Ballerina Fantasies

by Leigh Witchel

New York City Ballet’s second night offered plum roles to the company’s top ballerinas . . . and a perhaps a glimpse of how they might imagine themselves – the ballerina they imagined becoming when daydreaming in school.

“Allegro Brillante” falls squarely in the territory that Tiler Peck conquered – annexed, perhaps? – within the ballerina roles at NYCB. Peck has marched through the major repertory. With downcast eyes and an assez triste puss, Peck wears her ballerina fantasy like the latest gown, elegant, with heavy, serious drapery.  She brightened as she went on in her solo until we finally saw her smile again.

She’s earned her grande dame demeanor, though. She nailed everything. “Allegro” is a turning role and Peck is a turner with a tight, fast, preternaturally accurate axis. Double turns were a foregone conclusion, but she still made them exciting – and no matter how fast she turned, the pirouettes remained suspended: Peck always turns and never spins.

Peck is adept at turning her technique into her artistry. Like Miranda Weese before her, Peck has so much control over her speed and footwork that she wielded musicality like a surgeon’s scalpel – hitting notes and accents with cutting precision.

Partnering her, Andrew Veyette looked as if the ballet took him by surprise and he didn’t expect Peck to get through this turn or that promenade quite so quickly. He bashed his way through his own turns, not a good look when behind him four men were turning cleanly. If the women in this small corps seemed lanky and wristy, the men looked strong, in particular Devin Alberda with his calm elegance, or Daniel Applebaum with his more inflected style. Either of the two could go into the lead.

Sara Mearns in “Swan Lake.” Photo © Paul Kolnik

It’s good to see Balanchine’s version of “Swan Lake” again. This staging was actually done by Peter Martins in 1986, three years after Balanchine’s death, reblocked for an expanded corps and given new designs by Alain Vaes, including a glacial setting dripping icicles and a corps of swans in black tulle. Even so, it follows Balanchine’s general compilation, which included a Pas de Neuf and the Valse Bluette, and it honors his tempos, which were fast as hell. Andrew Litton conducted the orchestra at roadrunner pace and everyone, from the Swan Queen to the back line of the corps, was racing. The quick tempos kept the dancing urgent and in the moment. Sara Mearns hustled through her solo and sped through the coda; to keep up with the breakneck pace Litton set for the entrechats, she didn’t point her toes once.

At slow tempos or fast, Mearns still gives great Odette. Her concept is tried-and-true: the larger-than-life, tragic bird. It’s the bullseye of her ballerina fantasy. She started, as is her wont, languorously but as the music picked up speed so did she. In the central pas de deux, she slowed down again to Petipa tempo, which looks better on her. She’s not by nature a fast dancer, but an expansive one, and she needs the time.  She picked her speed back up at the change in theme.

Jared Angle did what he does so well, partnered so expertly and invisibly that Mearns could do anything she pleased without fear. You wouldn’t even notice Angle’s partnering unless you looked for it, but do look for it. It was as well-wrought, but unobtrusive as Japanese woodwork.

Ashley Laracey led the Pas de Neuf with sharp, extravagant angles. With her leisurely command of the music, Savannah Lowery turned the Valse Bluette into something heroic.

Closing the evening, the three themes of “The Four Temperaments” looked particularly good. Lydia Wellington and Peter Walker danced the opening theme in an unbroken curl. Aaron Sanz looked green in his debut in the third theme with Megan LeCrone, but they could make a great pairing. He’s the right height for her and both of them approached the movement in the same intense, yet oblique way. Anthony Huxley interpreted Melancholic, like everything he does, all through the steps, remaining cool from the neck up even as he threw himself into perilous back bends.

Ashly Isaacs also made a debut subbing for Abi Stafford in Sanguinic. On short notice, it was raw but avid; she threw her pelvis forward with an impatient attack. Tyler Angle grabbed her wrists as she leaned in front of him and scrambled forward as if he were trying to tame a wild horse.

Ashley Bouder is Anthony Huxley’s opposite: extroverted and emotionally demonstrative – that’s part of her ballerina fantasy. She’s shorter than the typical Choleric, but the role let her floor the pedal – something she needs. But she doesn’t yet trust the ballet. Scowling as she leaped, Bouder acted Choleric, making the part literally angry. The Temperaments are metaphors: Choleric isn’t mad any more than Melancholic is sad or the Sanguinic couple are happy. The ballet is the height of Balanchine’s modernism: the emotions are in the steps.

copyright © 2017 by Leigh Witchel

“Allegro Brillante,” “Swan Lake,” “The Four Temperaments” – New York City Ballet
Lincoln Center, New York, NY
January 18, 2017

Cover: Ashley Bouder and Tyler Angle in “The Four Temperaments.” Photo © Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet‘s winter season runs through February 26.  The All Balanchine program runs through February 5.

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