail. I certainly appreciate Ulbrict's virtuosity, but it's time for him to develop some additional performance skills.

I loved Craig Hall and Wendy Whelan in After the Rain. Such a lovely pdd.

I have to agree with the post above regarding Bouder's mugging during Divertimento. I hope she does not do that during SL this week. At the performance on Saturday, I thought Chase Finlay did a lovely job. I look forward to seeing more of him in the future.

Scheller has been doing great work this season. I thought she was perfection in the soloist roles in La Source, Walspurginacht, Cortege and Divertimento. I missed her in the lead of Cortege. I hope she gets some more leading roles.

I thought Stroman's new ballet was boring. She seems to have a very limited ballet vocabulary. However, the audience seemed to enjoy it. I can understand why Martins wanted to add a light, breezy, jazzy work to the rep. Last year's architecture of dance gave us complex ballets from Important Ballet Choreographers. At least the Stroman piece will appeal to other segments of the audience who are seeking fun entertainment.

Did anyone see Suozzi and Mearns in Prodigal?

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The season is almost over, it sped by like a whirlwind and I don't know how it can possibly be almost over already. I saw so many wonderful performances but have just been too busy to post.

Sara Mearns' Swan Lake is just as miraculous as Macaulay indicates. To be sure, if she was dancing it in a more traditional company, in a truly classical production I still would have found it thrilling, but probably would have thought it was out of place. It's a very non-traditional interpretation - wild and almost veering out of control at times but riveting and utterly devastating.

I have to say I don't always agree with Macaulay but this time I think he described her performance very well. The contrast between that creamy phrasing & deep backbends and then her lightning fast turns, and striking, stabbing arabesques revealed the complexity of Odette's dilemma perfectly. And her dancing often veered just this side of out of control, which was possible due to J. Angle's secure partnering.

I also saw the Suozzi/Mearns Prodigal. It was a very good outing for Suozzi, but again - Mearns dominated. She was a very seductive, sinister Siren. Not a cool, detached reading as we often see at NYCB, she was very much the scheming seducer.

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Reviewers comments about the dull, lackluster nature of Jared Angle's performance is spot on. Faycal's tempo issues are a concern. Swan Lake is a score that requires great restraint by the conductor. He must control what can quickly become a runaway train. Like a conductor trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Trust me, I have been there.

As for Peter's choreography, need we say more? Glad I am seeing Swan Lake at ABT this coming MET season.

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Alastair Macaulay's review of Divertimento No. 15, which he saw with two casts, was on the whole very appreciative.

This month, ... the company's best performances of it in three decades filled me with pleasure and cause for hope.

As always, he was remarkably precise and descriptive about what he liked (and, in just a few cases, did not like) about the dancers' work. He was concise, as well, as sometimes he is not.

Now that I live far from New York City, I especially appreciate the occasional comparisons to dancers from the old days. For example, this about Sebastien Marcovici:

The steady improvement in Mr. Marcovici's dancing over the last two years has been a pleasure. Although the musculature of his torso can still clot his line and posture at times, there is the strong texture of his movement that recalls the former City Ballet principal Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and he, too, partners handsomely.
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