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Monday, May 4, 2015

NYCB's New Apollo: Back to the Future

George Balanchine never stopped complaining about the atrocious conditions for the premiere of his first masterpiece, Apollo. Apollo was danced by Serge Lifar, a dancer Balanchine disliked both artistically and personally. But he had to be cast as he was Serge Diaghilev's lover. Balanchine's Terpischore, Alexandra Danilova, was shelved in favor of Alice Nikitina, due to Nikitina having been the mistress of a wealthy sponsor. Balanchine later would remark "If we were to go back to the premiere of Apollo everyone would be laughing his head off."

Nevertheless Balanchine would stick to his assertion in later years that Apollo was meant to be a demi-character role. He wanted to see power, stamina, muscle. If you look at the films of Jacque d'Amboise (thankfully available on DVD now) you see d'Amboise's thick, powerful frame and the frenzied speed at which he took the Apollo solos.

But over the recent years NYCB's AD Peter Martins has tended to cast Apollo as mini-Peter's: tall, elegant, and (mostly) blond. Martins' favored Apollo has been Chase Finlay, a gorgeous blue-eyed blond. Finlay certainly looked beautiful, but I never saw him make it through an Apollo without a major stumble in his solo and without some labored partnering. The other Apollo, Robert Fairchild, is superb in every way. Alas, both Finlay and Fairchild are out (Finlay due to injury, Fairchild because of American in Paris. So Martins had to pick a new Apollo, and his choice was Adrian Danchig-Waring.

The first thing you notice about Danchig-Waring is not his looks (although he's good-looking too, as dancers are wont to be), but his strength. My, what muscles! He highlighted his bulk by starting the solo in an exaggerated, stretched position that showed off his deep backbend and the tautness of every muscle in his arms, shoulders, thighs and calves. Then he started moving, and you realize that this Apollo truly has Olympian stamina and horsepower. He powered through his opening lute solo with ferocious energy. It wasn't all that refined, but it was powerful, exciting, feral. And his partnering was fantastic. The upside down lift with Terpischore was effortless, as was the "swimming" portion of the pas de deux.

His trio of muses was overall a successful combo, although they all needed a lighter touch. Tiler Peck is a very serious, introverted Terpischore without much of the playful flirtatiousness that one often sees in this role. Of course her positions are textbook clean and her musicality superb but she doesn't look relaxed. I think of her wonderfully sassy performances as Swanilde and Colombine and wish she could bring a bit of that lightness to her Terpischore. I enjoyed Lauren Lovette as Calliope -- she's also a rather serious Muse, but that meant that for once we didn't see a jaw-dropped, constantly mugging Calliope. I thought Ashly Isaacs was a bit inelegant as Polyhymnia -- those arabesque-into-pique-turns were well-executed but there was something too brassy about it.

But it was Danchig-Waring's triumph and I hope Peter Martins continues to let Danchig-Waring grow in this role. Otherwise the black and white portion of the Spring Season has featured performances that ranged from subpar to stunning. Last night Ashley Bouder and Taylor Stanley chugged through a sluggish Square Dance that surprised me considering how superb Bouder usually is in the role. She and Stanley are not a good match: their body lines are too incongruous -- her tiny sleek head and matchstick figure looks odd against Stanley's endomorphic build. The corps were superb in an elegant rendition of Le Toumbeau de Couperin, but Stravinsky Violin Concerto was again unusually listless. I think the awkward partnering between Ask La Cour and Sterling Hyltin contributed -- he's way too tall for her. Robert Fairchild was her best partner in this ballet. Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar were fine in the other pas de deux, but the corps and soloists were unusually out of sync in the surefire finale.



Order was restored this afternoon first with the Apollo, and then with excellent performances of Agon, Duo Concertant, and Symphony in Three Movements. Symphony in Three Movements was especially remarkable -- the audience started applauding at the opening diagonal of ponytailed girls, and the dancers seemed energized by the audience. And they kicked ass. They were militaristic, they were strong, they were fantastic. Balanchine's choreography is so rich you can watch it 100 times and keep noticing new things -- today I noticed how the leading pink leotard girl (Sterling Hyltin) and her partner (Taylor Stanley) began their pas de deux with almost comical arm rippling. Hyltin really has taken over the role that for many years was closely associated with Wendy Whelan. Hyltin is the exact opposite of Whelan -- Whelan was all about sharp angular shapes, Hyltin exudes a soft femininity even in a leotard. But Hyltin has the requisite sharp attack -- her circle of pique turns accelerated beautifully -- and she's made the role her own without copying Wendy in any way.

Other random thoughts:

- It's so weird how Duo Concertant is really what dancers make of it. I've seen this with Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay. It was adorable -- tender and sweet. Ashley Bouder and Anthony Huxley made it a bit like a classroom exercise, where each new melody of the violin inspired a different set of steps. It wasn't better, it wasn't worse, it was different.

- So great to have Andrew Veyette back! He was amazing in Agon -- no sign of lingering injury. Rebecca Krohn also seems to have benefited from some time off -- her pas de trois showed none of the shaky balances that I've seen in the past.

- Why is Maria Kowroski a totally different ballerina when she's in a leotard? In tutu ballets I've never seen her make it through the performance without a stumble, small or large. In leotard ballets her extreme flexibility and beautiful legs seem to propel her to complete confidence. She was unshakeable in Agon today, awesome in yesterday's Violin Concerto where she executed a perfect handstand/cartwheel.

- I'm starting to think Tiler Peck has the opposite problem of Maria Kowroski: Peck is simply not a leotard ballerina. It seems like you put her in a peach dress or tutu and she stuns with her fast footwork and accelerating spins. You put her in a leotard and she seems nervous, closed off, cautious.

In other news, the great Bolshoi ballerina Maya Plisetskaya passed away yesterday. There's really no words to describe her dancing, so I'll just post this video:


4 comments:

  1. Always enjoy reading your reviews! It sounds like you saw Bouder's Square Dance while she had bronchitis. She mentioned it in a few Instagram posts, including this one: https://instagram.com/p/2H6gqRv_yw/. I hope she's feeling better!

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    1. Thanks Anne for the kind comments. I did see that Bouder was ill. She was much better in Duo Concertant. But that's probably less taxing than Square Dance.

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    2. I concur, Ivy, it's so nice to get a clear uncluttered sight line on what's going on at your end of the continent, instead of having to suffer through Macaulay's creative writing exercises reporting that so-and-so danced with "spacious exuberance" (WTF?). And yeah, Bouder was sicker than a dog last week but did all of her scheduled performances, including both shows on Saturday. And yes, if you watch the NYCB promo video for Duo Concertant, Megan Fairchild emphasizes how technically undemanding it is (for a change), and how nice it is for her to just relax into it.

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  2. And today we have "expansive impetus." Gah.

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