April 28 & May 1, 2020
Three for the price of two in the second week of New York City Ballet’s Digital Spring Season with two by Balanchine, a thoughtful Apollo and a sparkling Ballo della Regina rounded off with the sublime and entrancing pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain.
Think Apollo and ballet and the picture conjured up is of a tall, statuesque god. Pure and noble, young, a little understated but at the same time authoritative. And if he was blonde, so much the better. It’s hard to say quite when then depiction came to be the norm. Maybe it was Peter Martins, maybe Mikhail Baryshnikov. Cut to Taylor Stanley in this January 22, 2019 recording. Here, one senses someone being tested and still finding his way. There’s a sense of young playfulness, of curiosity, of growing up.
Aged 92, it may be the oldest ballet in NYCB’s repertory, but it’s a sprightly pensioner. That’s helped by Balanchine’s reductions from the original. When he cut the tedious ‘birth’ and a few other bits, he did everyone a big favour. Stripped down to the essentials, it gets to its essence: the dance, and notably the pas de deux between Apollo and Terpsichore.
Stanley’s Apollo is graceful yet unsure. Early on, he really does seem to be testing himself to the point of actually being off-balance before catching himself as he starts to fall. It is a portrayal that suggests a real, dare in say more human, character than a god. Somehow, even on film, that makes it connect more.
Leading Stanley’s, Tiler Peck was bold and playful as Terpsichore, although the pas de deux didn’t quite come together as it might. Perhaps that’s a reflection of him still learning, her more as teacher. Perhaps it’s just a consequence of seeing it on film rather than live. Peck was joined by Brittany Pollack as Polyhymnia and Indiana Woodward as Calliope, the latter showing super sharpness of attack.
The final starburst (the walk up the steps, Mount Olympus, was another welcome cut) was perfect as a final picture.
Think of a silvery sea glittering in the summer sun bouncing off its wavelets. That vision just about captures Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina, a ballet that’s challenging but that’s also as light and bright as the Verdi score to which it’s set.
Balanchine once told biographer Bernard Taper, “From Verdi’s way of dealing with the chorus, I have learned how to handle the corps de ballet, the ensemble, the soloists, how to make the soloists stand out against the corps, and when to give them a rest.”
That pretty much sums up this ballet of pale pink, blue, and white, essentially a set of virtuoso variations linked by ensemble sections, all to music cut from the composer’s Don Carlos.
Led by Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley, the performance from May 12, 2016 flutters along prettily. It may be the Queen’s ball, but it’s far from stately. This is dance that’s bright, energetic and enthusiastic. Fairchild breezes through her solos. In a slower one, there are moments when she holds balances as if teetering right on the edge. Later, she completes the tricky circular hops on pointe as if they were the easiest thing going. Huxley is on fine form too, with impressive elevation in his leaps. Best though, is the way every step flows into the next.
Elsewhere, there are interesting and pleasant formations for the corps. Occasionally some unusual movement too, notably a recurring rolling of the forearms around each other. Sara Adams stands out in particular.
As Wendy Whelan said in the introduction to the streaming, if Ballo della Regina is Balanchine’s ode to water, then After the Rain Wheeldon’s ode to earth and sky. And it is Whelan herself, on whom the ballet was made, who features alongside Craig Hall in the October 9, 2012 recording.
It’s ravishing. Quite, quite ravishing. Made for Whelan and Jock Soto just before Soto’s retirement it has the sense of a farewell. A YuanYuan Tan recording outdoors set against the seas might be the favourite recording of many, but Whelan imbues the dance with feeling like no other. There one oh so slow move into a deep backbend, that says so much more than words ever could. Even on film, you feel everything. That’s how good it is.
Apollo has now finished its streaming but Ballo della Regina and the pas de deux from After the Rain can be watched on YouTube until 00.30 BST early Monday morning, May 4.
Week 3 of New York City Ballet’s Digital Spring Season features George Balanchine’s Rubies from 00.30am BST on Wednesday May 6 and Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH from the same time on Saturday May 9. Both will be available for 72 hours. For more details, visit www.nycballet.com