David Koch Theatre, New York, NY; February 9, 2014(m)

Colleen Boresta

It is not surprising that someone with Jennifer Ringer’s generous nature chose two ensemble ballets – ‘Dances at a Gathering’ and ‘Union Jack’ for her farewell performance with New York City Ballet.  ‘Dances’ is a gorgeous work choreographed in 1969 by Jerome Robbins to eighteen of Frederic Chopin’s piano pieces.  There are ten dancers at this gathering – five women and five men.  Each dancer is distinguished by the color of the outfit they are wearing.

There have been recent complaints in the social media about ‘Dances’.  Some say it is too long. (The ballet lasts one hour.)  Others say it has never been the same since the original cast retired (a common complaint about the works of both Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine).  For me, however, time flew by while I was watching this ballet.  I found myself wanting to stay in Jerome Robbins’ enchanting world for the whole afternoon.

Robbins always said there was no story to ‘Dances’ but I see real people with real human emotions at this outdoor gathering.  All the dancers are fresh and natural whether they are performing alone, with one partner or in larger groupings.  ‘Dances’ is truly a masterpiece.  Robbins’ choreography flows seamlessly from Chopin’s music.  His wittingly romantic lifts and steps are endlessly innovative and inventive.

All the dancers are marvelous, but it is Jennifer Ringer’s day.  As the girl in pink, Ringer is radiantly lissome.  Her body is the ideal vessel for Chopin’s gorgeous piano pieces.  Other performers also deserve mention.  Corps member Zachary Catazaro (in blue) stands out for his soaring leaps.  As the boy in brown Gonzalo Garcia whips off exciting turns, most notably his turns a la seconde.   Maria Kowroski (in green) is very funny as the girl who flirts with several partners but ends up losing them all.  I am totally captivated by ‘Dances at a Gathering’ and hope to spend more time in Robbins’ sunny and poetic world.

The afternoon ends with ‘Union Jack’ choreographed by George Balanchine in 1976.   It is a three part salute to Great Britain.  It uses military tattoos, Scottish folk songs, music hall ditties and sailors’ hornpipes to set the mood.  The score is adapted by Hersey Kay who did similar arrangements for Balanchine’s cowboy ballet, ‘Western Symphony’ and his Sousa piece, ‘Stars and Stripes’.

Part I is a salute to the Scottish and Canadian Guards Regiments.  70 clan members, dressed in complete tartan wear, march onto the stage in complex formations.  Then the parading evolves into spectacular dancing.

Part II is the costermonger pas de deux.  It is set in an Edwardian music hall where a down on their heels couple performs.  Both Amar Ramasar and especially Jennifer Ringer are adorably hammy as the Pearly King and Queen.  Ringer shows off spot on comic timing as well as gorgeous high kicks.  At the end of the pas de deux the couple’s daughters, the Pearly Princesses, arrive in a pony cart.  Then the whole family dances together, the Princesses as well as the Pearly King and Queen all trying to upstage each other.

Part III is a tribute to the Royal Navy.  All the dancers join in the high-flying hijinks.  For years no dancer in ‘Union Jack’ flew higher than former NYCB principal Damian Woetzel.  In my mind’s eye I still Woetzel performing his solo, his endless leaps and turns so light and effortless.  On Sunday, Tyler Angle does a good job in this role, but he’s still not up to Woetzel’s level of dancing.  Ashley Bouder is a very impressive leader of the Wrens.  Usually the part is danced by a tall performer, but Bouder, with her commanding presence and impeccable footwork, truly owns this role.

‘Union Jack’ ends on its usually happy note.  As the orchestra plays “Rule Britannia”, the cast uses semaphore to signal “God Save the Queen” and the Union Jack flag rolls down the back wall of the stage at the David Koch Theater.  Then it is Jennifer Ringer’s turn to take her final bows with NYCB.  Company members past and present honor Ringer with huge bouquets of flowers and hugs.  The audience gives her a standing ovation and throws flowers onto the stage.  At one point Ringer holds up her hands in a mock gesture meaning “Please don’t hit me”.  Jennifer Ringer is a ballerina who will truly be missed.