New York City Ballet: Bournonville Divertissements, La Sylphide
David H. Koch Theater, New York, NY; May 23(m): 2015:
One of the many joys of New York City Ballet in the past several years has been the opportunities provided to soloists, corps dancers and even apprentices to test themselves in featured roles, and the opportunities provided to audiences to watch these dancers grow. The company takes casting chances, which ultimately yields immeasurable future dividends. At these two performances the benefits of providing such opportunities were evident.
Over the season, Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins gave leading role opportunities to four different sets of dancers in his new production of La Sylphide. The May 23 matinee performance featured the debuts of Lauren Lovette, Anthony Huxley, both soloists, and Gretchen Smith, a member of the corps, as the Sylph, James, and Madge. With one exception, the result was no less sensational than that of the Spring Gala opening night cast of Sterling Hyltin, Joaquin De Luz, and Georgina Pazcoguin (reviewed here) LINK
Lovette’s Sylph was very different from Hyltin’s, but equally enchanting. To a large extent, this has been Hyltin’s year, and she was as comfortable in this role as in all her others. Hers was not just a fantasy Sylph, but a reasonably sophisticated one – with a degree of regality, as well as sylph-like charm. Lovette took about three minutes to shake off nerves that made her, at the outset, look a bit stiff and apprehensive. But after she nailed a particularly difficult turn sequence while James was still asleep in his chair dreaming, she opened up and delivered an extraordinarily fine performance in every respect. Hers was the Sylph next door – playful, youthful, and captivating. With Lovette, you don’t just see the technique, which is there and abundant, but you feel the magic. Her Sylph was similar, in a way, to her portrayal of the kangaroo in Christopher Wheeldon’s Carnival of the Animals last year – natural and sweet, and totally delightful.
Simply put, Huxley’s James was one of the finest portrayals of the role that I’ve seen. Ever. His technique was flawless – but more than that, he displayed that quality of explosiveness that needed no wind-up. Like the best Bournonville male dancers, he soared with the greatest of ease as if driven from within, and descended as if he was controlling gravity rather than the other way around.
It is well recognized that Bournonville’s choreography, as well as the Bournonville style, provides more opportunities for male bravura dancing than it does for the women. This is the case with La Syphide – the Sylph executes what may be wickedly difficult footwork, but the focus is on looking joyful, effervescent, and ethereal (though not as much as in later Romantic ballets). On the other hand, James must not only execute the choreography as it was intended, but do so as if he’s a suddenly ignited stick of dynamite. No obvious preparation; no ‘look at what I’m going to do now’; he’s calm and controlled one second; the next he’s the personification of power coupled with grace.
But that wasn’t the only part of Huxley’s portrayal that was memorable. I’ve frequently been critical of him for being a superb technician on his own, but not sufficiently connecting with his partner. In that respect, he resembles De Luz, who danced James opposite Hyltin. But – and given that Bournonville in general and La Sylphide in particular doesn’t require the same degree of stage chemistry between the two principals as other ballets – here, finally, Huxley delivered that aspect of the character as well. He wasn’t just a crazy man who was into himself as much as he was enamored with the sylph of his dreams – he connected. It was a glorious, memorable performance.
Less noteworthy was Smith’s Madge, particularly in comparison to Pazcoguin’s electric portrayal on opening night. This Madge was low-key, and almost faded into the woodwork. For the role to be as significant as it has to be in the ballet, it’s necessary to do more than just transmit the mime, it’s the attitude – and the spirit, the animation, the evil, just wasn’t at a high enough decibel level.
In another debut, Troy Schumacher’s Gurn was excellently done – comparable to Daniel Ulbricht’s fine portrayal in the opening night cast. Lauren King’s Effie required her to tame her usual ear to ear smile, and she succeeded without sacrificing the sweetness that, together with confusion and helplessness, is part of the character. And the Scottish Reel in the first act was executed by both the corps and the young dancers from the School of American Ballet (led, at this performance, by Natalie Glassie) every bit as on opening night.
Bournonville Divertissements, which opened the program, also included a plethora of new faces, most of who had debuted in their roles the previous week. Erica Pereira and Alan Peiffer repeated their joyously danced excerpt from Napoli, Act 1, but the different cast in the pas de six (plus one) excerpts from Act 3 of Napoli, and Abdullah was every bit as delicious to watch as on the program’s opening night. Sara Adams, Ashly Isaacs (debuting that afternoon), Meagan Mann, Brittany Pollack, Russell Janzen, Andrew Scordato, and, on his own, Harrison Ball, all delivered – and Mann, Isaacs, and Scordato danced with particular flair.
But the greatest improvement over the first night cast was the combination of Teresa Reichlen and Zachary Catazaro in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano. Reichlen was pitch-perfect, with the attitude, consistent throughout, of muted but contented happiness, neither reserved nor overly ebullient. Catazaro wasn’t quite the equal of Tyler Angle on opening night, but he handled his assignment very well. And everyone in the cast delivered an infectiously jubilant Tarantella to conclude the dance.
NYCB will conclude its Spring, 2015 season with Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream next week. And in the continuing realm of providing opportunities and taking chances, in the final performance of Dream, Martins has cast an apprentice as Titania.