Albert Evans, Rebecca Krohn, Jonathan Stafford, and Rachel Rutherford in Russian Seasons
(photo by John Ross)
Every season, the artistic staff at New York City Ballet has the daunting task of creating a variety of programs that will attract audiences, show variety and breadth – choreographically, musically, and thematically – and will offer the dancers room to grow artistically and technically, as well as provide them with opportunities to try new roles. “World Tour”, the program I saw on Saturday afternoon, did not just meet these criteria, but exceeded them. Five ballets take the audience on a journey through just as many countries and time periods. Although the program was nearly three hours long, it held my attention the entire time. The dancing, overall, was the finest I’ve seen so far this season, and the two dancers who debuted in principal roles – Wendy Whelan in Bugaku and Teresa Reichlen in The Chairman Dances – brought freshness and excitement to the performance.
Bugaku is a reminder that George Balanchine was not solely interested in abstract, “leotard ballets”, but also had an appetite for period pieces that explored different cultures. Japanese court dances were the influence for this intense, sexually charged ballet that depicts the intimacy of a couple on their first night together. The corps of women and men had distinct gestures that suggested a division in status: the women’s eyes were lowered, their heads down, and they took small, stiff steps, while the men’s chests were raised as they glared in whichever direction they assertively moved. The pas de deux for Wendy Whelan, making her debut, and Albert Evans, continued to show these gender differences. Evans manipulated her legs into extensions and then curled her torso around his. He was powerful, grounded, and macho while she was light and submissive – contrasts that were emphasized even more so because of distinct movement qualities that Whelan and Evans brought to their roles. They moved fluidly through the intricate partnering while maintaining a tension and courtesy that I think Balanchine was trying to convey.
Allegra Kent and Edward Villella in Bugaku, the original cast
(photo by Bert Stern)
When I think of Christopher Wheeldon, his plotless ballets, such as Polyphonia and Morphoses, come to mind. But like Balanchine, he has shown an interest in telling a story through dance, as he did in An American in Paris, with music by George Gershwin. The piece includes quite the cast of characters – tourists, artists, school girls, a bicyclist (watching Max van der Sterre zoom across the stage with a silly grin on his face was just laugh out loud funny), among others. But the central character was fabulously danced by Damian Woetzel as the awed American who arrives in Paris eager to paint the town. He and Tiler Peck danced seamlessly in their pas de deux, which featured the unusual lifts and turns that I’ve grown to expect from Wheeldon. Peck was particularly light on her feet, and flawlessly executed the quick footwork, while Sara Mearns’ all-too-brief, jazzy solo matched the pizzazz of this piece. Although the ballet has a cast of thirty-one, everyone is nicely featured, which is unusual for such a large piece. However, Woetzel really stole the show. There are so many talented men in the company that could take on his role when he retires in June, but I doubt any of them will be able to match the all-American smile and care-free attitude that Woetzel possesses and lends to this part.
After a brief pause, the mood in the theater shifted sharply as I watched Peter Martins’ Valse Triste, a brief duet that is filled with heartache and nostalgia, with music by Jean Sibelius. Jared Angle, dressed in white, seemed to be a ghost that appeared in Darci Kistler’s dream and lifted her into another world. Their waltz was occasionally lively, but mostly melancholy. Inevitably, their reunion came to an end as Angle walked slowly off stage while Kistler gazed at him from the floor and stretched out her arm, unable to grasp him. Angle was a gracious partner, and unlike in previous seasons, Kistler’s dancing was strong. She was solid on her leg in arabesques and not at all shaky in her upper body.
Martins’ The Chairman Dances was one of the highlights of the program, but not because of the choreography, but rather because Teresa Reichlen made her debut in the principal role, and because the ballet uses John Adams’ minimalist score (also called The Chairman Dances), originally written for his opera Nixon in China. The choreography isn’t nearly as interesting or substantial as the music, nor does it appear to be too technically demanding, but Reichlen made the most of the choreography by drawing on her musicality and ability to engage the audience in the movement. She was truly captivating, especially when she maintained eye contact with the audience as she zipped through a series of turns.
The program closed with Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons, a poetic tribute to Russian folklore that shows Ratmansky’s choreographic creativity and inventive formations, illustrated in twelve parts by a cast of twelve dancers. The ballet is brimming with emotions. In one instance the dancers were joyful, clapping and jumping in circles, while in the next moment they mourned, and in another instance they were meditative, perhaps reflecting on another time. Rebecca Krohn was a standout for her dramatic, mournful solo. She really threw herself into the demanding choreography. Adam Hendrickson impressed me with his jumps and effortless quality, while Jonathan Stafford, Sean Suozzi, and Amar Ramasar showed a sense of camaraderie and warmth that is essential to this ensemble piece. Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans were deeply expressive in their partnering, connecting with one another as well as with the other ten dancers. The many emotions of Russian Seasons were further conveyed by Leonid Desyatnikov’s dramatic score, the brightly colored costumes by Galina Solovyena (each woman wore a long, solid-colored dress), and Mark Stanley’s beautiful lighting. He managed to capture the mood of each section and maintain a sense of intimacy and community on stage. Russian Seasons is certainly worth keeping in the NYCB repertory for a long time.
For another review of this program, check out Philip’s blog, Oberon’s Grove. He’s written a wonderfully thorough review that highlights what each dancer brought to his or her role.