New York City Ballet: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
David H. Koch Theater, New York, NY
June 4, 2015
New York City Ballet concluded its Spring Season, and its 2014-2015 Season, with a week devoted to George Balanchine’s beloved classic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And in typical NYCB fashion, this week featured several major debuts by dancers of all ranks, as well as near sold out houses for every performance. That the season ended with a full-length ballet, that there were major debuts, and that the house was nearly sold out may be independent events, but not unrelated.
With A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Balanchine provided NYCB audiences with two ballets in one. The first act is the ‘dream’ part of Shakespeare’s story, with fleeting nods to that which precedes the dream in the forest, and a bit of the wedding ceremony that follows it. Act II, presumably the wedding celebration (it’s not identified), is really an excuse for a separate ballet that could be a standalone. But it’s not superfluous: it’s a gift.
Of the thirteen featured roles, eight were role debuts. The Act I lead roles included Teresa Reichlen as Titania and Daniel Ulbricht in his debut as Oberon. Reichlen is an extraordinary fairy queen: regal and somewhat aloof, ravishingly unattainable, but also warm and remarkably human. I thought initially that Ulbricht, who looked to be a foot shorter than Reichlen (he’s not – he’s shorter than she is, but the difference is exaggerated on stage), would fade in strength as well as stature whenever he appeared on stage with her. But Ulbricht has a dominant air in this role that made him physically, as well as emotionally, equal to her in every respect. He was every inch the fairy king; it was a superb debut.
In the second act, the central pas de deux dominates the action, with debut performances by Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar. The pas de deux is exquisite – equivalent, in gentle complexity and beauty to the concluding pas de deux between Titania and Oberon created by Sir Frederick Ashton in The Dream. Though it appears to have nothing to do with Act I, the pas de deux is delightful, ethereal, and almost otherworldly. At its conclusion, the ballerina lands off center, but then is gradually, continuously, and magically pulled straight, then off center in the other direction, toward the arms of her partner – like a wary embrace that leads to a choreographic kiss. It belongs in the same ballet, and is just another example of Balanchine’s genius. Hyltin was particularly magnificent, concurrently commanding and engaging, and Ramasar partnered her with his usual skill and class.
The couples in Act I danced their roles admirably. Troy Schumacher reprised his exhilarating Puck, and Ashly Isaacs repeated her powerful but also somehow appealing Hippolyta. And in role debuts, Claire Von Enck’s Butterfly again demonstrated the perkiness and competence of her debut last season in Harlequinade, and Harrison Coll was a hilarious and touching Bottom. The performance included the remarkably accomplished performances by student dancers from the School of American Ballet, as well as the brilliant rendition of the Mendelssohn compositions by the NYCB Orchestra, led by conductor Clotilde Otranto.
The role debuts and the continuing superb dancing by its young principals define what NYCB has become – a generator and presenter of talent on a large scale. This, and its magnificent repertoire, has made it an exciting company to watch grow and evolve.
This past year, NYCB has continued its remarkably fruitful policy of providing casting opportunities to its dancers beyond principal rank. Lauren Lovette excelled in her debuts in Martins’ Romeo and Juliet and La Sylphide, and danced a knockout Novice in Robbins’s The Cage. Anthony Huxley (who debuted as Oberon in Sunday’s final performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opposite an Apprentice, Miriam Miller, in her debut as Titania) danced an extraordinary James in Martins’ La Sylphide, finally meshing his manifest technical clarity with the ability to connect with his partner. And Ashly Isaacs, returning from an injury, delivered an impressive formal debut as Polyhymnia in Apollo and in Bournonville Variations. All three were promoted following the season’s final performance: Lovette and Huxley to principals; and Isaacs to soloist.
But the impressive performances didn’t stop with them. Although I can’t possibly address all of last year’s stellar performances, Hyltin had an extraordinary year. Erica Pereira had a wonderful season as well, and Georgina Pazcoguin delivered a memorable Madge in La Sylphide. Adrian Danchig-Waring and Catazaro were given opportunities to dance Apollo for the first time.
In terms of repertoire, NYCB’s continuing efforts to provide an outlet for contemporary choreographers paid off handsomely this year, with noteworthy new productions by Resident Choreographer Justin Peck (Belles-Lettres and Rode,o: Four Dance Episodes) and Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Next year’s schedule (more here) doesn’t appear to be nearly as exciting as this past year’s – but what’s on stage always proves better than what’s on paper. Following Swan Lake, it kicks off with four contemporary ballet premieres (with three more to be added later – including a premiere by Christopher Wheeldon). And any season that includes Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3, The Four Temperaments, Concerto Barocco, Symphony in Three Movements, Dances at a Gathering, Serenade, as well as the return of Ballo della Regina and Estancia, is likely to be memorable. Providing continuing opportunities for its principals, soloists, corps dancers, and even apprentices to assay new roles is likely to make next year exciting as well.