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New York City Center Presents Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC

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New York City Center Presents:

Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC
(Vail Dance Festival Website)

Directed by Damian Woetzel

Scholars-in-Residence: Elena Heiss, Dario Natarelli
Ballet Master: Jeffrey Edwards
Conductor: Kurt Crowley
Lighting Designer: Aaron Copp
Scenic Designer: Clint Ramos
Sound Designer: Jody Elff

At New York City Center

Arlene Schuler, President & CEO
Mark Litvin, Sr. VP & Managing Director
Joe Guttridge, Director, Communications

Catalyst Quartet:
Karla Donahew-Perez, Suliman Tekalli, Paul Laraia, Karlos Rodriguez

FLUX Quartet:
Tom Chiu, Conrad Harris, Felix Fan, Daniel Panner (Guest)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 4, 2016

Apollo (1928): Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Conductor: Kurt Crowley, Musicians: Catalyst Quartet, FLUX Quartet, and a string ensemble of eight, Performed by Roberta Fairchild as Apollo, Tiler Peck as Terpsichore, Isabella Boylston as Calliope, Devon Teuscher as Polyhymnia, Kaitlyn Gilliland as Leta, Mother of Apollo, and Amber Neff and Unity Phelan as Hand Maidens.

The retired City Ballet Principal, Damian Woetzel, was one of the finest performers on the Koch Theater (then New York State Theater), and I still recall his incomparable role as the Prodigal Son. His summer festival, Vail International Dance Festival, draws dance fans from around the globe. For New York City Center, Mr. Woetzel mounted a long, New York dance performance weekend, called Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC, and I caught tonight’s mesmerizing program. Mr. Woetzel, in his years with City Ballet, was always an aficionado of the Balanchine repertory. So it was not surprising that Mr. Woetzel’s series included not only rare versions of the Balanchine genre, such as this original Apollo, with its Apollo birth scene, but the series also teamed renowned dancers from both New York–based ballet companies in partnerships. As Apollo, Robert Fairchild enacted the birth scene, in the 1950’s-1960’s costume (black tights and white top), although the photo below shows a costume worn on another night, which is his all-white costume now in City Ballet performances. In fact, the Apollo birth scene was removed by Balanchine in later years in a revision of his ballet.

At the top of a flight of wooden stairs, the gorgeous Kaitlyn Gilliland (who has barely graced these stages since she left City Ballet long ago) was Leta, giving birth to Apollo. She holds her stomach and writhes, Apollo rises, wrapped in white, wound-up bunting. Onstage, below, Leta unwinds him, before he grows and dance with his muses. Ms. Gilliland was in a teaser of a role, and I hope she gets more stage time in festivals such as this. Mr. Fairchild exuded outsized joy and ebullience, especially in his long pas de deux with Tiler Peck as Terpsichore. Ms. Peck and Mr. Fairchild, married Principals with City Ballet, are highly trained in this Balanchine “black and white” ballet. Devon Teuscher, who danced as Polyhymnia, and Isabella Boylston, who danced as Calliope, are both with American Ballet Theatre (ABT), often dancing in story ballet theatrics. Their Balanchine starring roles were remarkably enthralling, with both rising to the occasion and offering a new take on the ballet’s characterization. Ms. Teuscher, especially, an ABT Soloist, seized the stage with strength of presence and some highly astute spins. The narrow orchestra pit, unlike Koch Theater’s, nicely fit two quartets and a string ensemble of eight. This stripped-down orchestra was perfectly tuned and in sync with the ballet.

The Leaves are Fading (Excerpt) (1975): Music by Antonin Dvorák, Choreography by Antony Tudor, Original Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Costumes by Patricia Zipprodt, Musicians: Catalyst Quartet, Performed by Tiler Peck and Cory Stearns. After the City Ballet Principal, Ms. Peck quickly changed costume, she was partnered with Cory Stearns, an ABT Principal. On this night, Mr. Stearns impressed me. He was not the spotlighted lead; that was, rather, Ms. Peck, dancing to Dvorák’s romantic adagio with luminosity and languor. This was an all-too-brief ballet, accompanied by Catalyst Quartet. Ms. Peck, not used to this ABT repertory piece, performed with warmth, and her motion matched the tone and mood. Mr. Stearns was mostly a vehicle for her to be lifted and softly propelled about the stage, but he did so with gentility.

Lamentation (1930): Music by Zoltán Kodály, Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Regisseur: Janet Eilber, Original Lighting by Martha Graham, adapted by Beverly Emmons, Cameron Grant on Piano, Performed by Carla Körbes. Martha Graham’s 1930 Lamentation has been reviewed on these pages for over a dozen years, performed by mostly Graham dancers to the loud, propulsive piano score by Zoltán Kodály. Ms. Graham designed the one-piece, lavender-grey stretch fabric that enables a grieving woman to mournfully propel herself, in place, as she sits on a bench. Here we saw the recently retired Carla Körbes (from Pacific Northwest Ballet), accompanied by none other than City Ballet’s pianist, Cameron Grant. What a stunning mélange. Almost a century old, this timeless work was, as it should be, gripping. My only wish was for a stronger mic for the piano, as the score must singe the soul, along with the woman lamenting.

Fandango (2010): Music by Luigi Boccherini, Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, Costume by William Ivey Long, Musicians: FLUX Quartet and Scott Borg on Guitar, Elena Heiss on Castanets, Performed by Sara Mearns. Pure joy it was, experiencing the City Ballet Principal, Sara Mearns, in all her wonderful dance persona, romping about the stage, in a ravishing, celebratory fashion. Alexei Ratmansky’s Fandango, first created for a Wendy Whelan performance at Vail, was a huge success tonight, drawing audience accolades. Ms. Mearns’ costume by Broadway’s costumer extraordinaire, William Ivey Long, in grey-black minimal silkiness, gave her the looseness she needed to express herself, and express herself she did, and beautifully. The FLUX Quartet, plus Scot Borg on guitar and Elena Heiss on castanets, bathed the work in exotic Spanish music, as Ms. Mearns brought a fringed shawl onstage, only to wrap it about Ms. Heiss. There was palpable intimacy between music and motion.

Lil Buck @ City Center – A Jookin’ Jam Session (2013): Music by Young Jai, Traditional Galician, Bach, Vijay Iyer, Kazakh folk, arr. Z. Lin, Wu Tong-Sandeep Das, Kate Davis, Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin, Wu Tong, Camille Saint-Saëns, Traditional Persian, arr. C. Jacobsen – S. Aghaei, Choreography by Lil Buck, Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles, and Damian Woetzel, Musicians: Sandeep Das, Grace Park, Eric Jacobsen, Cristina Pato, Kate Davis, Wu Tong, Performed by Lil Buck and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles. This endless series of dances, with the jookin’ hip-hop, swiveling, body-bending, top-of-sneaker-dancing Lil Buck and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles, was accompanied by six musicians. Sandeep Das on tabla, Grace Park on violin, Eric Jacobsen on cello, Cristina Pato on piano and gaita, Kate Davis, on bass, piano, and vocals, and Wu Tong, on sheng, flute, and vocals took turns on solo music as one or both jookin’ dancers appeared. Mr. Tong, especially, was featured in showcased tunes, as was Ms. Davis.

What struck me was how excerpted The Leaves are Fading was, a scene of a one-act ballet, and this Jookin’ Jam Session just went on and on. I certainly would have preferred more balance. The highlight, which is a New York gala staple, is Lil Buck’s rendition of Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan”, when he curls up and morphs his arms into lilting wings. Other highlights were jookin’ (Memphis street dance) to “Gangsta Walk” (Young Jai score), “Swallow Song” (Kazakh folk), and “Extreme Shen Music” (improvisation, Wu Tong/Sandeep Das). I look forward to more Vail ReMix NYC events. Kudos to Damian Woetzel.

Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck
in Balanchine's "Apollo"
Courtesy of Erin Baiano

Sara Mearns in Ratmansky's "Fandango"
Courtesy of Erin Baiano

Lil Buck in "A Jookin' Jam Session"
Courtesy of Erin Baiano

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