Symphony in Three Movements, photo by Paul Kolnik
Sunday afternoon’s program displayed disparate moods and movement, ranging from George Balanchine’s neo-classical to neo-romantic works, with a ballet by Christopher Wheeldon showing innovative choreography of this century. All four pieces featured superb partnering and a fresh beginning-of-the-season commitment from the dancers.
Symphony in Three Movements is one of Balanchine’s finest “leotard” ballets. This abstract work captures and plays with the endless complexity of Stravinsky’s driven score, so that with each viewing another astonishing nuance is detectable in the angular, jazzy movement. This time, the contrasts between piano and harp stood out, along with the way a trio of women – and later a trio of men – perform a few simple, alternating steps that each coincide with a distinct instrument. Sterling Hyltin and Daniel Ulbricht leap among the large corps of women with unstoppable power and pizzazz. With equal energy and a bit more control and precision, Savannah Lowery and Adrian Danchig-Waring are a commanding, cheery presence in the second lead couple. Although Abi Stafford’s delicate dancing lacks authority in the first section, she makes up for it in a mature, meditative pas de deux with Jared Angle. Just for a moment, rippling arms, head rolls, and fluid promenades replace the sharpness and flair of the ballet’s opening, before flexed feet and angular shapes re-enter the mix. The slower tempo and melodic flute solo allow both dancers to luxuriate in the movement.
Balanchine’s La Valse equals Symphony in Three Movements in its intensity, but due to its melodrama and tragic narrative set in a dimly lit ballroom, the former feels dated. Nevertheless, Ravel’s evocative, haunting score and the maddening whirl of waltzing couples among a menacing death figure are enough to transport the viewer to this mysterious, unsettling world. Janie Taylor, as the tragic girl in white, is utterly captivating as she succumbs to death’s seductive power. Rather than appearing innocent and naïve, Taylor portrays a young woman who is simultaneously terrified and fascinated by Death (an ominous Amar Ramasar) in spite of the presence of her adoring, devoted partner (Sébastien Marcovici). She is self-destructive as she determinedly dances with Death and allows him to consume her. The girl’s recklessness is reflected in Taylor’s flailing limbs and wild abandon. She is truly “dancing on the edge of a volcano”, as Ravel dramatically wrote in his notes on La Valse.
A small section of the score for Swan Lake lends itself to Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, a technically challenging duet that premiered in 1960. The music and structure of the piece could easily fit into a full-length story ballet, with the elegant partnering, bravura solos for each dancer, and a rousing finale. The music, in fact, is known as the Black Swan pas de deux, but this brief gem of a ballet benefits from no plot or long-winded court dancing. Megan Fairchild is relaxed and engaging, without being overly sweet (as she has tended to do in the past), while Joaquin De Luz is effortless in his airborne jumps. In spite of both being overzealous near the end as she dives into his arms, the dancers give a polished performance.
After the Rain, photo by Tristram Kenton
In the midst of this Balanchine-dominant program is Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain (2005). The second half of this two-part work is a duet set to Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”, originally created for Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto. It is performed often as an excerpt from the ballet, and although its otherworldliness and delicacy are exquisite on their own, the duet makes more sense when balanced by the work’s stormy first half. Under dim lighting by Mark Stanley, three women in blue-gray leotards stand perched over their partners as their legs rapidly circle the air like the hands on a clock. The six dancers work as an ensemble and in pairs to create a whirlwind of movement that compliments Pärt’s disquieting “Tabula Rasa”. Yet, some of the most intriguing moments occur when the dancers move in silence. As Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall reappear in the second half, the pace mellows and a sunnier background replaces the darkness of the first section. Whelan wears only a pink leotard and ballet slippers, with her hair loose, while Hall is bare-chested. Their intimate, sensual duet seems to occur in another stratosphere, far away from a theater filled with spectators. Both dancers are fully absorbed in each other, with Whelan’s ethereal quality and Hall’s grounded movement balancing one another. But like many of Wheeldon’s works, the man’s role here is mainly to lift and provide support for the woman. The audience sees Whelan as physical, emotional, and spiritual, while Hall is mostly just physical. A deeper development of the man’s inner qualities would surely reveal an even more breathtaking duet.