Serenade opened the program and it was actually a strangely weak performance. The ballet's choreography is based on a series of iconic poses that model some basic ballet class positions. The NYCB corps, usually so sharp and precise, was unexpectedly sloppy during Serenade. There were two slips by different lines of female corps, and the leads Janie Taylor, Rebecca Krohn, and Sterling Hyltin were all fine dancers but they looked as if they were in a hurry to get the ballet over with -- the performance lacked that extra spiritual, mystic quality that is so much of the ballet's power. Maybe Martins should consider recasting Serenade with completely new dancers, as I hate to say it but the ballet looked a little routine. The best performance strangely came from Ask La Cour, who partnered the ladies beautifully. It wasn't a bad performance, but I know the company is capable of much better, so it was frustrating.
Firebird had a replacement -- it was supposed to be Maria Kowroroski as the Firebird, but since Sara Mearns was injured, Maria was put into the second movement of Symphony in C and Teresa Reichlen danced the Firebird instead. In the winter season I saw Firebird with Ashley Bouder, and while Reichlen is a beautiful, majestic dancer, I couldn't help but compare her performance negatively with Ashley. This is a big jumping role, and Reichlen's jumps were not nearly as powerful as Ashley's. Moreover, Bouder may lack the beautiful sculpted line of Reichlen, but her bird was much more, well, birdlike. Nervous, jittery, with flicks of the arms and wrists that indicated the character's fear of and attraction to the Prince. I remember how after the Prince kills the monsters, Bouder's Firebird did a sad, arm-flapping circling bourree around the stage. It was as if the Firebird knew that she had to say goodbye to the Prince. Reichlen just didn't have that feral, melancholy quality that Ashley brought to the role. Reichlen seemed cool and remote, Ashley was much more human and touching. Justin Peck was the Prince and there was little chemistry between him and Reichlen. I am starting to warm up to Balanchine's Firebird -- I don't like the abridged Stravinsky score, and I'm not fond of the overly clownish "monsters" (a scene choreographed by Jerome Robbins), but it's a valid reworking of Fokine's masterpiece. I am looking forward to seeing Ratmansky's take on the piece during the ABT season.
Thankfully, Symphony in C closed the afternoon. This ballet is almost dancer-proof -- it never fails to fill me with absolute joy. There were new costumes for both the men and the women. I didn't like the old costumes, but I can't say I really liked the new ones either -- the men's costumes were definitely an improvement, but the women's tutus had a diamond pattern that was way too prominent and distracting. All four movements were strongly cast -- Megan Fairchild and Jared Angle were peppy and precise in the first movement. Maria Kowroski was absolutely beautiful in the second movement adagio. Her long legs and uber-flexibility fit this role like a glove, and while she can often be shaky in solo variations, when she has a partner like Tyler Angle she's a stunning dancer. I always look forward to the swoony penchees of the second movement, including the one where the ballerina touches her knee with her face. Maria's penchees did indeed have that slow, dreamy quality that is a must in the role. Ashley Bouder and Joaquin de Luz jumped out like bullets in the third movement and the corps de ballet in the third movement were able to keep up with Ashley and Joaquin -- no small feat. The best performance I've ever seen a male give in the third movement was actually the Mariinsky dancer Vladimir Sklyakrov, who had a wonderful lightness and bouyancy to his jumps. It's a sign of the NYCB's strength that Tiler Peck, one of the company's biggest stars, was cast in the less showy fourth movement. Still, her turns were dazzling, and I can't wait to see her "graduate" into maybe the first or third movement. The whole ballet of course ends with a dizzying crescendo that never fails to leave the audience almost limp with happiness.
There is a spiritual, simple, happy quality to Mr. B's best ballets that belies his famous humility that it was "just the steps, dear." I haven't been able to go to the NYCB as often as I'd like this season, but a program like this is like oxygen -- it never fails to breathe new life into ballet.