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New York City Ballet: Dancers' Choice 2011 Benefit for the Dancers' Emergency Fund

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New York City Ballet
(New York City Ballet Website)

Dancer’s Choice: A Benefit Performance
for the Dancer’s Emergency Fund

Agon (Excerpt)
La Stravaganza (Excerpt)
Rubies from Jewels

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children’s Ballet Master, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Fayçal Karoui
Managing Dir. Communications & Special Projects, Robert Daniels
Manager, Media Relations, Katharina Plumb
Assoc., Communications &Special Projects, Caitlin Gillette
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 12, 2011

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

The “Dancers’ Choice” benefit is an annual event for the City Ballet Dancers’ Emergency Fund. This third annual evening performance, begun by Peter Martins in 2008, was organized by Soloist, Adrian Danchig-Waring, and Corps dancer, Amanda Hankes. Funds received from this performance go toward a larger fund to assist Company dancers who have emergencies or hardships. It was originally conceived in 1980 by Jerome Robbins, then again by Mr. Martins in 2008.

Apollo (1951): Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Performed by Craig Hall, Tiler Peck, Ashly Isaacs, Lauren Lovette. Balanchine looked upon Apollo as the turning point of his life, "in its sustained oneness of tone and feeling". (NYC Ballet Notes).

Now, this was my third Apollo in recent performances, and it was also the most enthralling. I had hoped to see Craig Hall in this role, and finally I got the chance tonight, thanks to this special event. The hallmark of the “Dancers’ Choice” casting is that it’s fresh and offers debuts in the roles that might otherwise not happen. Mr. Hall drew enormous audience accolades tonight, for his power, magnetism, and gallantry. He was supremely aware of his stage presence, in visceral and focused demeanor. He achieved monumental speed and exciting elevation, as he leaped about like a true mythological character.

Tiler Peck, as Terpsichore, took the role Sterling Hyltin had danced just a few hours earlier (when Ms. Peck had danced as Polyhymnia). Ms. Peck was riveting and theatrical. Ashly Isaacs, a new face in the Corps, took the role Ms. Peck had danced earlier, with melodramatic, gripping effect. Lauren Lovette, as Calliope, was exuberant, precisely timed, and bursting with exuberance. The final scene, with Apollo in full profile view, and the three women positioned in partial view, legs tilted behind Mr. Hall, like one multiple-limbed, human fan, was breathtaking and eloquent. I wish City Ballet could mix up the casts for these iconic works more often.

Liturgy (2003): Music by Arvo Pärt (Fratres, for Violin, Strings, and Percussion), Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Costumes by Holly Hynes, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Clotilde Otranto, Violin Soloist: Arturo Delmoni, Performed by Sara Adams and Jared Angle. Part's composition is "inspired by the vision of a solemn procession of medieval candlelight...". (NYCB Notes).

An informative film was shown, with Wendy Whelan coaching Sara Adams from her own experience in the lead role. Ms. Whelan had been famously partnered by Jock Soto, years ago, and Liturgy was one of their iconic duos. It’s impossible to compare any other City Ballet partnership against the Whelan-Soto memories, as chemistry is everything. It barely exists these days, and when it does, the audience becomes electric. Tonight was not one of those experiences, but Jared Angle, Principal, and Sara Adams, a Corps dancer and another new face, did generate their own excitement. That was due to Ms. Adams’ superb interpretation, and the surprise of the unknown is always spellbinding to balletomanes, many of whom were in tonight’s crowd. Mr. Angle was an impassioned and intense partner, but they seemed more like strangers, in comparison to the Whelan-Soto memories. Arvo Pärt's score, highlighted on solo violin by Arturo Delmoni, was haunting and harrowing. Maestro Otranto kept the music urgent and charged.

Agon (Excerpt, 1957): Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Clotilde Otranto, Performed by Megan LeCrone and Amar Ramasar.

Amar Ramasar, who just appeared in Agon in today’s matinee, returned tonight for a pas de deux with Megan LeCrone in an excerpt of this work. Maestro Otranto led the Orchestra in the eclectic, Stravinsky score, and the effect was radiant. Both dancers exuded a studied, driven approach to the pas de deux, but there didn’t appear to be a strong connection in the moment. Yet, this is an event to give “fresh faces” the spotlight, in some cases, and Ms. LeCrone was just that. Her technique and style are severe, and Agon worked quite well for her. The Orchestra was especially enchanting in the instrumental and percussive effects.

La Stravaganza (Excerpt, 1997): Music by Antonio Vivaldi (“Sit Nomen Domini” from Laudáte Puéri Dóminum in C minor, RV 600 Part I), Choreography by Angelin Prejlocaj, Scenery by Maya Schweizer, Costumes by Herve-Pierre, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Gretchen Smith and Robert Fairchild.

I remembered Maya Schweizer’s painted backdrop and recorded 17th Century vocals, and the original, full-length work also had recorded, electrically charged sound. I also remembered not liking this work. It was wise casting the charismatic, winning dancer, Robert Fairchild, who here partnered Gretchen Smith, better known as the sassy Rosalia in West Side Story Suite. Mr. Fairchild could turn the sound of a hammer into rhythm, with his innate connection to theme and tempo. Here he and Ms. Smith did their best to entertain the crowd with Angelin Preljocaj’s choreography, which premiered in 1997. Its surreal meanings and innuendos, having been seen originally in the context of confused characters meeting society from another world, as centuries collide, were no more gripping tonight than they were in 2009, when I last saw this piece. Yet, Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Smith made the experience as persuasive as possible.

Rubies from Jewels: Music by Igor Stravinsky (Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra), Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Clotilde Otranto, Piano Solo: Susan Walters, Performed by Janie Taylor, Sean Suozzi, Sara Mearns, and the Company.

Nothing could be more perfect to close the “Dancers’ Choice” benefit and Spring Season, as well, than Balanchine’s stunning Rubies from his three-part Jewels. Although I had recently seen this work, in the context of the complete Jewels, seeing this centerpiece of the masterpiece was truly a bonus. Janie Taylor and Sean Suozzi took the duo lead, and they lit up the stage. Ms. Taylor has a winsome, sprightly quality, so renowned in her nymph-like role in Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun, and some of those physical characteristics were in play tonight in Rubies, as she stepped and ran so gingerly about, spinning on her long legs and taut torso. Her chemistry with Mr. Suozzi was notable, and he, too, was a dynamo in red. Together, they performed the challenging pas de deux, with iconic shoulder-elbow-hand angles, and arm-hand rolling motion as they run.

Teresa Reichlen reprised her seasoned Rubies solo, seducing the audience even more, in this casual, energized moment. She’s sensual, intense, and ever so entertaining, captivating the eye and challenging the duo to even more dynamic fervor. An ensemble of twelve Corps dancers filled out the stage in sparkling red and sparkling personality. Susan Walters made the music vibrant, thanks to her piano enhancement. Hopefully, tonight’s event raised awareness about the Dancers’ Emergency Fund and raised much needed resources for the Company as well. Kudos to Adrian Danchig-Waring and Amanda Hankes, and kudos to the entire Company for a great Spring Season.

Craig Hall, Tiler Peck,
Ashly Isaacs, Lauren Lovette
in Balanchine's "Apollo"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Sara Adams and Jared Angle
in Wheeldon's "Liturgy"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Teresa Reichlen and Corps
in Balanchine's "Rubies"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at