David Koch Theatre, New York, NY; October 5(m), 2013
New York City Ballet’s October 5th matinee performance is a rarity – an afternoon of Balanchine’s short story ballets. George Balanchine is known for his abstract work, so seeing three of his ballets which actually tell a tale is quite a treat. The first work is ‘La Sonnambula’ with a commissioned score by Vittorio Rieti. Rieti’s music is not really original, but a reinterpretation of Vincenzo Bellini’s notes for his opera of the same name. This was explained in great (and in my opinion boring) detail by Interim Music Director Andrews Sill for the fifteen minutes before the ballet began.
‘La Sonnambula’ takes place at a party a nineteenth century baron is holding for a famous poet. The guests are entertained by a variety of performers, most notably a high flying harlequin. The Poet is ill at ease at the soiree and the Coquette, clearly the Baron’s mistress, takes the Poet under her wing. The Poet and the Coquette engage in a slight flirtation but the Poet is clearly not interested in the young woman. The Coquette leaves the Poet and follows the other guests into the Baron’s garden.
The Poet then sees a light at the top floor of the castle which seems to switch from room to room. Suddenly a beautiful woman in a white nightdress, her long blonde hair flowing down her back, enters the room. She is holding a candle and bourees across the room seemingly sound asleep. The Poet at first is fascinated by her and tries to see if he can get her to awaken. He cannot. As the Poet gazes longingly at her, he falls deeper and deeper under her spell. Unable to stop himself he kisses the sleeping woman just as the Coquette reenters the ballroom. The Poet rushes out of the room after the Sleep Walker.
In a fit of jealousy, the Coquette tells the Baron of the Poet’s behavior toward the Sleep Walker. She obviously adds a lot of scandalous and false detail to her tale because the Baron rushes out of the ballroom with a dagger in his hand. The wounded Poet comes back into the ballroom and dies. Four of the performers pick up his body and place him in the arms of the Sleep Walker. She then proceeds to carry the Poet back to her upstairs lair.
George Balanchine has created a hauntingly beautiful ballet which is enhanced by two superb performances. No dancer does eerily ethereal quite like Janie Taylor. Her Sleep Walker is a character full of magic and mystery. There are so many unanswered questions about her. Is she really fully asleep? Does some part of her being feel the intensity of the Poet’s desire for her?
I am very impressed with Sebastien Marcovici’s Poet. At first he is merely interested in the sight of a strange sleeping woman, but soon finds himself totally mesmerized by this captivating being. Does the Poet only love her on a spiritual level or is there a touch of the physical in his feelings for the Sleep Walker?
The Coquette and the Baron are ciphers to me. Part of the problem with the Baron is that he is onstage so infrequently. I’m not sure any performer could develop his character. The Coquette, however, is a different matter. It is a role that a strong dramatic dancer can do wonders with. Unfortunately Faye Arthurs’ Coquette seems to be just going through the motions. It’s not clear if she really loves the Poet or just expects the complete devotion of every man in sight.
Fortunately both Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici are so compelling in this ballet that I will be thinking about ‘La Sonnambula’ for a long time to come.
The second work of the afternoon is ‘Prodigal Son’ with choreography by George Balanchine to a commissioned work by Sergei Prokofiev. ‘Prodigal Son’ premiered in 1929, but it is as fresh as it were created in the 21st century. As is usually the case with a Balanchine ballet the choreography fits the music seamlessly. The Fauvists sets and costumes designed by George Rouault add to the appeal of ‘Prodigal Son’.
At the beginning of the ballet the title character is a petulant youth who wants to leave the confines of his father’s home and his father’s rules. He is all pent up energy and wants only to explore the wider world. With two servants accompanying him, the Prodigal Son takes enough of his father’s worldly goods to tide him over for a while and sets out on his adventure.
Soon the youth meets up with a strange group of bald drinking companions led by a beautiful Siren. The Prodigal Son surrenders himself totally to the powers of both an evilly seductive woman and alcohol. The Siren, the drinking buddies and even the youth’s own servants rob him of all his possessions, including his clothes. In despair the Prodigal Son returns home to his father who forgives the young man for his sins.
Joaquin De Luz gives a tremendously powerful and moving portrayal of the title character. At the beginning of the ballet his phenomenal leaps and whirling pirouettes show the youth’s desire to leave his father’s house. When he meets up with the Siren his uncontrollable lust radiates to the fifth ring of the David Koch Theatre. As the despairing young man slowly making his way home after being robbed of everything he owns, De Luz brings tears to my eyes. The audience clearly feels his pain as he drags himself along on his knees with only a shriveled tree branch to aid in his movements.
Teresa Reichlen’s Siren is icily beautiful and more deadly than any black widow spider. Her legs seem to go on for days and she uses their lethal power to lure the Prodigal Son into her web. As the father, Jonathan Stafford gives a very stiff and unnatural portrayal. With a more convincing performer in this role the finale of ‘Prodigal Son’ could have been even stronger.
The program concludes with ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’. This work is a show within a show. It is a perfect blend of Balanchine’s choreography and Richard Rodgers music.
‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’ is the story of a ballet company’s premiere danseur (Russian of course) who wants to get rid of his main competition. That rival, Phil Dolan, has created a new jazz dance piece as a starring vehicle for himself. The Russian hires a hit man to shoot Dolan the moment the character he’s portraying commits suicide. This is so the audience will think that the noise they’re hearing is a fake gunshot. Unknown to both the Russian danseur and the hit man, a company member has overhead their whole conversation.
The ballet created by Phil Dolan concerns a hoofer who falls for a striptease girl dancing in a dingy Prohibition era speakeasy. Maddened by the Hoofer’s interest in his stripper, the Big Boss tries to kill the Hoofer but ends up shooting the Striptease Girl by mistake. In despair, the Hoofer is supposed to shoot himself. At that moment a note is handed to the “corpse” by the company member who eavesdropped on the conversation between the Russian and the hit man. The “dead” Striptease Girl gives the note to the Hoofer. It tells him not to shoot himself. He needs to keep on dancing until the police can arrest the hit man, who is sitting in a box at the theater. When the police finally capture the hit man, Dolan collapses with exhaustion.
As the Striptease Girl, Maria Kowroski proves that she is a talented comedienne as well as a gorgeous dancer. Her lissome long legs show off her ceiling high kicks wonderfully. Kowroski’s glorious backbends highlight her meltingly malleable upper body. Tyler Angle is just perfect as the goofy Hoofer/Dolan. His tap dancing is much improved over the last time I saw him in the part (May of 2013). Maybe he took lessons over the summer.
Spartak Hokha, Troy Schumacher and Giovanni Villalobos are masters of comic timing as the high flying “three blind mice” policemen, who can’t see the patrons and works at the speakeasy hiding right under their noses. The bartenders, Cameron Dieck and Andrew Scordato, dance smartly in tandem and sweep up the dead bodies with style.
It was a fantastic ending to a magnificent afternoon at the ballet.