Postcards from the Interregnum

by Leigh Witchel

Taking the pulse of New York City Ballet in its first weeks, the patient looked healthy enough walking, breathing, dancing normally. But NYCB has always been expert and functioning well in a dysfunctional environment. As other casts of the Balanchine programs performed, was there anything we could read from the vital signs?

In “Divertimento No. 15,” Chase Finlay looked overworked, because he was. It went well enough, but he had no surplus to offer. Ashly Isaacs was in her element in the turning variation. Indiana Woodward, her chest splayed and her body arcing forward, looked chirpy and excitable in the opening variation, but did the cleanest gargouillades, as if they were etched in glass. And when she had Cameron Dieck (in his debut) to dance with, the chirpiness went away.

Unity Phelan was put in the third variation: a plum role. It was interesting casting for her; she’s mainly been used in Wendy Whelan’s leotard parts but in this role she looped back to Stephanie Saland’s dusky elegance. Unlike Woodward, though, Phelan got jittery when dancing with Finlay. Her extensions where extreme, but not smooth.

The last, hardest variation, is in Ashley Bouder’s ambit as well as her mindset: a balance of classical style (which seems to be her trend) and technical virtuosity without neglecting either. Still, there were some odd details – she wasn’t just on top of the music in the scrambled-feet section of her variation, she was ahead of it. But in her duet, she and Finlay were once again opposites that attract – she excited him and he calmed her down.

Chase Finlay in “Divertimento No. 15.” Photo © Paul Kolnik.

In “The Four Temperaments” Sara Mearns continued her tendency to give big star performances in roles that don’t need them. Sanguinic eluded Mearns, just as much as Tiler Peck, though for different reasons. Like Peck, she focused on the external aspects of the role: pushing her pelvis and flapping her wrists, doing the “devil’s dance” coda in a crouch, or cranking her leg up those extra few inches after hitting an arabesque. But no matter how hard she tries to sell herself, Sanguinic ain’t buying.

On the other hand, Phlegmatic and Russell Janzen were a great fit. He’s the right physical type and his natural reticence is right for the part. Introverted by default, his debut was quiet, unadorned and looked just right. All the characterization was there without him having to add anything. Also making debuts were Olivia Boisson and Lars Nelson in the First Theme, which she invested with an austere glamour. It’s good to see her finally getting some parts.

Olivia Boisson and Lars Nelson in “The Four Temperaments.” Photo © Paul Kolnik.

Adrian Danchig-Waring had to pinch hit for Tyler Angle in “Chaconne.” Danchig-Waring was overworked, but also looked better in the challenges of the role. The opening adagio looked smooth and dreamy on Maria Kowroski, though the corps didn’t seem to see that heavenly opening as the infinite, but as transit. They walked as if they had somewhere they had to get to and hustled offstage in their bourrées.

In the theme and variations, Kowroski looked unforced in her entrée and bounced stylishly through her walks, but she’s a slow turner and had to push into a double pirouette, and triples were out of the question.

What’s changed at New York City Ballet now that it is run by committee?

Not a ton, the four people in charge of day to day operations (Jonathan Stafford, Justin Peck, Craig Hall and Rebecca Krohn) probably had at least something to do with some casting choices while Martins was in charge. Some casting changes, such as Finlay and Danchig-Waring’s prominence in the season, may be more about injury than reversals of fortune. But we also saw more of Devin Alberda and Erica Pereira (who did a creditable job in “Divert”), and that may indicate a change for them.

To see business as usual onstage can be both reassuring and disappointing, but it shouldn’t be cause for alarm. The big question isn’t about the changes onstage. It’s about the changes offstage. Will there will be any?

copyright © 2018 by Leigh Witchel

“Divertimento No. 15,” “The Four Temperaments,” “Chaconne” – New York City Ballet
Lincoln Center, New York, NY
January 30, 2018

Cover: Maria Kowroski in “Chaconne.” Photo © Paul Kolnik.

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