May 12 & 14, 2020
The opening streaming of fourth week of New York City Ballet’s Digital Spring Season moved away from single complete ballets, instead giving us a mixed Balanchine and Robbins quintet of four excepts, plus the whole of the latter’s Afternoon of a Faun.
Spring from Robbins’ The Four Seasons made for a pleasant if somewhat unexciting appetiser. Led by Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle, the season starts with a sense of awakening. The dance starts crisply, and with a sense of being driven by pleasant breezes gets sunnier and warmer as it goes along. Not for Robbins the usual Verdi music, by the way, but an assemblage from I Vespri Siciliani, I Lombardi and Il Trovatore.
From gentle to out and out sparkle, and the Theme and Variations from Balanchine’s Divertimento No.15. Made up of a series of short solos for the eight principal dancers, it sits very well as an excerpt. Each begins just as the previous ends, lending a sense of continuity. Without doubt, star of this recording is Tiler Peck, reeled of some of the most blindingly fast yet razor sharp footwork you could wish for, but managed to hit the brakes with precision to give us some delicious pauses.
Robbin’s Afternoon of a Faun is a little gem. Set in an empty ballet studio, the Nymph and Faun are dancers who meet there by chance. Although they dance together, lost in their own worlds, both appear more absorbed in themselves than interested in each other. This was especially true of Joseph Gordon, making a remarkable debut in the role opposite Sterling Hyltin. And yet it’s not just dreamy, it’s quietly sensual and sexual as Robbins somehow manages to combine the animalistic with the classically balletic. They do eventually take note of each as he leans forward and gently kisses her on the cheek, before retreating back as she disappears. Sublime, quite sublime.
Another change of pace brought the moody ‘Phlegmatic’ variation from Balanchine’s masterful The Four Temperaments, danced by Ask la Cour, who was totally at one with the music, bringing a fluid lyricism to the solo.
If you want to end a show with a bang and send the audience home grinning, the closing ‘Rondo’ from Balanchine’s Western Symphony is the way to do it. Roman Mejia (another debut in a role) fair flew across the stage in an early series of leaps and turns, although that was nothing to his later series of on-the-edge double tour-double pirouettes than even outdid partner Teresa Reichlen’s right on the button fouettés. I remember how super Birmingham Royal Ballet were with this work. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to have it in a British company repertory?
The second programme of the week brought Justin Peck’s Pulcinella Variations, an essentially plotless response to Stravinsky’s music. And the choreography is indeed intensely musical, Peck totally in tune with the score’s complex rhythms. If there are criticisms, they are that the ballet lacks any more than that in the way of a theme is a criticism, and that it too often feels a bit non-stop. Taking the finger off fast-forward a bit more often would have helped.
Having said that, and somewhat strangely, I enjoyed this streaming rather more than when I saw the ballet live in New York. Tiler Peck took the eye as ever, but even she was eclipsed by the effervescent Indiana Woodward. Emilie Gerrity, in one of the tiniest tutus you will ever see, also too the eye.
As enjoyable as the ballet is, Peck, or more pertinently Japanese fashion designer Tsumori Chisato, does it no favours with her costumes. Yes they are a riot of colour. Yes, there is a nod to Pulcinella’s commedia dell’arte origins, and early 20th-century expressionism. But rather than working with the dance, they totally overwhelm it. Time and again, it is the costumes that draw the eye rather than the dance. Unfortunate.
Week 5 of New York City Ballet’s Digital Spring Season opens with George Balanchine’s Diamonds, available for 72 hours from 1am, Wednesday May 20 (UK).
That’s followed by a Christopher Wheeldon double bill of Liturgy and Liturgy and Carousel (A Dance), available for 72 hours from 1am, Saturday May 23 (UK).
Available at www.nycballet.com, NYCB’s Facebook page, and NYCB’s YouTube channel.