October 24, 2020
Introduced by congenial principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht, the final repertory programme of New York City Ballet’s Digital Fall Season focused on stories.
First, though, to the opening of Fanfare, Jerome Robbins’ 1953 ballet created to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and actually premiered on Coronation Day. Danced to Benjamin Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and with dancers representing the various instruments, it’s bright and easy going, but while it may still work for younger audiences (I have my doubts), to older eyes it looks rather obvious and simplistic.
George Balanchine’s rarely performed The Steadfast Tin Soldier, to music by Georges Bizet, is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same title. Perhaps that should be ‘very loosely’, for while the tin soldier and paper doll are there, virtually all the rest of the story is edited out. What we are left with is a tin soldier falling for a paper doll, but love then being stopped in its tracks by fate as his feminine ideal is rendered unattainable.
The 11-minute ballet is actually rather charming. Erica Pereira and Ulbricht are a delightful without ever becoming cute. I challenge anyone not to smile at Balanchine’s largely stiff-limbed choreography as they dance their pas de deux in designer David Mitchell’s nursery with its Christmas tree and blazing fire in a deceptively hospitable hearth. Some of Ulbricht’s flex-footed double tours and pirouettes, apparently with no preparation, leave you wondering how he does it.
Balanchine makes sure that those mechanical movements never overshadow the underlying human emotions in the story, however. He may be made of tin, but there really does seem to be emotion every time the soldier leans forward to kiss the doll’s hand. They maybe toys, but there really
In Andersen’s tale, and after many adventures and encounters with some particularly unpleasant characters for the soldier, both perish in a fire. Here, it’s only the paper doll. There are hints previously when she wobbles precariously towards the hearth, but when a gust of breeze from the window finally blows her into the flames, there is no escape. For him, all that’s left is the tin heart he gave her, a sad but lasting memory of what was.
The short streaming concludes with two excerpts from Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, created to provide a spring season evening with the same family appeal as winter’s Nutcracker. It’s a pleasing two-act affair, less twee than Ashton’s tends to be, which gets the story done and dusted before the interval, leaving the second act for a celebration of dance.
Balanchine’s ‘Donkey pas de deux’, here with Sara Mearns and Preston Chamblee has moments that make you smile – Bottom’s clumsiness, pausing to scratch an itch or showing more interest in his bundle of hay than Titania – but the emphasis on the touching and the tender.
In the following ‘Scherzo’, Anthony Huxley as Oberon is all crisp feet and princely bearing in his sparkling solo, framed by the many children of The School of American Ballet who perform as the forest’s assorted bugs.
This program is available on New York City Ballet’s YouTube channel until October 31, 2020.