Saturday, January 30, 2016

New York City Ballet Tuesday Evening, January 19th: 'Music Director's Choice'

TUESDAY EVENING, JANUARY 19, 7:30 PM [Conductor: Litton]

BARBER VIOLIN CONCERTO: Mearns, M. Fairchild, J. Angle, la Cour Jansen [Solo Violin: Nikkanen]

FANCY FREE: De Luz, T. Angle, Ramasar, Pazcoguin, Hyltin, Chrosniak, Prottas

WHO CARES?: R. Fairchild, T. Peck, Lowery, Scheller [Solo Piano: Chelton]

Although Andrew Litton, New York City Ballet's new music director, had conducted a few programs last fall and a week of Nutcracker performances in December, this program was apparently his official introduction to the NYCB audience.

Maestro Litton opened the program with a bracing performance of the overture from Leonard Bernstein's 'Candide'.  For the piece the orchestra -- augmented by six additional players -- ascended on the (infrequently used) pit elevator.  Their sound was rich -- almost too loud at times -- and the tempi were fast.  The descent of the orchestra back into the pit and the removal of percussion instruments from the stage apron made for an awkward transition from orchestral concert to ballet performance.

Peter Martins created 'Barber Violin Concerto' for the Company's American Music Festival in 1988.  The score is Samuel Barber's gorgeous 'Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 14' composed in 1941.  The original 1988 cast was Merrill Ashley and Adam Luders from NYCB with guest artists Kate Johnson and David Parsons from the Paul Taylor Dance Company.  Martins' original concept was to compare and contrast classical ballet and modern dance.
Russell Jansen, Sara Mearns, Jared Angle and Megan Fairchild in 'Barber Violin Concerto'.
Photo by Andrea Mohin for NY Times

In more recent revivals, the modern dancers have been replaced by dancers from the Company performing in a more grounded style that is alien to their ballet training.  This has led to a dilution of the contrast between the 'classical' and 'modern' dancers.  Jared Angle discusses the challenges of dancing the 'modern' roles in a short video from the Company that you can find here:

In the opening movement Russell Jansen partnered the radiant Sara Mearns with great elegance in Martins' difficult adagio -- where the 'classical' dancers perform together.  Jared Angle and Megan Fairchild as the barefoot 'modern' dancers struggled to invest their parts with the necessary earthiness.  Sara's encounter with Jared in the central movement lacked the sexual edginess that made it feel almost like a rape with the original cast in 1988

Jared Angle and Sara Mearns in Peter Martins' 'Barber Violin Concerto'.  Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet
In the final movement Megan's annoying 'modern' gnat contrasted nicely with Russell's aloof 'classical' danseur, but the humor in their encounter has long since dissipated for most of the audience.

The orchestra under Maestro Litton -- with Kurt Nikkanen as violin soloist -- played the haunting Barber score beautifully.

In 1944 Jerome Robbins collaborated with Leonard Bernstein on 'Fancy Free' for American Ballet Theatre.  It was Robbins' first ballet.  Of course, later that year Robbins and Bernstein collaborated with Betty Comden & Adolf Green (book and lyrics) to expand the ballet into the legendary musical 'On the Town'

Robbins staged 'Fancy Free' for New York City Ballet in 1980 with Peter Martins, Bart Cook, and Jean-Pierre Frohlich as the three sailors and Delia Peters, Stephanie Saland, and Florence Fitzgerald as their romantic interests.  The set, then and now, is based on Oliver Smith's iconic original design for ABT.

Here's a video of the entire NYC Ballet production (31 minutes) from 1986 with Joseph Duell, Jean-Pierre Frohlich, Kipling Houston, Lourdes Lopez, Stephanie Saland and Florence Fitzgerald:

And here's also a video from NYC Ballet with Tyler Angle discussing the current revival 'Fancy Free':

After seeing 'Fancy Free' for years, there's nothing terribly exciting about it, no matter how well it is danced or how well the score is played (as it was on Tuesday evening).  The work shows just how keenly Robbins observed the interactions of people around him and incorporated them into his ballets from the very beginning.  

Joaquin De Luz, Tyler Angle, Amar Ramasar and Georgina Pazcoguin in Jerome Robbins' 'Fancy Free'.
Photo by Michael P. Farrell for (Albany) TimesUnion
Tyler Angle, Joaquin De Luz and Amar Ramasar were convincing as the three sailors on shore leave in NYC.  Gina Pazcoguin was suitably saucy as the girl with the red purse, but Sterling Hyltin's 40's hairdo was grotesque and completely distracting from her otherwise winsome girl in purple.  It's hard to find much redeeming value in this work, which hasn't aged particularly well.  Maybe the Company should give it a rest for the next ten years.

George Balanchine's 'Who Cares?' to the music of George Gershwin as (over-)orchestrated by Hershy Kay was created in 1970.  Kay, who created scores for other Balanchine ballets, including 'Stars and Stripes' and 'Western Symphony', gives this score too much punch and I always spend the ballet hearing better versions of these familiar tunes in my head.  

The first cast in 1970 included Jacques d'Amboise, Patricia McBride, Karin von Aroldingen, and Marnee Morris plus five demi-soloist couples and a corps of ten women.  It was the first major work that Balanchine created after his muse, Suzanne Farrell, left the Company in the spring of 1969 and it is not considered one of his finest works -- although it is danced all over the world these days and has always been a personal favorite.

The costumes by Santo Loquasto for the current production of 'Who Cares?' are particularly unfortunate.  The five demi-soloist men wear something akin to short-sleeved royal blue track suits; the five women are in nondescript hot pink wrap dresses and the ten corps women are in ruffled teal wrap dresses with pink head scarves.  The three female leads are in shiny satin dresses of pink, turquoise and lavender with black lace appliques -- reminding me of models from an old Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue.  Only the male lead escapes relatively unscathed.
                                                                                                            The opening sections are always an opportunity to see young members of the corps step out and show off in necessarily brief snippets.  Among the demi-soloists, I was particularly taken by Emilie Gerrity dancing with Cameron Dieck -- Ms. Gerrity's arms seemed to embrace the whole audience.  Lars Nelson and Ralph Ippolito -- new to me in their roles -- also conveyed the right panache.

Rob Fairchild in the 'Liza' solo of Balanchine's 'Who Cares?'.  Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet
For this performance -- the opening night of the Company's Winter Season -- Robert Fairchild took an evening off from his starring role in the Broadway (Gershwin) musical 'An American in Paris' to dance the leading male role in 'Who Cares?' with his wife, Tiler Peck, and Ana Sophia Scheller and Savannah Lowery.  Rob and Tiler's entrance for 'The Man I Love' duet was greeted by the NYCB audience with an affectionate ovation.
Tiler Peck and Rob Fairchild in 'The Man I Love' pas de deux from 'Who Cares?'.
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet

Rob's dancing throughout seemed a little more earthbound than I had recalled -- perhaps the result of dancing on Broadway for over a year -- but he provided wonderful support for all three ballerinas in their individual duets and was a louche song-and-dance man in his solo to 'Liza'.  Tiler was sensational in both 'The Man I Love' duet with Rob and in her 'Fascinatin' Rhythm' solo -- she has become one of the Company's indispensable ballerinas ranging over an ever-expanding variety of the Company's repertory. 

Ana Sophia Scheller and Rob Fairchild in the 'Embraceable You' pas de deux from Balanchine's 'Who Cares?'.
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet
Ana Sophia danced the 'Embraceable You' duet with Rob and her 'My One and Only' solo with steely bravado -- and not much personality.  Savannah seemed unusually subdued --  even with the title duet to 'Who Cares?' and the insouciant solo to 'I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise' to dance.

The full cast of George Balanchine's 'Who Cares?' in the final moment of the ballet.
Photo by Paul Kolnik for NYC Ballet
The cast received thunderous applause which continued when Maestro Litton was brought onto the stage -- he even received a solo bow in front of the curtain.  Although the Hershy Kay orchestrations detract from the charm of the Gershwin originals, Litton brought a great deal of character and vitality to the score.  I am suddenly hopeful that we will have a Music Director who adds distinction and a point of view to the music emanating from the pit which will compliment the always wonderful dancing on stage.