by Leigh Witchel
When you’re uncertain, wear your best outfit. New York City Ballet took that advice. The company has much to weather with the retirement of Peter Martins and the search for a successor. But for the second night of the winter season, the company had its crown jewels, both ballets and ballerinas, on display in a triple bill selection from Balanchine’s best. And it acted as if the situation were business as usual.
Leading “The Four Temperaments,” as much of a mainstay Tiler Peck is to New York City Ballet, she’s rarely in Balanchine’s hardcore modernist roles. Like Merrill Ashley, she’s needed for the gutcrunchers.
Also like Ashley, Peck dances Sanguinic, and it’s not second nature for her. She added too much to a role where Balanchine’s too-often-repeated dictum would actually have been her best guide: “Don’t think dear. Just do.”
Partnered by Tyler Angle, she got bogged down in the external details of the role: bending her wrists and pushing her pelvis. But as the duet went on, it got harder, and Peck shifted gears, whirling through turns and exploding into revolving jumps with her feet circling under her like sparklers. Peck was most herself when she was preoccupied with technique, and just doing.
Paradoxically, Anthony Huxley had the opposite problem. His arms in “Melancholic” were elegantly shaped, and he gave a beautiful, clean and uninflected performance in a part that needed more. Contrast this with his nemeses, the four women who wibble-wobble out on pointe, push their pelvises far off their axes and throw their legs skywards, craning their necks to watch their feet. “Four Ts” is about the push beyond stability and stasis, not just physically. “Melancholic” can use Huxley, and he can use it even more; the most memorable dancers in the role for the past few decades have been the beautiful ones inflamed to set aside their technique.
In contrast, Teresa Reichlen was all over the place in Choleric, pushing to the edge of her ability to control the step. The wildness was interesting and unusual from her, and a trick of how Balanchine built his ballets and the speed he liked them danced at – a tempo just beyond where the dancer was comfortable. Rather than emoting, the dancer’s concentration and exertion to keep up became emotion.
Sara Mearns needs roles big enough to contain her, and “Chaconne” has one. For all her technique, Mearns is about her furbelows. She’s like rococo architecture . . . if rococo architecture strapped on pointe shoes.
Despite the fact that Mearns is never Miss-Instrument-of-the-Choreographer, “Chaconne” was constructed to show off a ballerina, and there’s room for embellishments. Her entry in the variations was huge but easy: she was regal just being herself. Her beats were fuzzy, but that’s not her specialty. She amplifies roles by playing with balance and timing: Eccentric walks on pointe, or retirés with her toe to her knee that snap down to pointe tendue at different values. Flicking from extensions into turns, she beckoned Adrian Danchig-Waring and then skipped as if in a child’s game – played by adults.
Chaconne is at the edge of Danchig-Waring’s technique in the part but he was a quiet foil in both the pas de deux and variations.
In the myriad supporting roles both Troy Schumacher and Erica Pereira looked their best in their fleet duet, not missing any of the tricky promenades. Adrian Sanz led a trio miming a lute, though as if he’d never held an instrument in his life; evidently a lute is something you play far away from your chest by making decorative curlicues. Still, his hungry objective is similar to a young Sara Mearns: NOTICE ME. And he’s succeeded.
“Divertimento No. 15” looked uneven, literally. The casting of two supporting men, Andrew Scordato and Daniel Applebaum, of very different heights made trios with Andrew Veyette sloped instead of balanced. Still, you wouldn’t have wanted to deprive either of the part. Scordato showed off Sterling Hyltin in their duet. Applebaum added detail and shape to his short solo to open the variations, looking the other way after he brought his leg twice in a huge circle to create a complementary arc with his upper body.
It didn’t sound right either. In several places under Andrew Litton’s baton, the orchestration seemed tweaked from what it was. In the second variation, a violin played solo what used to be doubled. Thinning out the sound changed what Hyltin had to springboard in that avid dance, and she looked low-octane.
Lauren King was neatly on her leg in the first variation, but in “Divert,” neatly on your leg is a good thing. Her disposition and glamour makes her a good choice for the third variation, but that might bump Ashley Laracey from dancing it, and it brought good things out of her as well.
There’s no way, even in its best outfits, for NYCB to pretend that it’s business as usual. For years, it’s needed not to be business as usual. Not just because of the accusations of abuse or a toxic culture, but the entropy that tempts the company to rest on its laurels and think that great dancers and great repertory is enough. Not without active coaching and inspired leadership, whether from one person or a team.
One surprise in “Divert,” though. Since their divorce, you didn’t expect to see Veyette and Megan Fairchild dancing together. But they have, and they danced the leads in “Divert.” If the opening was subdued but cordial, their pas de deux looked smooth and unusually good.
They found a way to work together professionally. And hopefully after a lot of soul-searching, we’ll all be able to do that too.
copyright © 2018 by Leigh Witchel
“Divertimento No. 15,” “The Four Temperaments,” “Chaconne” – New York City Ballet
Lincoln Center, New York, NY
January 24, 2018
Cover: Sara Mearns in “Chaconne.” Photo © Paul Kolnik.
New York City Ballet‘s winter season runs through March 4.
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