October 14, 2020
One of the great things about this present Digital Fall Season from New York City Ballet, and the previous Spring Season, is that the programmes have been kept short at around an hour maximum in total, and varied with few excerpts or whole ballets stretching even to fifteen minutes. That’s important online, where watching is much harder work, not least because one is staring at a fixed spot, and a small fixed spot at that, in a way you do not in the theatre.
On a personal level, there have also only been a very few pieces that have struggled to appeal. Unfortunately, the first movement of Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, that opens this latest programme, is one of them.
You can’t argue that the dance doesn’t echo Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor, Op.25 well. It does. The choreography paints mood with a broad brush. It is pleasant, but that’s about as far as it goes. The opening movement’s score probably doesn’t help: an allegro that, well, just doesn’t feel very allegro.
With the women in soft-coloured Romantic tutus and the men in formal dress, it feels like the cast have escaped from some genteel period drama ball. It’s very elegant and correct. I also found myself thinking fairies in some twilight glade at one point.
Leads Ashley Bouder and Russell Janzen suggest a mature couple, although Janzen is definitely the rougher of the two. Emily Kitka gets the more expressive choreography. Her pique arabesques and extensions are gorgeous. Her backbends too.
The hardest thing you can ask a dancer to do on stage is stand still and look interested (it comes a close second to plain walking). But that’s just what Balanchine asked his couple to do for the whole opening Cantilène movement on Duo Concertant, just reacting to the music, each other, and the onstage pianist and violinist.
Standing next to the piano, Anthony Huxley appears perfectly natural, acknowledging the musicians but most of all looking very happily at his partner. Megan Fairchild may look less comfortable here but she certainly comes to life up when the dance starts in the second movement, Eclogue 1. She plays with the music quite beautifully. She’s bright and perky, emphasising the staccato moments but equally somehow making them extend. In the Eclogue 2 pas de deux, which feels like we’ve been let in on a very private moment, she’s light and languorous. Huxley is an attentive partner, moving quietly, supporting strongly, although it’s in his later solos in the Gigue that he really comes into his own, moving sharply, precisely, with freedom, and best of all, a sense of enjoyment.
Private moments, albeit a series and between different and interchanging couples pretty much sums up Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering too. It’s an absolute delight, full of subtle detail as Robbins’ plays with the music, sometimes in a flirtatious way, sometimes more considered and serious. Not a step, not even the smallest gesture, is without intent.
In the Scherzo and Finale screened, the highlight without doubt was seeing Megan Farichild as the Girl in Apricot. She dances with a radiance and a sheer youthful joyfulness that is rarely seen. I also enjoyed the delicate fragility of Sterling Hyltin as the Girl in Pink.
A couple of weeks ago, this Digital Fall Season opened with a bang with the first movement of Balanchine’s Symphony in C. This week, we got the Fourth Movement and Finale. Ballet thrills come in all forms of course, but for sheer joy, with its effervescent choreography, equally sparkling music, and not forgetting a bevy of white tutus, is there a better ballet, and a better finale, that highlights ballet’s magic? Over seventy years from its making, it still holds its own brilliantly.
The performance is led by Erica Pereira and Troy Schumacher, but this is very much an ensemble section about complex patterning and technique. Always crisp and sharp, they deliver across the board. Glorious. Quite glorious.
This programme is available on YouTube until October 20, 2020.
Next in New York City Ballet’s Digital Fall Season is 21st Century Voices, available in the UK from Wednesday October 21 at 1am (8pm the previous evening in New York). The programme features excerpts from Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, Year of the Rabbit and Everywhere We Go; Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition; and Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia and Mercurial Manoeuvres.