That Extra Bow

By Leigh Witchel

The all-Balanchine program planned to close the season became an extra goodbye when Robert Fairchild announced his retirement from New York City Ballet. It was an early departure; Fairchild had only been in the company 11 years, but a principal for eight of them. He wasn’t the one you usually saw in white tights, but befitting his early training, he was the company’s song and dance man. His charisma carried over into contemporary work as well.

But before we all could say goodbye, there were three other Balanchine classics to enjoy. Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen made their debuts as the classical couple in “Cortège Hongrois.” Reichlen gave a Euclidean performance: her long, straight limbs made her duet with Janzen into right angles and hypotenuses. In her variation as well, except for the rippling pointe work, she was all straight lines. Janzen was a gallant, diffident partner. When he gestured towards Reichlen with his arms, he seemed to say, “look at her.” His turns were giving him trouble, but his jumps were clean and lofty.

Lauren King danced the variation created for Colleen Neary, each port de bras offered to the audience like the completion of a magic trick: tada! Claire Kretzschmar made a debut in Merrill Ashley’s stork-like variation, where she seemed to spend the entire time on toe. Sean Suozzi and Savannah Lowery both gave their all leading the character section. Suozzi slammed to the floor full tilt; Lowery was less aggressive, but no less full out, leaning her head on to his shoulder as she swooned back.

Sara Mearns in “La Valse.” Photo © Paul Kolnik.

Sara Mearns was a strange, contradictory heroine in “La Valse.” As she reached towards Tyler Angle, who played her beau, it was almost predatory. Yet when she mimed their posed, languorous chat in hand signals, she looked at him deeply but as unfocused as if she were on drugs.

She pulled back from that radical reading. After the guests fell to the ground in a stupor, Mearns seemed to realize she was in a hallucination. When she met Amar Ramasar, she was both afraid and curious. She couldn’t help herself when she was offered the dark necklace; she had to try it on. Then she had to look at it in the mirror, and one thing led to the next. The point of no return came when she threw down the bouquet and was spun by Ramasar into that final wild turn across the floor. What looked as if it might be a massive reinterpretation remained an innocent girl overwhelmed by Death.

In some ways Taylor Stanley feels like the dancer in the company who could extend the line of succession left vacant after Peter Boal and Jeffrey Edwards: the Young Prince. He did his solo in “Square Dance” with a supple back and his port de bras with grave elegance. His reticence was a good foil for Ashley Bouder. He’s not a match for her technically (his turns to the left weren’t happening) but she works well with someone who calms her impulses. Bouder arrived onstage doing relaxed yet precisely articulated entrechat-sixes; in her solo every gargouillade was cleanly gargled. On her return she didn’t opt for Merrill Ashley’s past-180° coupé jetés. Instead she threw in a shoulder height Russian pas de chat. The farther she was from Stanley, the more excitable things became; by the time she did the turned-in poses, she exaggerated what was already an exaggeration, beaming as she did it. When she shot in for the coda, it was full-metal Bouder.

Robert Fairchild and Sterling Hyltin in “Duo Concertant.” Photo © Paul Kolnik.

But that wasn’t what folks came to see this time. When the curtain rose for “Duo Concertant,” there was a huge applause for Fairchild, even though he and Sterling Hyltin did nothing but stand still through the opening, and it was all they could do to keep from breaking character. Arturo Delmoni and Susan Walters, on piano and violin, played with a fast tempo throughout: nothing dragged.

Even though Fairchild has been only rarely with the company the past year, he looked in shape to leave. He pushed everything, tapping his foot vigorously in the first Eclogue, then becoming tender for the second. The Gigue was again fast with all the feints and changes of directions. Fairchild danced it like a Martins ballet, but “Duo” is inextricable from Martin’s turnaround in the company and with Balanchine during the Stravinsky Festival. Its vocabulary is the root of all Martins ballets.

Yet if the ballet you leave with is the one that distills your career, “Duo” wasn’t the perfect choice. Fairchild’s always done it well, and he has a special rapport with Hyltin onstage. You saw it in his lighthearted offer of his hand, and her equally lighthearted refusal. But Fairchild was less Balanchine’s poet and more his Broadway man. His bloodline is not Boal and Edwards, but Jacques d’Amboise and Damian Woetzel. If only the duets and solos from “Who Cares?” had been an option.  Even so, Fairchild danced “Duo” as well or better than he ever had. The final movement, potentially a saccharine tar pit, wasn’t milked. It was a sweet delicate tale; a love story written in dandelion seeds.

He mimed fighting his way out of the curtains for the opera pull, and then the curtain rose for a different, abbreviated take on the now-customary farewell curtain call. Fairchild had a stand next to him with flowers, and he presented them to his fellow principals instead of the other way around.  Hyltin and Bouder went first, still in their costumes. Fairchild high-fived with Teresa Reichlen, tangoed with Andrew Veyette, and shared a long hug with his sister Megan.

It was done sweetly and quickly, which was for the best. Fairchild’s marriage to Tiler Peck dissolved earlier this year; that may have hastened his departure. She was not onstage for the bows.

When the rest of the dancers arrived they sent him forward. He kissed a red rose and laid it as an offering on the stage. In his final bows, he looked upwards to the heavens, twirled, played and blew kisses to us in a shower of Mylar sparklers.

If it was a scene both out of a ballet and “Singin’ In The Rain,” well, isn’t that who Robbie is?

copyright © 2017 by Leigh Witchel

Robert Fairchild Farewell Performance
“Cortège Hongrois,” “La Valse,” “Square Dance,” “Duo Concertant” – New York City Ballet
Lincoln Center, New York, NY
October 15, 2017

Cover: Robert Fairchild taking his final bows with New York City Ballet. Photo © Paul Kolnik.

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