New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
April 18, 2017
Allegro Brillante, The Four Temperaments, Symphony in C
New York City Ballet kicked off its Spring, 2017 season Tuesday night with a remarkable all-Balanchine program, one of two (the other being an all-Robbins program) that NYCB will present this week in advance of its four-week Here/Now Festival, the season’s focus. It proved to be one of those rare performances that was a privilege to attend.
The three pieces on the program – Allegro Brillante, The Four Temperaments, and Symphony in C, are not only masterful pieces of work, they’re familiar ballets that need no explanatory elaboration. Each is a classic. Accordingly, I’ll keep my analytical comments here to a minimum. But while Balanchine’s choreography can speak for itself, the devil is in the performance details, and each piece received the performance its choreography merited. Usually, regardless of the quality of the ballets being presented or their status in the NYCB legacy pantheon, there’s some amount of rustiness on opening night – corps dancers not totally in sync; featured dancers not yet accustomed to new roles – but not this season. The company, on opening night, is already in sparkling mid-season form.
Allegro Brillante is a pure dance ballet of non-stop movement that is a hallmark of Balanchine’s neo-classic style, although it’s camouflaged to some extent by being presented in the context of the joyously romantic ambiance encouraged by Tchaikovsky’s score (Piano Concerto No. 3). Even though there’s no plot, the ballet, which premiered in 1956, wears its heart on its sleeve.
The lead ballerina role requires bravura execution, but Tiler Peck provided more than that. Her opening performance of the opening ballet on opening night was breathtakingly good, displaying the impeccable phrasing and timing that one has come to expect from her, and that she delivers every time. Like all world-class ballerinas, and evident even in a plotless ballet, Peck has an uncanny ability to control time. As a group, NYCB’s men routinely demonstrate the finest combination of technique, precision, speed, and partnering skills that I’ve seen anywhere, and Peck’s partner here, Andrew Veyette is an example. As I’ve mentioned before, his understated presence is deceptive: he always gets the job done even if it seems as if he’ll imminently run out of gas, and always makes his ballerina look good – although here he didn’t have to work too hard to make Peck look good.
The oldest of the program’s three ballets, The Four Temperaments,which was on the inaugural program of NYCB’s predecessor company, Ballet Society, in 1946, never ceases to be both miraculous and inspirational. The composition to which it’s choreographed, which Balanchine commissioned from Paul Hindemith in 1940, stands on its own for its clarity and profundity: it’s a moving, emotionally cathartic piece of music. To his enduring credit, Balanchine saw no need to embellish it: he “just” makes the music come alive as a moving, emotionally cathartic piece of choreography.
Also, of the three pieces on this program, The Four Temperaments is the only one with a specific and quantifiable subject. Mirroring the Hindemith score, the ballet visualizes the ancient notion that the human organism is comprised of four emotional “humors “—temperaments – and the domination of one or another produces distinctive personality types: melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric. The musical and visual expression of each of these personality types comprise the four movements of the composition and the ballet, bracketed by an opening “Theme” and an untitled concluding “Summation.”
But the piece – again, both the music and the ballet – is more than a presentation of four temperaments. The genius evident in the music and the choreography is the conclusion that the human organism is more than the sum of one’s humors, and a focus on individual temperaments skews perception (symbolized, perhaps, by corps dancers often positioned at a skewed angle behind a movement’s solo or duet focal point). So in the end, as the relatively grounded ballet yields to sequential soaring lifts, The Four Temperaments becomes an incomparable celebration of the human organism as a whole, and of the human spirit.
The performances were all powerfully delivered. In particular, Gonzalo Garcia’s “Melancholic” variation was superbly executed, and although I’ve seen Teresa Reichlen’s “Choleric” and Ask la Cour’s “Phlegmatic” variations previously, I’ve never seen them perform it better. And it’s easy to overlook the three couples in the introductory “Theme” segment because it doesn’t visualize any of the specific temperaments, but the opening segment sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The three couples here – Lydia Wellington and Andre Scordato, Lauren King and Daniel Applebaum, and Ashley Laracey and Cameron Dieck – danced the chiseled lines that the choreography requires with noteworthy power and precision.
A NYCB staple since its company premiere in 1948, Symphony in C is one of Balanchine’s finest accomplishments. Not only is it a magnificent example of neoclassicism, but its enhancement of the Bizet score is a prime example of Balanchine’s uncanny ability to visualize music thoroughly, accurately, but in an unanticipated way.
The ballet is divided into four movements, each with a lead couple, two pairs of featured dancers, and a supporting corps of either six or eight. Ashley Bouder (replacing Megan Fairchild), who never seems to run out of superlative outings or vivaciousness, and Chase Finlay led the opening movement; Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle the adagio Second Movement, delivered with appropriate (although at times painful-looking) intensity; and Brittany Pollack and Taylor Stanley led the final Allegro Vivace movement with their usual zest.
But this performance once again provided the company with an opportunity to display its remarkable depth. Of the twenty-five (by my unofficial count) supporting corps dancers (not counting the sixteen featured dancers), three were apprentices. And the lead couple in the third movement, Alston Macgill and Harrison Ball, the former a promising member of the corps and the latter recently promoted to soloist, delivered spectacular role debuts. Macgill’s performance was a particular delight: exuding extraordinary confidence and vivacity for someone so young, she looked as if she’d been dancing the role for years. And forget what I’ve said about rarely seeing her crack a smile – her demeanor here was appropriately and deliciously effusive but not overbearing, with a ready smile that wasn’t pasted on. Even with falling out of a turn toward the end of the piece, it was an extraordinary debut performance, in an extraordinary ballet, in an extraordinary opening program to NYCB’s spring season.