|Email I received about Martins' resignation|
It took me awhile to gather my thoughts on this whole ordeal. First of all, NYCB is the arts institution I love more than any other. I often joke with my friends about how many tickets I buy over the course of the season. I just went to Nutcracker seven times in six weeks. I want the company to flourish. I believe that they have the most valuable ballet repertory in the world -- a treasure trove of ballets from Balanchine and Robbins, as well as more contemporary masterworks from Alexei Ratmansky (who does his most inspired, consistent work with NYCB) and Justin Peck (whose Times Are Racing is IMO the ballet anthem of the 21st century).
With that being said, I remember my beginnings as a watcher of New York City Ballet. They weren't so felicitous. I went to my first performances maybe 17-18 years ago. It was a Nutcracker (isn't it always)? It was a frankly awful experience. The poor Sugarplum (a long-time principal who always suffered from severe nerves) fell off pointe at the beginning of her variation and slogged through the performance looking as if she were about to burst into tears. The Snowflakes were a mess. Dropped wands, two slips, hands splayed to an absurd degree. This was the famous, magical, wonderful Nutcracker that everyone raved about?
Shambards, a screechy unlikable thing that is so different from Wheeldon's slick but empty works of late. I was also at the premiere of Boris Eifman's Musagete, an endless atrocity "based on" George Balanchine's life. Alexandra Ansanelli was the "Tanny" figure, Wendy Whelan was the cat Mourka, Maria Kowroski was the "Suzanne Farrell" figure, and Robert Tewsley played the calm, placid "Mr. B" as a tortured, moody emo artist. I also remember many "new Martins" pieces, but don't ask me the names. I forgot them. I just remember them being unmemorable. Reviews for the company in those days was savage.
I went to repertory programs too -- I remember a Diamonds where the ballerina fell over just as the curtain was about to come down. I remember a Midsummer's Night Dream where the Titania shook constantly. A La Sonnambula where the Sleepwalker visibly crumpled over while trying to carry the Poet. One of the few good memories I have is a Symphony in 3 Movements where Wendy totally kicked ass, as she always did. At the same time, I was going to ABT and back then that was more my thing. Nina! Angel! Marcelo! Irina and Max! Alessandra! Gillian! David! Diana! Those full-lengths with those Big Deal Stars were easier to absorb than Stravinsky leotard ballets. I was young and foolish. Back then Romeo and Juliet was the pinnacle of ballet. Today I can barely stand the thing.
Then from 2005-2007 I moved away from NYC and saw very little ballet. I moved back to NYC around the end of 2007 and quickly resumed my ballet-going activities. But I returned mostly to ABT. Again -- David! Marcelo! Diana! And then there were new stars -- guest artists like Natalia Osipova and Alina Cojocaru. You get the picture. When I went to NYCB, it was usually to see the Nutcracker. I do remember my first Nutcracker after my move back to NY as a revelation -- this time Wendy Whelan was the Sugarplum Fairy and she was magical. I also remember seeing Symphony in C around 2008 and thinking, "Wow, they are good." I think Sara Mearns danced the second movement, and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz the third. Then a Coppelia with Tiler Peck and Sleeping Beauty with Ashley Bouder where again, I thought "wow, they are great."
|The ballet that changed everything for me|
|La Sylphide was proof that NYCB could do full justice to the "classics"|
You see, all the years I had been so unimpressed with NYCB, Peter Martins had slowly been laying the groundwork for a great company. In 2000 he accepted a spunky little dynamo named Ashley Bouder into the company. In 2001 a tall leggy blonde Tess Reichlen. In 2002 the perky, sweet Megan Fairchild got in, and in 2003, another petite wonder named Sterling Hyltin joined the company. In 2004 Sara Mearns. In 2005 Tiler Peck. To say that these six principals have been the bedrock of the company for the last decade or so is an understatement. They're not perfect in everything they do, but my, can they dance! They're versatile, they're unique, they combine great technique with musicality and artistry. And they can now go toe-to-toe with ABT's ballerinas in the full length "classics" -- this fall the NYCB ballerinas did a better job with those famous fouettes in Swan Lake than ABT's roster. Sterling Hyltin's Sylph was the kind of performance you'd expect from someone who had been dancing Bournonville her whole life -- light, airy, enchanting. Last summer in the very hyped Superjewels the NYCB contingent won over the Russo-phile/tourist crowd with their stunning renditions of Rubies and Diamonds. Many in the audience came to see the Bolshoi and the Paris Opera Ballet; they left screaming for Tess Reichlen's Tall Girl.
Martins in the past few years also tacitly acknowledged an unpleasant but undeniable fact -- that he was not a good or even mediocre choreographer. The "new Martins" works decreased to almost nothing -- his last new work for the company was a straightforward adaptation of Bournonville's La Sylphide. He also drastically cut the number of Martins ballets in season programs. To see a Martins ballet on the playbill (often sandwiched between two Balanchine masterpieces) used to be a regular thing -- now, it's a rarity. In the upcoming winter season there are only two Martins ballets programmed -- Red Violin and Romeo + Juliet. In the spring season that number drops to zero. It took self-awareness for Martins to realize that choreography was not his thing.
|Ashley Bouder in Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH. IMO it's his masterpiece|
Not every choreographer was a winner -- Benjamin Millepied's ballets are an automatic "skip" for me, as are Troy Schumacher's creations (The Wind Still Brings is 20 minutes of my life I'll never get back). I have painful memories of such gems as Miles Thather's excruciating Polaris or Lynne Corbett's The Seven Deadly Sins which managed to make Wendy Whelan look uninspired and Patti Lupone sound bad. How is that even possible? Wheeldon still comes back now and then, each creation being ever slicker and emptier. The Here/Now programs in Spring 2017 exposed just how many mediocre ballets sit in the NYCB vault. But still, the "new works" no longer cause dread among City Ballet aficionados. A typical NYCB season now finally has the right balance of repertory staples, new works, modern masterpieces, and box-office-friendly full lengths. And there's a high level of consistency and quality among all the types of works in the repertoire. I even saw Preston Chamblee and Tess Reichlen make something semi-sexy out of the dreadful Red Angels, bless their hearts.
|Reichlen, Hyltin, and Peck|
Martins leaves behind a company that is strong on all levels -- principal, soloists, corps, even apprentices are making their mark -- during the Nutcracker season a beautiful apprentice named India Bradley immediately caught my eye as one of the dolls. So as NYCB enters this new chapter, with no named successor as yet. But I firmly believe that the company can weather this catastrophically disruptive storm. Perhaps that's Martins' legacy -- a company that no longer needs him to survive and thrive.