Monday, May 25, 2009

NYCB: Toccata, After the Rain, & Chaconne

New York City Ballet’s Saturday night program was a treat I got to enjoy thanks to friend and fellow blogger Tonya Plank (she writes about the program here. And always nice to see Philip too, who wrote about it here.). I wasn't intending on writing about the program, but I'll make this quick...

The program opened with Jiri Bubenicek’s new contemporary work, “Toccata.” It’s a rather dark, silent, poignant piece with heavy partnering for its various couples. The dancers frequently slide across the stage, outlasting the force of friction in otherwise grounded choreography. A solo for Robert Fairchild is its centerpiece, showing off his exquisite physical control. He has a way of defining intricate movement and making it so organic. Abi Stafford in the main female role seemed well fit to Bubenicek’s vocabulary.

Wheeldon’s 2005 ballet, “After the Rain,” followed. In the first part, three couples dance aggressively. The ladies often stand with their torsos at 90 degree angles, rotating their legs from the floor up to penche arabesque, and back again. The result is like the arms of a clock, though much more refined and shapely are the limbs of the lofty Teresa Reichlen, the feisty Savannah Lowery, and the exquisitely carved Wendy Whelan. It’s interesting to see one of the company’s smallest women dance next to its tallest - a casting choice I’m not sure works to their advantage or not. The obvious distinction only enhances the extremities they each embody.

Part II of the piece is really its heartbeat. The quiet, human pas de deux for Wendy and Craig Hall makes you hold your breath. Out of her gray uniform of part I and into only a pale pink leotard with hair down, Wendy is vulnerable, open, raw. Craig truly complements her with his understated strength. Arvo Part’s hauntingly wonderful music (played well by Jean Ingraham and Cameron Grant on Saturday) seems to slow down the dancers’ reality, making them move in slow motion in a realm all their own.

To end the night, Balanchine’s lovely “Chaconne” offered a chance to see more of the corps de ballet dancers in the spotlight. Saski Beskow and Gwyneth Muller danced the first pas de trois with Ask la Cour, and later in the pas de cinq Stephanie Zungre took center stage with four younger dancers. Erica Pereira has technique for days and whipped off the pirouettes and other feats in her pas de deux with Adam Hendrickson with obvious ease. She is so tiny on the huge State Theater stage, but her smile and lines extend further than some of her lengthier counterparts.

Maria Kowrowski, with all her height, beauty, and clarity, was not at her best in this ballet, for my taste anyway. She could just stand there and look gorgeous. But in so many Balanchine ballets she looks the same to me: just beautiful, articulated legs flying high, feet perfectly placed to make the perfect requisite curved lines of ballet. And nothing more. What makes “Chaconne” different from her other roles in Balanchine’s classics? It might be nice to see her explore subtle differences in her own character onstage.

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