David H. Koch Theater, New York; May 28, 30 & June 1, 2, 2013

David Mead

The penultimate week of New York City Ballet’s spring season featured no fewer than sixteen ballets across seven performances. Saturday evening’s programme rather summed up the company and Balanchine: Stravinsky, American, Tchaikovsky. OK, so the ‘American’ in this case was a Peter Martins choreography, but you get the point.

“Stravinsky Violin Concerto” is a really satisfying ballet. As always, the dance and music come together as one, but right from the opening, when the five dancers remain stationary for a few counts as if catching their breath before beginning, everything is so clean. There is also something about the structure of the

ballet that makes truly appealing: the two very different and somewhat fraught pas de deux that probe relationships of Arias I and II framed by the sparkier group sections of the Toccata and Capriccio.

The first of the Arias is full of struggle and tension. Maria Korowski used every inch of her beautifully long body as she contorted, twisted and arched back acrobatically. Her limbs interlocked with those of partner Adrian Danchig-Waring in ways that seemed impossible. There is a lot of pulling away from each other, although it is remarkable how little the dancers’ hands actually touch.

Aria II is closer to the academic classical ballet vocabulary. Stravinsky once explained that the music was written as an apology to his wife for an affair with another woman, and Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild certainly captured the emotional rollercoaster all that entails. The mood switches from discord to harmony and back again in an instant. You can imagine the conversation in your head. It is quite a gentle discord, though. Although the woman turns away from time to time, she always seems to be happy to be led by the man and to comply with whatever he commands. That idea is emphasised in the closing moments when he stands behind her and tilts her head backwards as he covers her eyes. It is a very willing submission.

The supporting dancers were equally impressive, with the precision of the men quite outstanding both individually and as a group.

New York City Ballet in Fearful Symmetries. Photo Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet in Fearful Symmetries. Photo Paul Kolnik

Danced to John Adam’s busy score of the same title, “Fearful Symmetries” is surely one of Peter Martins’ best works. The choreography captures fully the energy and vivacity in John Adams’ pulsing music. Both come together to give an impression of continuous movement over a frantic, constantly shifting, ultra-modern urban landscape.

As the music chugs along insistently, dancers invade the stage at top speed from all directions. It is as if one was standing at a busy intersection, cars forever whooshing past. For a long time it is almost non-stop. Martins’ choreography alongside the combination of saxophones, brass, woodwinds, and keyboard sampler playing percussion is hypnotic, visually and viscerally thrilling. It leaves you completely breathless. A special mention here for conductor Clotilde Otranto who bounced around as much as the music as she kept things at full-throttle.

The lighting is pretty stunning too. Mark Stanley bathes the stage in deep reds and blues. Steven Rubin’s loose tops and tights for the men; simple leotards, short skirts and tights for the women are functional, but any more would be too much.

The choreography is actually quite intricate, not unlike the score, which is far more complex than it first sounds. Amongst the non-stop action sit three short duets for three different couples. The lead pairings here were Sara Mearns and Taylor Stanley, and Teresa Reichlen and Jonathan Stafford, the latter being especially forceful. It was the third pairing of Lauren King and Daniel Ulbricht who really caught the eye though in a bravura display of virtuosity. They were quite simply terrific.

Following the music, things do finally slow down about three-quarters the way through. It’s like a bottle of fizzy drink has been shaken and shaken, then suddenly the cap is unscrewed. Almost out of nowhere things are allowed to settle down, a long lyrical finale bringing matters to a close. I’m sure there are those who dislike Adams’ music in particular, but this is a ballet I will never tire of.

Megan Fairchild in George Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3. Photo Paul Kolnik

Megan Fairchild in George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3. Photo Paul Kolnik

I do not think I could ever grow weary of “Theme and Variations” either, the final movement of “Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3” and often danced as a ballet in its own right. It is the ultimate in classical ballet tradition, and a showcase for elegance. It is particularly run through with references to “The Sleeping Beauty,” although its steps are far more challenging especially when taken at the brisk pace they were here; a pace, incidentally, that enhances the ballet enormously.

“Theme and Variations” dates to 1947, but in 1970 Balanchine choreographed the preceding three movements of the Suite. While pleasant enough, they are not among his greatest creations. There is a sort of progression between the sections, both in terms of the relationship presented and costume, but even so, they do feel like they belong to a different ballet. The sensuality sits uncomfortably with that final outpouring of formality and classical grandeur.

The opening movements have a melancholic feel. This has been attributed to the fact that Suzanne Farrell left the company immediately prior to the piece being created, although that story doesn’t quite tie in with the impression given of the relationship between the lead couple in the second and third movements. Whatever the reason, there is a sense of looking back, emphasised by the dancers being separated from the audience by a gauze, and Nicolas Benois’ long lavender-coloured Romantic dresses.

It cannot be denied that the opening Élégie does hint at love lost, or at least of love not yet found. A man occasionally finds, dances with, but eventually loses a beautiful woman, barefoot and whose flowing locks are reflected perfectly in her billowing dress. Ask la Cour was most noble as he searched for the lady of his dreams, the ever elusive Rebecca Krohn. He often reaches out towards her, but always she slips away into the crowd of dancers. The almost downbeat mood continues during the slightly maudlin Valse Mélancolique (Abi Stafford and Jared Angle), in which the bare feet give way to pointe shoes, and even the somewhat more upbeat Scherzo, in which Ana Sophia Schiller was polished and bright, and well-partnered by Antonio Carmena.

Then, suddenly, the lights go up, chandeliers and tutus sparkle, and all is well with the world. The ride is as exhilarating in its own way as that in “Fearful Symmetries.” Leading the way, Megan Fairchild was full of the necessary speed and precision. The role needs attack and she certainly gave it, even if she didn’t radiate warmth as much as she might. Andrew Veyette was on fire with his bravura leaps and turns. He made the multiple double tours look easy. The final polonaise was as rousing as ever. Is there a better way to round off a performance?

Elsewhere, the week saw several performances of Jerome Robbins’ “The Cage,” always paired with “Andantino.” “The Cage” presents a world of female insects who command the stage with their sharp, angular movement. It is somewhat creepy, although it’s a ballet that never quite does it for me. Maybe it is the ease with which the two lead women entice and manipulate the two doomed men, although I thought Janie Taylor as the Novice and Teresa Reichlan as the Queen rather more effective than Hyltin and Krohn.

In complete contrast, “Andantino” is a polite duet straight out of the “Dances at a Gathering” mould. It is light and pleasant, both on the eye and the ear, although it does not sit particularly well with the preceding drama. Of the two casts on show, I believed rather more in Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette. They seemed much more at one with each other and the music than did Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia.

Robbins’ “N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz,” on the other hand, never fails to delight. I love the looseness and easy going nature of the choreography. It is full of youthful exuberance and sense of community, both incidentally reproduced brilliantly in the recent excellent film version of the ballet set at various sites around New York. Gretchen Smith was nicely sassy among all the ogling men in Statics, while Ashley Laracey and Taylor Stanley managed to achieve the difficult combination of togetherness and a sense of distance in the haunting Passage for Two.

New York City Ballet in Jerome Robbins' Interplay. Photo Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet in Jerome Robbins’ Interplay. Photo Paul Kolnik

The week had opened with an equal amount of youthful zest in another Robbins’ ballet, “Interplay.” It is a real fun work. It is difficult to believe it was made way back in 1945, it is so alive and modern. The whole cast looked perfectly at home as they played their games and competed with one another, most notably in the battle of the double tours, played out by Harrison Ball, Joseph Gordon, Spartak Hoxha and Peter Walker. For all the fun, the third movement, Byplay, has the most going for it, and in which Brittany Pollack and Walker were perfectly sultry and sensuous.

The week also saw an appearance by Robbins’ “Glass Pieces,” a modern classic if ever there was one, and a ballet featuring more urban energy. Wendy Whelan was mesmerising in the pas the deux, along with partner Danchig-Waring, the couple endowing it with a slightly unworldly theme, a point emphasised by the silhouetted corps moving slowly and rhythmically across the back.

Robert Fairchild and New York City Ballet in George Balanchine's Western Symphony. Photo Paul Kolnik

Robert Fairchild and New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Western Symphony. Photo Paul Kolnik

From Balanchine there was also “Allegro Brillante” and “Western Symphony.” “The former is a sunny ballet that matched the warm weather outside, but which was marred by at least four slips, two by Fairchild. All was forgiven, however, as she recovered brilliantly, her partnership with Veyette ultimately shining once again. In “Western Symphony” the whole cast blazed their way across the stage. Amar Ramasar looked completely at home as the Rhinestone Cowboy of the Adagio. I had always found it difficult to watch this movement without seeing Albert Evans in my head, but he changed that. Sara Mearns and Robert Fairchild fizzed in the Rondo like nothing before. Brilliant fun!