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Friday, May 26, 2017

Here/Now ends with a whimper; Little Foxes

Concerto DSCH with Bouder and de Luz, photo @ Paul Kolnik
A matinee performance on Saturday, May 20 (officially titled Here/Now No. 9) was perhaps the single most dispiriting afternoon I've ever spent at NYCB. The program presented six different works. By the end of the fourth week of the Here/Now festival the number of injuries was staggering -- every week had a multitude of casting changes.  The dancers, usually so chipper on social media, had resorted to venting and more venting. Georgina Pazcoguin's wry line "To those who fell, to those who made it (extra kudos) and to those ballets we will never see again..." pretty much summed it up.

Reichlen in Red Angels
The first work on this program was something called Red Angels. Four dancers in red unitards stood in four separate spotlights and gyrated for 10 minutes. It actually pained me to see Tess Reichlen and Preston Chamblee, both so gorgeous in physique, reduced to this sort of junk. Then we had Varied Trio, in which the talents of Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley were wasted doing ... uh, I don't remember. That's how memorable the ballet was. But the worst was Myles Thatcher's Polaris, where 13 minutes felt like 13 hours in an excruciatingly boring ballet of nothingness. And of course there was the ubiquitous, cloying After the Rain. Of this long program (2.5 hours), only Barber Violin Concerto and Concerto DSCH had any choreographic value.

After each awful piece I'd see members of the audience get up and leave. By the time DSCH rolled around there were so many defections the third ring (where I was sitting) was practically empty. What's more, the dancers looked tired and sluggish. Even in the irrepressible DSCH (Ratmansky's most charming work) there was a feeling that they were simply going through the motions. When Ashley Bouder seems like she's out of gas, there's a problem. The corps guy who keeps jumping up and down with joy in the first movement was the only sign of life. Of the 43 ballets, I'd say the number that were worth reviving was maybe uh, 15 to be generous?  All five Ratmansky ballets (Concerto DSCH, Namouna, Pictures at an Exhibition, Russian Seasons, Odessa), some of Justin Peck's works, and the odd charmer here and there (Lauren Lovette's For Clara didn't make much of an impression in the fall but in the spring amongst all the trash it was looked like a masterpiece in comparison). I just hope that none of the injuries are career-ending. This was a major miscalculation on the part of Peter Martins.

de Luz and Kowroski in MSND, photo @ Paul Kolnik

Thank god then that the final week was the Balanchine classic Midsummer's Night Dream. I caught two performances this week and after seeing so much junk the two evenings were healing and comforting. On Tuesday I saw Maria Kowroski's return to the role of Titania. She's diminished both in amplitude and expression but her grace and beauty are intact. Joaquin de Luz's Oberon remains a marvel of speedy footwork. His Scherzo was not bad for someone over 40, not bad at all. Indiana Woodward's Butterfly was fast, speedy, and accurate. The highlight of the evening was Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle in the sublime Act Two pas de deux. This time Tiler Peck dove so far backwards in Angle's arms she was almost parallel to the ground, and then she dove fast-first again. It was both a master class of control and a jaw-dropping display of technique.

Ball, Reichlen, Garcia, Hyltin, Finlay

The second performance however was, IMO, the livelier and funnier one. Teresa Reichlen's Titania, Gonzalo Garcia's Oberon, Harrison Coll's Bottom and Harrison Ball's Puck are all excellent portrayals -- and funny, too. Reichlen has improved so much in this role -- I remember she used to be a beautiful icicle in this part. Now she's warm and feminine and her duet with Bottom is equal parts sweet and comical. Garcia's Oberon is not a virtuoso powerhouse but he has the musicality and sense of humor to do justice to this role. And his Scherzo was impressive for the soft landings and graceful upper body. The four lovers were also very funny, especially Aaron Sanz's hilariously foppish Demetrius. Ashley Hod made an impressive debut as Hippolyta.  In the second act pas de deux Chase Finlay had a few shaky partnering moments but Sterling Hyltin has grown enormously in the role. She doesn't have the absolute control over her technique that Tiler Peck has, but while Peck is often an inexpressive mask Hyltin radiates sweetness and femininity. Her upper body also has a softness that Peck doesn't have.

You could sense the company breathing easier after the four weeks of Here/Now. The SAB children were as always adorable, and Balanchine gives them such musical, appropriate choreography. Their rapid flicks of their arms represent the little critters in the forest so well. Contrast that to Ratmansky's Whipped Cream, where he had children in cupcakes simply jump around the stage. The dancers even regained their sense of humor on Instagram:


A post shared by Tess Reichlen (@shetess) on


Linney as Regina, Nixon as Birdie, photo @ Joan Marcus
In other news, I saw the Laura Linney as Regina/Cynthia Nixon as Birdie cast of The Little Foxes. I had seen the reverse cast during previews. Linney's Regina is showier than Nixon -- it's louder, more theatrical, with some crazy eyes. She's also more overtly malicious. Nixon's Regina has a chilling, soft-spoken demeanor. Both of them brought out different facets of the character -- Nixon made Regina a modern day businesswoman type. Linney made her more of a melodramatic villainess. For instance, during Horace's heart attack, Linney reached out to Horace a few times before she smugly crossed her legs, while Nixon just leaned back in her divan and never even looked at Horace. As for the Birdies, Linney's Birdie has the loud, rambling, confused mannerisms of a long-term alcoholic down pat. Nixon's Birdie is sadder, more fragile, speaking in a wisp of a voice. With Linney's Birdie you saw the bubbly young woman she once was, with Nixon you saw the broken person she's become. Both are excellent portrayals and it really helps to see both casts. But you can't go wrong with either cast. Can't recommend this revival enough.

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