New York City Ballet’s Balanchine Program

NYCB in "The Four Temperaments", photo by Paul Kolnik

NYCB in "The Four Temperaments", photo by Paul Kolnik

The three ballets on New York City Ballet’s all-Balanchine program, which opened their winter season, display strikingly different moods and atmospheres. The scores for each work are crucial here, from Paul Hindemith’s wonderfully moody score (commissioned by Balanchine in 1940) for The Four Temperaments to Richard Strauss’s elegant music for the final, lavishing waltz in Vienna Waltzes. The dancers, too, must convey certain emotions through movement in order to transport the audience to a specific realm. On Saturday evening, they succeeded in The Four Temperaments, but the performances of Chaconne and Vienna Waltzes never carried me away from my seat in the David H. Koch Theater.

Chaconne, set to Christoph von Gluck’s music for the opera Orphée et Euridice, takes place in two disparate settings: the first in a heavenly land where the corps of women, all with their hair down, move slowly and delicately through several formations; and the second in a sparkling court that presents a series of formal dances. I could have watched more of the former and less of the latter, which is so similar to regal court scenes from other Balanchine ballets. Maria Kowroski took advantage of the luxuriant music in the first section to show off her flowing arabesques, but her partnership with Sébastien Marcovici was shaky (and mismatched – she towers over him when standing on pointe). They did not seem at ease together and never reached the otherworldly atmosphere that the music conveys in the first section. In the court scene, however, they were both gracious and acknowledged the audience in their solos.

Although The Four Temperaments was the most abstract ballet on the program – one of Balanchine’s black and white “leotard ballets” – it was interestingly the most transformative, and emotional. Rather than using theatrics, the dancers conveyed the four medieval temperaments through Balanchine’s neoclassical choreography. The simple yet striking opening to Hindemith’s brooding Theme with Four Variations for String Orchestra and Piano showed Faye Arthurs and Adrian Danchig-Waring (two of the finest dancers in the corps) crisscrossing their extended legs and pointed feet, then flexing them. Their movement was calm and poised while still appearing urgent. In the Melancholic variation, Sean Suozzi used his expressive arms and musical sensitivity to give a memorable performance, maintaining stamina even while conveying exhaustion and misery. Jared Angle and Savannah Lowery approached the Sanguinic variation with attack, and Lowery suspended her jumps and off-balance extensions just a moment longer than thought possible. Ask La Cour and the quartet of women in Phlegmatic were mesmerizing as they stared into the audience and rhythmically shifted their weight. In Choleric, Ellen Bar was strong and graceful while remaining intriguingly reserved.

New York City Ballet in Vienna Waltzes, photo by Paul Kolnik

With the exception of the elegant Tyler Angle and Sara Mearns, who both always succeed at portraying a particular mood, the leads in Vienna Waltzes were rather bland. Yvonne Borree needed to be sprightlier and more confident to keep up with Benjamin Millepied in the spring waltz. Jenifer Ringer lacked mysteriousness in the Gold and Silver Waltz, which is set in an Art Deco café, and Nilas Martins didn’t appear to be stunned by her presence. The Rosenkavalier Waltz is certainly an exquisite finale, with the men swirling women in white gowns, and mirrors reflecting the entire scene. But the dancers must imbue their movement – even waltzing – with feeling. Without this, Vienna Waltzes failed to transport me to another place and time.

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