The quadruple-bill “Matters of the Heart” program at New York City Ballet was definitely worth seeing, just maybe not on Valentine’s Day. Three out of the four ballets ended with heartbreak, death, or loss (or all of the above), the exception being the story-less Raymonda Variations. Maybe Peter Martins should have thought that one through a little more when putting together this program, but the ballets still nicely complimented each other.
In Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations, Andrew Veyette replaced Benjamin Millepied, and I have a feeling this was a last-minute substitution because he was stiff and did not look comfortable with the choreography. Although he and Ashley Bouder danced well together, his solos were rushed, and at times, possibly improvised. Ashley was in top form (when isn’t she?), with suspended balances and solid pirouettes. She clearly has superb technique, but it’s important to point out her ability to engage the audience. She “speaks” with them, not just at them. Sara Mearns’ variation was memorable for the harp music and her gorgeous, lush movement quality.
Balanchine’s adorable The Steadfast Tin Soldier, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, tells the story of the love between a ballerina paper doll and a tin soldier. Megan Fairchild was a sweet and innocent little doll with sharpness in her steps and a lively face throughout this short ballet. Daniel Ulbricht proved that he can morph seamlessly from an eager sailor in Fancy Free (a few weeks ago), to the Prodigal Son, and on Thursday to a sharp, dedicated toy soldier. It is a tender and somewhat nostalgic ballet, suggesting a desire to return to youthful innocence. How heartbreaking when the wind blows the paper doll right into the flames of the fireplace, and the toy soldier is left alone in the festive living room.
Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nightingale and the Rose was equally heartbreaking. There are no words to describe the beauty of Wendy Whelan’s breathtaking opening solo, with dimmed yellow lighting and the faint chirping of birds in the background creating a tranquil environment. It gave me the chills. She is a powerful but solitary nightingale, who eventually sacrifices herself in the name of love. As she gives her blood to a rose to stain it red, the thorns of the rose bush prick her and toss and turn her body until she lays lifeless. This is beautifully portrayed by Whelan and sixteen men, led by Adrian Danchig-Waring and Sean Suozzi. Like many of his other ballets, this one demonstrates Wheeldon’s talent at creating interesting, unusual pas de deux.
I’ve seen Robert Schumann’s Davidsbundlertanze several times before, and I’m usually bored by this lengthy ballet. But on Thursday, I was deeply moved by the music (wonderfully played by Cameron Grant at the piano), and reflected on what this ballet conveys about Schumann’s life. The many duets depict both the joy and depression that marked his personal life and career. I hope I’ll continue to appreciate the beauty of this piece. Unfortunately, Darci Kistler was unable to perform a lot of the quick partnering without losing her technique. She looked weak and uncomfortable. Sara Mearns, who danced in the role that “belongs” to Kyra Nichols, dazzled the audience with her poise, grace, and maturity. Kudos to her on performing brilliantly in three ballets in one evening! Philip and I agree that Davidsbundlertanze needs a scenery update. The hideous, faded pink backdrop, which depicts cliffs along a seashore, as well as the chandeliers in the ballroom, look dated and really detract from the dancing.