May 6 and 9, 2020
Set to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, Balanchine’s Rubies is a cheeky number. It’s spiky, witty, bouncy, playful, sporty as the dance matches the music’s jazzy nature. Or it least it should be. And it generally is when seen live, but for some reason, that didn’t always come across on this September 2019 recording.
Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia certainly sped through the central pas de deux. Garcia in particular seemed to be at one with the music, living on the edge. Fairchild a little less so. She certainly looked very at home with the off-centre arabesques and speedy footwork but they only occasionally sensed daring. My biggest issue was that the pair didn’t connect with me, however. There is no story but even so, it felt very academic; and if there’s one thing Rubies shouldn’t be, it’s that.
My eye was taken by Mira Nadon as the second ballerina (the ‘tall girl’, although when you see her line up with the others, she’s actually not), however, in what was her debut in the role. She’s fast, powerful and strong. Her legs exploded skywards in showgirl style as she commanded the stage.
Performed to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Concerto DSCH (the title refers to four notes used a musical motif used by the composer, and that when written in German notation, stand in for his initials, D. Sch.), made in 2008, was Alexei Ratmansky’s second original ballet for NYCB. It’s as spirited as Rubies, but in most of the two fast movements in particular, decidedly lighter.
The concerto was a birthday gift from Shostakovich to his 19-year-old son Maxim, who was the soloist at its premiere. Ratmansky’s choreography is certainly filled with youthful zest and camaraderie in the first and third movements.
The choreography takes the usual ballet vocabulary and tosses in dashes of folk dance, gymnastics, pedestrian moments, and even some very unusual flexed feet jumps. Moments of physical comedy bring a smile.
It’s innovative, but also very, very busy. Every note has a step (sometimes it feels like several steps) and arms in particular never seem to stop. Having said that, in this performance from October 5, 2018, everyone barrelled through the complicated allegro, making it look easy, apart from Tyler Angle swinging Sara Mearns around, which looked rather more effortful that it should have done.
Lots of dancers too. Even in the juicy second movement adagio, when the music does all the hard work, Ratmansky cannot stop himself backing Mearns and Angle with the corps. One senses the pas de deux should be overflowing with feeling (in the introduction, Ratmansky himself refers to two lovers out walking in one of the White Nights of a St Petersburg summer) but only occasionally seeps to the surface. Maybe I’m subconsciously harking back to MacMillan’s Concerto to the same score, and I’m sure seeing it detached and in 2-D doesn’t help (that was probably a big part of my problem with Rubies too), but it left me a tad underwhelmed. The ballet does get its fizz back at the end though.
Rubies has now finished its streaming but Concerto DSCH can be watched on YouTube until 00.30 BST early Monday morning, May 11.
Next in New York City Ballet’s Digital Spring Season, from 1am (UK) on Wednesday May 13, is a mixed programme of ‘Spring’ from Jerome Robbins’ The Four Seasons; the ‘Theme and Variations’ from George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15; Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun; the ‘Rondo’ from Balanchine’s Western Symphony.
Then, from 1am (UK) on Saturday, May 16 it’s Justin Peck’s Pulcinella Variations.
Both programmes will be available for 72 hours. For more details, visit www.nycballet.com