Balanchine & Cunningham: New York City Lights on All Cylinders
Well, almost. Tschaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 costumes, which were reworked many times since their 1941 premiere, are a fizzle. The extravagant chiffon skirts detract from the intricate footwork. They look too casual for this grand affair, which still retains a hint of imperial splendor. It wasn’t Ballet Imperial by any means. The mixed signals sent by adding Swarovski crystals to the bodices was just one example. Men did not fare as well in fancy vests, which were very Siegfried and-Roy at Las Vegas’ Mirage.
However, Serenade’s frost blue tulle skirts are a huge hit. The skirts have had panels in a light shade of lemon meringue inserted, giving the illusion of sunlight through. It is pure heaven. The dancing by the 20 Serenade heroines on Thursday night was just as spectacular. The dancers displayed contradictory qualities such as introspection, passion, attack, and airiness in a liminal space created by George Balanchine that is neither celestial nor earthly.
Sterling Hyltin was the man in charge of the venture. She is cerebral, ethereal, but also hard and diamonds. She can travel at a crazy speed and tilt off-balance on her pointses. Megan LeCrone provided a superb support, deploying her large arms and broad shoulders beautifully, firing off bold, powerful sissonnes and plunging into stunning backbends. The otherworldly atmosphere was maintained by her smiling, though she didn’t engage in any operatic moves. With her darting piques and graceful feet, Erica Pereira, the fleet, was a striking contrast.
This ballet features a few men who are self-effacing, with their blue leotards and shorts disappearing in the blue cyclorama. Preston Chamblee, however, made an impressive impression as the blindfolded man who enters and exits Sterling Hyltin’s life, accompanied by an angel. Ask la Cour, on the other side, looked both bored and pessimistic. He was supposed to gently tap Hyltin on the shoulder when he first approached her. Hyltin was more impatient than usual when la Cour approached her, almost as though he were giving her a subpoena.
The second Balanchine classic, Serenade is the opposite of Serenade. It’s a worldly ballet with lots of flash, elegance, huge tiaras, and courtly manners. Lauren King was the crown princess of Ashley Bouder’s Queen. They both sailed through their high-caffeinated choreography with ease, almost flawlessly. Elaine Chelton, at the piano, was a lively co-conspirator.
King was radiant, lively and springy throughout. In a perilous promenade at pointe, King was also remarkable calm. She was steered by Alec Knight and Christopher Knight, who were both cocky suitors who thought that this would be a great moment to show off their grand-jetes.
Bouder’s smoking feet and stop-on a-dime finishes made it a virtue to have untidy arms during each tour de force. She treated Russell Janzen in the first movement more like her prime minister than her cavalier, despite a brief embrace. He clearly hoped that their relationship would turn romantically and told her so with strings of noble beaten jumps. Janzen was left to perform the slow, enchanting movement with the corps women. They amplified his loneliness by creating a gentle undulating wave that spanned the stage. Bouder returned for an intimate rendezvous, in which Janzen carried Bouder around with great ardor, increasing her whipping jumps and tying her with a handhold. The courtiers echoed this daring act of partnership in the final glory movement.
Between these two Balanchine masterpieces, Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace evoked an arcadian environment in which dancers weren’t spectral figures or aristocrats but were intimations of other fauna, birds, and insects. After performances in 1966 and 1999, the work is making a comeback at City Ballet. Although Sara Adams, Adrian Danchig Waring, Emilie Gerity, Abi Stafford and Andrew Veyette may not have the same gravity as Cunningham’s dancers on Thursday, they made Summerspace theirs.
They walked independently across the stage to Morton Feldman’s epic accumulation of tweeting, susurrating, and plinking sounds. They were almost always alone and only rarely paused to consider another dancer. They used ballet vocabulary, but not the preparations or counter-balancing tensions that are required to perform ballet movements.
Although it’s not very often that ballet dancers are asked to do a pistol squat, Gerrity did it with grit. Danchig Waring discovered new power in his jump, especially the heroic one in arabesque where he must pull his jumping foot up. Wellington moved with calm concentration and ease through all positions. Stafford enjoyed spinning in her head, put weight into her movements, and carved shapes with bracing clarity. She plunged to the ground to take the position of a roosting bird.
The full visual impact of Robert Rauschenberg’s designs was lost after the 3rd Ring. Although the stippled costumes of the dancers are meant to blend into the stippled background, Rauschenberg’s massive scenic drop seemed to hover above them from high up. The disappointment was compensated by the delight of seeing the kaleidoscoping geometries for the ensembles in Serenade & PC No. 2. A night of spectacular dancing.