David H. Koch Theater, New York, NY; September 30, 2014

Jerry Hochman

New York City Ballet in 'Serenade'.  Photo © Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet in ‘Serenade’.
Photo © Paul Kolnik

New York City ballet gave a particularly fiery performance of its “Balanchine/Tchaikovsky” program last Tuesday night – particularly fiery because there was a fire that caused the evacuation of the theater, including the rehearsal/dressing areas, prior to the performance.

At around 6:45 p.m., fire alarms began going off in the theater. They were ignored, but eventually, at around 7:05 (the performance was scheduled to begin at 7:30), those audience members who had already entered the theater were ushered out, joining the throng of balletgoers waiting to get in. As I exited, I heard fire trucks approaching the theater, turning onto 62nd street, by the side (stage) entrance. The dancers had already left the building – many in make up for the performance. As they waited en masse outside the stage door area, they inadvertently provided a relatively festive show before the show; at least one doing a barre on a stairway railing. The others were just trying to keep warm (Peter Martins somewhat giddily wrapped a jacket around one of the ballerina’s shoulders).

By 7:30 the dancers, and attendees, were allowed back into the theater. I was told by various sources that the alarm may have been caused by smoke coming from an electrical source, but no formal cause was announced.

The program, previously reviewed, finally began about half an hour late and was marked by several cast changes and debuts. In “Serenade”, Sterling Hyltin assumed the central role, the ‘lead among leads’ as I described it previously, and the one minor criticism I had of her performance in her debut in the role last year has disappeared. She gave the role life – and in the ‘Elegy’, a memorable ‘death and apotheosis’ with the ethereality that prompts an audience’s sighs. As the ‘angel of death’, Rebecca Krohn gave her role a deeply emotional resonance (rather than the somewhat stoic portrayal I’ve seen), marred only by being hidden, at times, behind her partner, Ask la Cour. In a role debut, Savannah Lowery executed the third ‘lead’ ballerina role with appropriate vibrancy and technical skill, but I kept thinking, given her height and more solid appearance, that she and Ms. Krohn should have switched roles.

“Mozartiana” was led by Sara Mearns, in another role debut, and Chase Finlay. Ms. Mearns’ performance overall lacked the polish, awesome extensions, and vivacity of Maria Kowroski’s portrayal last week, but in other respects was a strong debut. Mr. Finlay did a fine job, but seemed somewhat disengaged from Ms. Mearns. Anthony Huxley excelled in the ‘Gigue’, as he usually does dancing solo. The four young dancers in the cast, from the School of American Ballet (Esme Cosgrove, Natalie Glassie, Shelby Mann, and Rommie Tomasini) repeated their flawless performances. Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Luz followed with yet another scintillating performance of the “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux”.

The concluding piece, “Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3”, received very strong performances in the first, three-part section, as if the dancers, bottled up backstage longer than usual, performed with added fire in their steps to compensate.  In the opening ‘Élegie’, Russell Janzen, in a role debut, joined Teresa Reichlen, and both gave memorable, sensuous portrayals. Mr. Janzen was top notch, and Ms. Reichlen, energized, delivered a particularly moving, emotion-filled execution. Since I first saw him dance in a leading role as the Cavalier in “George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’” last December, Mr. Janzen has given every indication of being a danseur noble, albeit one still in training. This role does not call for such a dancer, but it does call for the ability to transmit a somewhat perplexed and driven form of passion, and Mr. Janzen delivered. He will not be a member of the corps much longer. But beyond that, I’ve previously commented that Ms. Reichlen and Mr. Janzen play off each other well, and in every performance in which I’ve seen them paired, since I first saw them dance together in ‘Diamonds’ from “Jewels” less than eight months ago, they bring out each other’s strengths. It’s a stage partnership that should be encouraged.

Ashley Laracey and Taylor Stanley, both in role debuts, led the ‘Valse Melancolique’. Ms. Laracey, who has exploded since her promotion to soloist last year, delivered a thrilling performance, filled with appropriate expression and dynamism. It was a brilliant debut. Mr. Stanley executed with finesse, but was considerably more careful than Ms. Laracey, and had some problems keeping her centered during partnered turns – in part, I think, because she danced with such abandon. And in the final, ‘Scherzo’, Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht led with flourish. This is one of Ms. Pereira’s finest roles, and last night she was particularly blazing, looking each time she blasted onto the stage as if she’d been fired out of cannon.

The ‘Tema Con Variazioni’ movement, led by Ashley Bouder and Gonzalo Garcia, while very capably done, was not quite as successful. Ms. Bouder delivered her usual energetic and technically accomplished performance, but until the closing section she added a sense of angst that to me was inappropriate. I appreciate her attempt to interpret the more subdued music in this manner, but it didn’t look right here – she looked mournful and in pain until the piece had nearly concluded. Mr. Garcia is the little danseur engine that could. He tries so hard that one wants to overlook the lack of polish. But last night, at the end of the piece, he seemed to run out of gas, and appeared somewhat wobbly and disoriented. That he was nevertheless able to lift Ms. Bouder onto his shoulders seemed a small miracle, and is a tribute to his pluck.

The orchestra throughout was led again by Clotilde Otranto, at her usual blistering NYCB pace – perhaps even more fiery than usual. During the final curtain calls, Ms. Otranto and the orchestra were saluted with applause that seemed to me to be even more exuberant than what greeted the dancers. It was well-deserved.