City Ballet: Divertimento No. 15, After the Rain and The Four Seasons

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been to the State Theatre but City Ballet’s Winter Season is in full swing. On Saturday afternoon, I headed over to Lincoln Center (where they’re putting up Fashion Week tents) to see a Balanchine, a Wheeldon and a Robbins. While I felt the way I usually do about Balanchine’s dance, all three pieces combined for a great day at the ballet.

First up was Divertimento No. 15, the Balanchine piece. Something was off about this piece. Everything felt very stiff and presentational, full of choppy, staccato movements that were executed as if the dancers were in a losing battle with gravity. Broken into five movements, we were first introduced to the dancers in the “Allegro.” This actually looked sloppy. The formations and timing appeared off, with the spacing looking like it was messed up. It got a little better as the piece went on… but only a little.

The second movement was “Theme and Variations,” which worked mostly because it was broken into seven moments; the constant change helped keep my attention span during an otherwise disengaging ballet. The Second Variation was danced by Sterling Hyltin, who you know is one of my favorite principal dancers. She was doing her best here, trying to make it look fun; her long, flowing arms made the choppy choreography approach graceful but alas, her dancing here and throughout couldn’t save the piece. The Fifth Variation was danced by up and comer corps member Chase Finlay. He had flair to spare as he, like Hyltin, did his best to make this tepid ballet come to life. My guess is that he’ll be a principal dancer within the next five years.

The ballet continued with the “Minuet,” “Andante” and the “Finale.” Throughout, it seemed as if the ballet was unfinished. The dancer would hit a pose, then move on to the next step without fully exploring the previous one – like it was a race to the finish. The staccato nature of the dance didn’t jibe with the fluid nature of Mozart’s score. Overall, as I alluded to earlier, Divertimento No. 15 was fairly typical Balanchine: Pretty enough, good technique, no soul and woefully disengaged from the music.

Next was the most moving ballet I’ve ever seen: Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. I knew I had seen this piece before and I remembered enjoying it; after seeing it on Saturday, I realized I was actually picturing a different piece (I believe what I’m thinking of is Hallelujah Junction), but I absolutely loved After the Rain nonetheless.

After the rain there is beauty and peace and hope; there are new beginnings and stillness. This is ultimately the message of After the Rain (as I interpreted it) and I have never been so moved by a ballet. Starting at about two minutes in, I cried throughout the whole thing, especially Part II. (And later that night when I was telling a friend about it, I started to choke up. Maybe I’ve found another favorite Wheeldon to join Estancia?)

Part I is the rain; the storm; the chaos; the mess; the gruesomeness. The choreography was angular, which worked so well. Three couples (Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall; Sara Mearns and Ask la Cour; and Teresa Reichlen and Amar Ramasar) more or less mirrored each other while almost literally marking time. (The ballet begins with the female dancers bending down and gripping their male partners, with a leg straight up in the air, like the minute hand; the leg then slowly moved in a clockwise direction (from the audience’s perspective) until it reached “6 o’clock” and the dancer switched legs to finish the hour.) All the while, the storm raged in both the beautiful lighting design by Mark Stanley and the powerfully intense, at times appropriately shrill, score by Arvo Pärt.

But then the storm ends. It is now after the rain. Two of the couples leave the stage and Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall reenter, wearing flesh-color leotards and pants so they look naked. The desert horizon is behind them. They start over. They explore their new world. They learn who they are and where they are. They learn to live in “shalom,” – wholeness. The music is soft and still. Their movements are passionate. They evoke the choreography from Part I, suggesting that time may have passed but they’ll always have their moves – what’s important to them. They learn a new world but bring their own traditions. After the rain there can be life and completeness. After the rain there can be absolute beauty. After the Rain is absolutely beautiful.

Some of the movements in Part II reminded me of Stravinsky Violin Concerto, the way Whelan and Hall wrapped themselves around each other. Whelan was fantastic in this role. She originated it when it premiered in 2005 and it is definitely hers. She has been with the company since 1986 and has been a principal dancer for 20 years and she most definitely still has “it.” Watching Part II, I saw sorrow and hope and longing coursing through her long, lithe body. What’s amazing about Wheeldon’s choreography and Whelan’s and Hall’s execution of it is that there was very little leaping or jumping or flourish or tricks; instead, it was just stripped down, good, soulful, heartfelt and heart-wrenching dance. This is how it’s done.

Finishing the program was one of my perennial favorites, The Four Seasons. I’ve written before about the basics of The Four Seasons, a Jerome Robbins ballet set to Verdi’s music, so here I’ll focus more on the individual performances.

On Saturday afternoon, Tyler Angle was featured in “Spring,” which was perfect: That man has such a spring in his jump – he looked like he was on wires. He was light on his feet as he and Jennifer Ringer flitted about the stage, like two sprites enjoying a warm spring day after a long hard winter. (As “Spring” entered the stage and banished the “Winter” snowflakes, I thought, “When will that happen here in New York?!?”)

“Fall” was a great end to the piece. Daniel Ulbricht bounded out, perfectly executing this Puck-ish character – a lovably mischievous fall spirit come out to play. Tiler Peck, always one of my favorites, was impressive here as the female lead in “Fall.” This was the most mature role I’ve seen her in and she pulled it off with expert technique and stunning seduction. (Upon being seduced by her dancing, I immediately thought of Swan Lake and that Peck would make a great White and Black Swan.) Accompanying Peck was Joaquin De Luz, whose solid performance seemed to say, “I am Joaquin De Luz. I will dance for you now. You will love it.” (I mean that as a good thing: Picture a handsome Spanish man (De Luz is from Madrid) standing in front of you and saying that in his Spanish accent. Kind of hot!)

Once again, I remembered why I love The Four Seasons so much (despite, when being juxtaposed with the bare quality of After the Rain, its slightly schmaltzy presentation). It is beautiful and fun and whimsical, with undeniable technique and a true feel for the music at its core. The Four Seasons is a lovely treat in any ballet season.

As always, visit nycballet.com for more information about City Ballet and to purchase tickets.

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