Of the four ballets, the one I was most curious about seeing was Ivesiana. It's not a regular in the City Ballet repertoire. It's a rather weird ballet, with three extremely dark, even sinister sections and one section ("In the Inn") that seems more Broadway than anything. As a result the ballet lacks the usual Balanchine cohesion and in fact does seem like a hodgepodge of vignettes set to Charles Ives music, as the title would suggest.
The first section ("Central Park in the Dark") takes place on an extremely darkened stage, and there are these creepy beings who crawl around the place. A man and a woman (danced by the excellent Ashley Laracey and Zachary Catazaro) have a brief, but unfulfilling pas de deux that ends with Laracey crumpled on the floor. Was she raped? Laracey was a stand-out in this brief but haunting part -- she was both ethereal and desperate.
The second part of the ballet is the most famous -- "The Unanswered Question" where a woman (Janie Taylor) is manipulated aloft by four men as she tries to connect with another man (Anthony Huxley). The woman's feet never touch the ground -- she is just contorted into all sorts of poses by these sinister men. The stage is almost completely dark. The ending echoes the ending of Serenade. The part was originated on Allegra Kent. Since I don't have a point of comparison Janie Taylor looked fine, although she doesn't have the Lolita-like sexiness that apparently made Kent so memorable in the roll.
The third section ("In the Inn") is an anomaly -- the stage is completely brightened, and a man and a woman have a brief flirtation before parting. There's a homage to the famous moment in Top Hat where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers shake hands. Amar Ramasar and Sara Mearns were charming but this whole section seemed like it belonged in another ballet. The final section ("In the Night") returned to the dark and creepy tone of the first two sections. I can't say Ivesiana is my favorite ballet, but it was definitely worth it to see this Balanchine rarity.
The afternoon began with Who Cares? I thought Santo Loquasto's new costumes were ugly -- the women are now dressed in pepto bismol pink and bright turquoise costumes, and the men in bright, baggy and ugly blue sweatsuits. The principal women are now in these tight, over-corseted tutus that make me miss the casual look of the old costumes. Abi Stafford made her usual total non-impression in "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" while Ana Sophia Scheller ("Embraceable You") doesn't quite have the easy-breezy relaxed posture this ballet requires. But Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild predictably brought down the house in "The Man I Love." Their body language is pitch perfect. Their musicality -- impeccable. Their chemistry -- through the roof. I heard more than a few swoons when Peck was carried offstage by Fairchild. Later Peck returned to give a dynamite rendition of "Fascinatin' Rhythm." It's amazing how this dancer can repeatedly perform the trickiest, fastest footwork while giving the illusion that time has stood still.
Megan Fairchild and Antonio Carmena were just a lot of fun in Balanchine's brief but delightful Tarantella. It's a tongue-in-cheek homage to Italian folk dance, but the performers not only have to be excellent terre a terre dancers, they have to exude an irrepressible energy. One of my favorite steps is when Fairchild does a plie with her feet wide apart -- the step has a delightful vulgarity. Carmena sailed through the role with all the required aplomb.
Afternoon ended with Stars and Stripes. The ballet has a cheesiness Balanchine often injected into his tributes to his adopted country. But the steps are fiendishly difficult. I have an Erica Pereira problem -- she's repeatedly cast in high-energy allegro roles when she doesn't seem to have either the stamina or skill for those roles. Her performance in the First Campaign was a perfect example -- she actually lagged behind the corps de ballet. Savannah Lowery on the other hand was brash and confident in the Rifle Regiment, and Daniel Ulbricht predictably wowed the house with his series of double turns in the airs and beats in the all-male Third Campaign. Finally, Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette were both excellent in the final campaign. Ashley Bouder's Liberty Bell is a modern classic rendition. She's done it so many times that she now plays with the audience a bit -- she no longer just executes the steps with her usual technical wizardry. She now will occasionally slow down the conductor and tilt her head and give a cheeky smile at an opportune time as if to say, "Hee. This is fun." This kind of mugging is unusual in the rather severe climate of the NYCB, but the audience eats it up.
What a wonderful company!