Ashley Bouder in George Balanchine’s Firebird, photo by Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet’s winter season includes many full-length narrative ballets, but on Saturday evening, the company performed a triple bill of short stories. Although the newest one, Firebird, premiered in 1949, the ballets told timeless stories: three sailors on shore leave in New York City, bickering over two women; the biblical story of the prodigal son who sins and begs for forgiveness; and a fairy tale in which a brave bird comes to the aid of a prince and his community. Not only have the stories endured, but so have the sets, costumes, and George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins’ choreography, which brought these simple stories to life.
There are no suitable words to describe Ashley Bouder’s performance in Firebird. The magic that she brought to the role in 2000 while still in the corps, when she stepped in at the last moment for an injured dancer, was still present. Flitting frantically to escape the prince’s hold, Bouder embodied the firebird’s vulnerability. Even slight gasps were audible as she yearned for release. Her beautifully arched back, sharp arm flaps, and knowing gaze – one that suggested that this little bird had been in harm’s way many times before – lent themselves perfectly to the role of the firebird. Yet, she was not only a victim, but also a heroine, for she rescued the prince (performed by Jonathan Stafford, who reflected the slight naiveté and clumsiness of a young hunter wandering alone in a forest) and princesses from the attack of fantastical creatures by offering one of her magical feathers to the prince. Marc Chagall’s shimmering sets and costumes emphasized the story’s mythical qualities while providing lush colors, and Stravinsky’s score – his first for a ballet – added depth and drama. A golden glow was cast on Bouder throughout much of her performance, but even without this enhancement, she was truly radiant.
In the title role of Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, Joaquin De Luz embodied the youthful enthusiasm that this character requires, and later the exhaustion and desperation when the prodigal son falls at his father’s feet and begs for forgiveness. Maria Kowroski drew upon the alluring sections of Prokofiev’s score to convey a seductive, deceptive Siren. She was shaky throughout some of the partnering with De Luz, but still managed to illustrate the Siren’s power over the prodigal son. Just as a pack of creatures enchanted the prince and princesses in Firebird, a freakish clan of bald, drunk men misled the son and his servants. Their stomping and menacing stares were nightmarish yet unforgettable.
In Jerome Robbins’ 1944 ballet Fancy Free, Tyler Angle, Robert Fairchild, and Daniel Ulbricht all had just the right combination of charm and cockiness to portray three sailors on shore leave in New York City. They managed to sweep two women (Tiler Peck and Georgina Pazcoguin) off their feet in one moment, and exasperate them with their immaturity and macho competitiveness in the next. Leonard Bernstein’s vivid, jazzy score provided many opportunities for suspended moments and textured footwork. The three men drew upon these occasions in their solos – especially Robert Fairchild in the hip-swiveling “samba solo” – as did Peck and Angle in their flowing duet. Ronald Bates’ lighting evoked the lazy, laid-back feeling that comes from summer heat, while Kermit Love’s costumes and Oliver Smith’s set designs contributed rich color to the work.
In the midst of a season filled with full-length classics – A Midsummer Night’s Dream just concluded, Romeo + Juliet is currently being performed, and The Sleeping Beauty is up next – it was thoroughly enjoyable to watch City Ballet perform three short story gems.
Daniel Ulbricht in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, photo by Paul Kolnik