[additional performance photos, including those from Teresa Reichlen’s Farewell, will be added upon receipt]
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
February 19, 2022 (afternoon)
The Four Temperaments, Sonatine, Black Swan Pas de Deux, Swan Lake
February 19, 2022 (evening): Teresa Reichlen Farewell
Serenade, Andantino, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Swan Lake
February 25, 2022
Prodigal Son, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Pavane, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
February 27, 2022: Gonzalo Garcia Farewell
Opus 19/ The Dreamer, Rotunda (excerpt), Prodigal Son
New York City Ballet concluded its Covid-modified Winter 2022 season Sunday afternoon in the same manner in which it opened it, with a continuing emphasis on change. Three new promotions were announced, there were two more Farewells, more Swans, and more role debuts.
I’ll address the repertory programs I saw first, and then focus on the two Farewells: Teresa Reichlen on February 19, and Gonzalo Garcia on February 27. And with respect to those ballets that I previously reviewed in depth, my comments here will be limited to individual performances.
Swan Lake Programs
Last week, the company completed its run of George Balanchine’s one-act version of Swan Lake. I was able to see two additional Swan Lake programs: the Swan Lake II program in the afternoon, and Swan Lake I in the evening. Consequently in addition to Swan Lake, I saw repeat performances, one each, of The Four Temperaments, Serenade, Sonatine, Andantino, Black Swan Pas de Deux, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.
Including these performances, over the past two weeks I was able to see five Swan Queens: Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Reichlen (twice), and Megan Fairchild. I’ll report on Reichlen’s Odette below, in the context of her Farewell.
Fairchild’s Odette was marvelous – surprisingly so, because the role is not one I would associate with her. But on the 19th afternoon she delivered perhaps the most memorable of the Swan Queens I saw during this run. There was nothing that she didn’t execute superbly, and the particular, albeit few, indicia of magnificence that this production includes, she hit out of the park. In particular, Fairchild nailed the part, at the conclusion of Balanchine’s one-act version, where she is commanded by Rothbart to leave Siegfried and shift back to being a swan.
In full-length versions, at this point in Act II Lev Ivanov’s choreography (either original or as modified over the decades) visualizes Odette’s resistance to Rothbart’s magnetic pull. One measure of a ballerina’s success as Odette is how convincingly she displays this resistance – by gesture and emotion, of course, but also by clearly executing the bi-directional pull of conflicting forces, as if her entire body tries to go one way and at the same time is pulled the other – and the sequence repeats and repeats until she can resist Rothbart no more.
The same choreography is in Balanchine’s distillation. But some of the one-act Odettes show little emotion and yield too quickly, perhaps because little if any characterization is required in this version. But, along with all other aspects of the role, Fairchild did this one right. Far more than the others I saw during this run, she made her physical as well as emotional torment clearly visible, and heart-wrenching, without making it look melodramatic.
But Fairchild here is a prisoner of her physical stature. As brilliantly executed as it was, her Odette didn’t, and perhaps couldn’t, convey the regality, the gravitas, that other ballerinas can bring to the role. She’s in good company. It’s particularly difficult for short ballerinas to pull it off. I don’t recall seeing Fairchild dance in Peter Martins’s full-length Swan Lake, so perhaps there, with the opportunity for more character development, she’ll overcome that handicap.
The afternoon performance of The Four Temperaments, overall, was at least as well-executed as the one I saw the previous week. In particular, Isabella LaFreniere delivered a smashing technical performance in the Sanguinic variation, as did her partner Gilbert Bolden III. Both were role debuts. Bolden is a very interesting dancer. He stands out from other danseurs because of his physique: he’s considerably more solid-looking (e.g., thicker) than others. But that barrel chest is all muscle; he can partner any ballerina and can take the laboring oar in pieces requiring unusual strength. Other stand-outs were Davide Riccardo, partnering Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara in the third duet in the opening Theme section, and Mira Nadon in the Choleric (all three were role debuts).
A consistent source of strength in this piece is the corps (relatively unchanged from the performance I saw previously). I praised their work in my prior review, and must reemphasize that here – particularly with respect to the “small” corps women who power their way around the featured dancers in the Sanguinic variation oozing energy and commitment; every phrase-ending popped. They merit individual recognition: Lauren Collett, Gabriella Domini, Quinn Starner, and Rommie Tomasini (the first two are relatively new members of the corps; the latter two are apprentices).
The afternoon performance of Sonatine featured Indiana Woodward and Anthony Huxley. Last week I saw Huxley in this same role (partnering Emma Von Enck), and commented on his overly-serious demeanor – until a tentative smile began to materialize on this face toward the dance’s conclusion. His serious countenance did not match the glowing appearance of his partner or the tenor of the dance. When he first appeared in Sonatine at this performance, I didn’t recognize him, and thought there’d been an unannounced cast change. I soon realized that this was indeed Huxley, and that he looked so different (and so much better for this piece) because his face looked different – he wore a smile throughout. Funny how contagious a natural-looking smile can be in the right context. This change may have been the product of coaching (his failure to crack a smile in partnering situations where it would be appropriate has been a consistent problem), or of being partnered with the secure and ever-ebullient Woodward. Whatever the reason, it was a noteworthy, and welcome, change.
In the evening program, following a repeat performance of Serenade with the same cast I described previously as having delivered the finest overall performance of this signature NYCB dance of all I’ve seen, Woodward returned with Andantino, this time partnered by Harrison Ball. Woodward looked extraordinary in the role, as she did previously, and she and Ball complemented each other.
In the afternoon, Tiler Peck danced the Black Swan Pas de Deux with her usual strength and technical competence, but she failed to deliver any characterization at all. Granted that such characterization is less significant here than it would be in a full-length production, but a zestful and tantalizing demeanor is still a key ingredient in the role. Her partner, Jovani Furlan, matched her demeanor. He looked uncomfortable, or perhaps was saving his energy for a later performance. In any event, as a consequence, it all looked flat.
The evening’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux was a different matter. Here Furlan partnered Unity Phelan (both had debuted in their roles two nights earlier), and he looked fully engaged, with demeanor and execution to match. Phelan’s performance, though not yet at the technical level of others who’ve danced the role frequently, was nevertheless highly promising.
February 25 Repertory Programs
The final week of programming brought with it several performances of the program that included the premiere of Jamar Roberts’s Emanon – In Two Movements, which I’ve previously reviewed, as well as the return to the repertory of Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Pavane, and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.
Prodigal Son is so iconic, and so well-known, that I won’t discuss it fully here – though I will discuss Garcia’s performance of it in the context of his Farewell. But I must acknowledge the quality of the supporting cast: Aaron Sanz (whose Father grows in stature and humanity each time Sanz performs it), Harrison Coll and Lars Nelson as the Servants, Janelle Manzi and Mary Elizabeth Sell as the Sisters, and nine “Drinking Companions.” And with respect to Sell, she’s been a member of the corps for a very long time, and her fine execution of the roles she was given this season suggests that she should be assigned more featured role opportunities in the future.
The Steadfast Tin Soldier is a curious little ballet. Choreographed in 1975 to four movements of a five-piece composition by Bizet, Jeux D’Enfantes (“Children’s Games”), which itself grew out of a suite of a dozen piano pieces. The dance takes its libretto from a story by Hans Christian Andersen, and to an extent it resembles Act II of Coppelia, albeit without the strange master puppeteer. [Speaking of which, it’s been far too long since Coppelia was last performed, either by NYCB or ABT.] But the comic aspect of inanimate characters coming to life is not this dance’s raison d’etre. Rather, it’s story of a ballerina doll and the tin soldier who loves her and then loses her gently touches the heart.
It’s a two-character dance: in the performance on the 15th, Fairchild was the ballerina doll who only has eyes for her tin soldier (and, consequently, doesn’t see where she’s going), and Daniel Ulbricht (whose Prodigal Son I was, unfortunately, unable to see this season) was the tin soldier. The little dance doesn’t show either dancer’s talents fully, but each delivered first-rate work nonetheless, with Ulbricht in particular erupting like a cork popping out of a champagne bottle whenever the choreography gave him the opportunity. And, as always, little things mean a lot. Ulbricht’s final salute to his lost ballerina is timed, and executed, to perfection.
I’d not previously seen Pavane. A brief pas de deux between a woman and an oversized scarf, it’s a lovely, but curious little dance.
As I watched it, I supposed that the dance, like the musical composition to which it’s choreographed (Bizet’s Pavane pour une infante défunte), is intended to reflect the feelings of the mother of a dead child. One gets that via the opening and closing images of Hyltin seemingly burying her face into the scarf. But in between are five minutes or so of movement that emphasizes joy rather than loss. Perhaps, I thought, the woman is remembering moments with her child before its death; or perhaps it has nothing to do with that, and she’s just happy to dance with her super-sized scarf. Regardless, the piece is lovely to look at, and Hyltin does her usual superb execution of it, but my initial take was that it has as much substance as the scarf.
But when possible I try to make sense out of things that don’t appear to make sense.
Most listeners, including people I spoke with, believe the composition’s title means what it says – a piece created to mourn the death of a child. But a little investigation demonstrates that that’s not necessarily the case.
The piece’s title is more accurately translated as “Pavane for a dead princess,” and was dedicated to a woman who became a princess by marriage, but who was American-born and the heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune who used her money to benefit a variety of causes, including financing a musical salon that supported, among others, Ravel. [Information derived from Wikipedia.] She was 34 years old when the piece was first composed in 1899 in a piano version, and very much alive. Ravel orchestrated it eleven years later, and it’s the orchestral version that provides the score for Balanchine’s choreography.
The background facts provide further enlightenment. According to an article on the ClassicFM website, Ravel is quoted as having said “‘When I put together the words that make up this title, my only thought was the pleasure of alliteration’.” He’s further quoted as having said that the piece is “’not a funeral lament for a dead child, but rather an evocation of the pavane that might have been danced by such a little princess as painted by Velázquez’.” [Bringing to mind Velázquez’s famous painting “Las Meninas,” and the golden-haired princess (5-year-old Infanta Margaret Theresa) who is pictured as calmly posing while being attended to by her ladies in waiting and various and sundry Spanish court hangers-on, with Velázquez’s own image (as well as those of the child’s parents, the king and queen, in a mirror) appearing in the background.]
I don’t know which version of the backstory Balanchine followed here, but Ravel’s explanation makes the choreography more meaningful. Hyltin isn’t mourning a dead child; she’s a princess (or any woman) who sees an object (here the scarf) that brings to her mind cherished memories of her youth. Seen in this light, Balanchine’s choreography and Hyltin’s performance of it are considerably more eloquent – and although I suspect it was only an accidental consequence of casting, envisioning Hyltin as the imagined adult incarnation of that golden-haired princess in the Velázquez painting works too.
Friday evening’s performance also marked the role debut of Miriam Miller in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Miller, who, like recently-seen dancers in this role (Maria Kowroski and Reichlen), is tall and thin and blonde: there’s no doubt that she fits the part. She doesn’t yet have the pizazz that’s essential for the role, but she tried mightily and executed well, and I don’t doubt that down the line she’ll make it her own. Her “Hoofer,” Peter Walker, delivered a lower-decibel performance as compared to Tyler Angle (who I last saw dance the role), but it was sufficiently well-executed to be entertaining. In the future, he might consider playing more to the audience than he did.
Teresa Reichlen’s Farewell:
My attendance at ballet performances ebbed for a period of time, but when I returned on a regular basis, I witnessed Teresa Reichlen’s rise from being a member of the corps in 2001, to being promoted to Soloist four years after that, to being promoted to Principal four years later. In part as a result of her physical stature, and definitely as a result of her talent, she left her unique mark on every role in which I saw her dance. [Curiously, despite her stage image as an unusually tall dancer, I once saw her waiting to enter Koch Theater for a performance and saw that she’s not nearly as exceptionally tall as her stage presence appears – it’s just that on stage her legs go on forever.]
Initially, however, after her promotion to Principal, she seemed apprehensive, as if she might have thought that she was out of her league. But at least to me, that began to change with her performance in Martins’s Barber Violin Concerto in 2013. I wrote at the time that Reichlen “has come out of her shell and grown more comfortable as a principal, and is a dancer of singular beauty and multi-faceted character.”
Reichlen’s confidence continued to grow as time passed and she conquered more roles. In January, 2014, I reviewed her performance in Diamonds, from Balanchine’s Jewels. I observed that “Ms. Reichlen is that rare ballerina who can look both aloof and engaged at the same time … But she’s never haughty on the one hand, or overly emotional on the other. She dances with serenity. And for whatever reason – confidence in her young partner [at that performance, Russell Janzen], comfort in having a partner taller than she is en pointe, or simply her own maturing as a dancer – hers was a superb performance. Of the three NYCB ballerinas who I’ve seen dance this role in recent years, Ms. Reichlin’s portrayal was the purest, the most human, and the most appropriately regal throughout the piece.” If there was yet any lingering doubt, that performance notified the ballet world that Reichlen had arrived not just as a Principal, but as one of NYCB’s stars.
That performance was followed by, among others, a 2014 performance of Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that impelled me to observe that “her portrayal added a quality of personality that [the other Titania whose performance was described in the same review] lacked.…[Reichlen] enjoyed being a fairy queen, and it showed.”
Nearly a year later, in the same role, I observed that “Reichlen is an extraordinary fairy queen: regal and somewhat aloof, ravishingly unattainable, but also warm and remarkably human.” And aside from her manifest technical abilities, those qualities marked her stage presence thereafter.
Indeed, they were apparent during this, her final season. Her Swan Queen in Balanchine’s Swan Lake is a perfect example. I saw two of her portrayals. In the first, she was the only Odette of those I saw whose performance included an emphasis on her character’s human qualities of loss and despair, even in the absence of mime. Her Odette at this, her farewell, performance was finer still. She might have been criticized by some previously as having rendered her Odette too emotionally. Here, she toned it down a bit. It was still there, still real, but not at all exaggerated. She was a regal queen, but she was also human.
Following Swan Lake, the celebrities began. I understand from others that Reichlen requested that the usual series of endless bouquets and confetti be more limited for her Farewell. It was, but the Farewell was no less heartfelt as one by one her colleagues and NYCB artistic management presented her with a single rose, each as the audience cheered.
It’s funny, but also in a way reassuring, that when NYCB retiring ballerinas (and danseurs), especially those who decide to leave the company before age might have compelled it, they seem not to know how to handle the adulation. More importantly, they lose their stage presence and let the audience see the person they really are. That happened here as well. Reichlen unashamedly morphed from being a swan queen to being a giddy young woman who lost any semblance of ballerina formality and just couldn’t contain her joy.
As is now well-known, Reichlen decided to leave NYCB at the height of her career, because she recognized that other things are more important. Following the birth of her son during the pandemic, she’s now decided to change her focus from performing arts to the visual arts as Gallery Director of her husband’s downtown NYC art gallery, and to be a mother. But, since she’ll still be in this area, don’t be surprised if she shows up at NYCB in the near future, as a member of the audience.
Gonzalo Garcia Farewell:
I’ve often stated, with regard to seeing a particular dancer (usually a ballerina) for the first time, that “sometimes you just know.” Well, sometimes you don’t know. For some reason my exposure to Gonzala Garcia’s performing qualities was more limited than others – not intentionally – and although I became aware of his performing stage qualities, I had no idea of his far more important qualities as a human being.
The outpouring of celebratory congratulations on the completion of this stage of his career, and the clear expressions of genuine affection that his colleagues felt for him, was something I did not expect. Sometimes you just don’t know.
After becoming the youngest dancer to receive a gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne (in 1995, at age 15), Garcia, who was born in Spain, studied at the San Francisco Ballet School, and then joined that company in 1998, becoming a Principal there in 2002. Following a prior guest appearance during the 2004 Balanchine Centennial Festival, he joined NYCB as a Principal in 2007.
I may not have been known how popular Garcia is to his colleagues, but I probably should have. I’m a firm believer that a dancer’s stage persona, over time, can reveal a lot about who the real person is behind the performance veneer. That Garcia is so personally admired by his colleagues should have been clear to me by my own descriptions of Garcia’s performances.
In most of the pieces in which he appeared, Garcia admirably focused on the big picture rather than on himself. His performances were always at least well-executed, but in ballets in which he partnered ballerinas (which are most of his performances that I’ve seen) he looked far more dedicated to presenting and partnering his ballerina than to cultivating his public image. Ballet “tricks” are not part of Garcia’s performance vocabulary: he doesn’t draw attention to himself just because he wants to be in the limelight and show himself off. Maybe that quality should have given me a clue about his qualities as a human.
While always more than just technically competent, his performing forte – aside from being a considerate and unselfish partner, was his style in making his characters distinctive, and his panache in doing so. Whatever the particular piece, Garcia always gave his audience his own unique take on whatever role he danced. He might not have delivered pyrotechnics or looked as physically powerful and dominating as other danseurs, but clearly that isn’t who Garcia is.
Particularly in the last few years of his performing career (which includes most of the time that I was able to focus on his performances), it’s not what he did, but how he did it –whether it was as Lauren Lovette’s partner in her Sleeping Beauty debut, partnering Sterling Hyltin in Opus 19 / The Dreamer, or Ashley Bouder in Harlequinade. In my review of that particular performance, I described Garcia’s Harlequin as “a perfectly likeable guy, not the egotist that was built into [a different dancer’s] characterization.” In another review (of the ‘Tema Con Variazioni’ movement from Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3), I described him as “the little danseur engine that could.” And yet another, as Mearns’s Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I observed: “Her Oberon, Gonzalo Garcia, fully communicated the aura of a god, but was less macho doing so than others I’ve seen in the role, which was refreshing.”
Probably as a result of his early announcement of his intention to retire from performing, Garcia’s Farewell program was well-chosen (one dance each choreographed by Jerome Robbins, Justin Peck, and Balanchine), and particularly well-presented.
The program opened with Opus 19 / The Dreamer, one of Garcia’s most enduring roles, and one that shows off his sense of style, and his selflessness, as much if not more than other pieces. The twist at his Farewell, however, was that instead of partnering his “dream” companion, that role was divided between two of his frequent partners: Hyltin and Tiler Peck (in alternating segments). I won’t do a critical evaluation of their respective performances; that simply wouldn’t be appropriate here. But the fact that these two ballerinas split the role highlighted a feature of this program: to provide as many of his colleagues as possible (here including 12 members of the corps) an opportunity to dance with him in his Farewell.
Further indication of this, and of the love and planning that went into this Farewell, was the inclusion of an excerpt from Justin Peck’s Rotunda. It was hardly “just” an excerpt.
Before that piece began, a film was presented that featured Garcia and a selection of current and former colleagues. Such films are most often reserved for Galas or extraordinary special events, but Garcia’s retirement was a special event of its own. Produced by Ezra Hurwitz, Garcia’s husband, the film is one of the finest such “reverbratory” films (my invention: reverence + celebratory) that I’ve seen. It began with Garcia commenting about himself and his career, as well as his decision to retire from performing. Accompanying his exposition were examples of Garcia in a studio and in rehearsals. Soon thereafter, “pop-up” cameo images appeared of some of Garcia’s current and past associates, teachers, choreographers, and performing colleagues commented on Garcia’s career and his personal qualities. Included among them were Helgi Tomasson, San Francisco Ballet’s Artistic Director (soon retiring himself) and a former NYCB Principal Dancer, Christopher Wheeldon, Lar Lubovitch, Merrill Ashley, Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns, and, all too briefly, Tina LeBlanc, a popular and acclaimed dancer with the Joffrey Ballet in the mid-late 1980, whose performances with the Joffrey I admired and saw frequently. She joined SF Ballet as a Principal in 1992, and retired in 2009. As it happens, while at SF Ballet Garcia became one of her most frequent partners. [A brief aside: in the late 2000s – a lifetime ago, and long before I began writing reviews – I happened to be in San Francisco a day or two for work. Balletomaniac that I was (and remain), I checked SF Ballet’s schedule on the chance that it was performing the night I was there. I couldn’t believe my luck. Not only was SF Ballet performing, but I saw LeBlanc dance that evening (to my recollection, not long before her retirement) in my favorite ballet. I was as captivated by her Giselle as I’d been by her Joffrey performances.]
The last part of the film focused on Peck rehearsing Garcia for his solo in Peck’s then new piece, Rotunda, which premiered in February, 2020, only weeks before Covid shut things down. Garcia was the dance’s central character. The program then segued into a live performance of that very excerpt from Rotunda. In addition to his brilliantly executed solo, the excerpt included choreographic segments that had him and the rest of the cast join together in a series of circles, enabling, I’m sure by design, ten additional dancers to perform at and to celebrate Garcia’s Farewell with him. Every one of the other dancers in the piece could be seen smiling broadly at Garcia each time the circle formed.
The final dance on the program, Prodigal Son, is one of Garcia’s signature roles, and it was a superb vehicle for his exit from the performing stage. Accompanied by Mearns as the Siren and the supporting cast identified fully above, yet more members of the Company were given the opportunity to participate in Garcia’s Farewell.
The celebration began as soon as the curtain came down. It followed the usual pattern – principals, soloists, artistic administration members, and former partners and colleagues, and finally Hurwitz (carrying their very young daughter), saluted him with hugs, flowers, kisses, and congratulatory wishes. When that formality concluded, Garcia circled the gathering, then faced the audience, confetti reigned, and the final curtain came down.
Garcia will remain with NYCB as a teacher, and also as Repertory Director.
NYCB continues to change as this period of Farewells continues into the Spring (during which Amar Ramasar will join the list of retirees). In that vein, NYCB’s promotions, some anticipated, some surprising, continues. Prior to the final weekend of this season, the company announced that Harrison Ball, Peter Walker, and Jovani Furlan were promoted from Soloists to Principals. And the new New York City Ballet continues to evolve.