City Ballet: Apollo, La Sonnambula and Mercurial Manoeuvres

City Ballet is back in full swing! (Actually, the season’s been up since September 13, but I just visited for the first time on Saturday.) On tap for Saturday were three ballets I had seen before, Apollo, La Sonnambula and Mercurial Manoeuvres. All three were enjoyable, but the most interesting thing about seeing each ballet on Saturday was that I was sitting in the orchestra.

Usually, I sit in the fourth ring (think mezzanine or balcony), but because City Ballet changed its pricing schedule, sitting in the orchestra was actually more affordable! So this season, I’ll be up close and personal with the dancers, and will be able to bring you a different perspective on some of the same ballets.

First up was Apollo, a Balanchine ballet. You may remember that the last time I saw Apollo, it was a See the Music piece, which meant that City Ballet Music Director Faycal Karoui gave a chat before the ballet, talking about the various elements at work in Stravinsky’s score. While I didn’t remember everything Karoui said, on Saturday night I was keenly tuned into the music. This time, I was struck by its modernity. Throughout, I kept thinking, “This is a musical theatre score.” I could almost hear the witty, patter-ific lyrics Stephen Sondheim might write to this spirited piece of music.

As for the dancing, I saw the same dancers as last time: Chase Finlay as Apollo; Sterling Hyltin as Terpsichore; Tiler Peck as Polyhymnia; and Ana Sophia Scheller as Calliope. The most wonderful surprise was seeing how much Finlay had grown into the role. He appeared in command of the stage and I love the way he entreated his three muses to inspire him. (Plus, being so close I was able to see the sweat fly off of him every time he pirouetted.)

I think my favorite part of the ballet, though, is the pas de deux between Apollo and Terpsichore, and not just because Hyltin danced Terpsichore. Throughout the dance, the god and muse dance with each other, but not really together. They keep dancing, closer and closer, until they meld with one another and god and muse become one. It’s a beautiful moment.

Next up was La Sonnambula. It was watching La Sonnambula that I noticed what will be the biggest difference in my perspective from the orchestra. Apollo requires four dancers; La Sonnambula requires 27. When you’re sitting in the fourth ring, you can take in the whole stage and see all the formations. When you’re sitting in the orchestra, you can see the whole stage but not necessarily all at once. It is more difficult to get the comprehensive, “widescreen” view while sitting so close to the action. Mind you, this isn’t a complaint—I could still see all the wonderful dancing—but it is a difference.

Unlike Apollo, this time I saw a different cast dance La Sonnambula. Jennifer Ringer danced the Coquette, with Sebastien Marcovici as the Poet. And City Ballet’s treasure, Wendy Whelan, danced the Sleepwalker. (Daniel Ulbricht also danced in the piece; he was the Harlequin in the Divertissements section, once again showing off his incredible and impossible jumping skills.)

Once again, I was taken with the pas de deux between the Poet and the Sleepwalker in this Balanchine ballet. Here, Marcovici impressed with the look of enchantment on his face every time he looked at the Sleepwalker. And Whelan was breathtaking at the Sleepwalker. You cannot talk your eyes off of her when she’s dancing. What’s challenging about this pas de deux is that the Poet and Sleepwalker never connect eye to eye, but they must connect on some level – otherwise the narrative rings false. It’s a credit to both Whelan and Marcovici that there was a palpable connection as they guided each other through the dance.

Finally, my favorite of the evening: Christopher Wheeldon’s Mercurial Manoeuvres. This, too, has a large cast, with some combination of 21 dancers filling the stage throughout this exquisite ballet. Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle were dancing lead here, and they are quite the pair. (They originated the lead roles in Wheeldon’s Estancia to great effect.) Peck brings an intriguing sensuality to the role and Angle is commanding and passionate in a role I last saw danced by his brother, Jared.

As is typical for Wheeldon, all the elements of a production help to tell his story, including the terrific lighting design by City Ballet’s resident lighting designer Mark Stanley. But the dance, of course, is still front and center. Led by Tiler and Tyler (as well as Gonzalo Garcia), this ballet begins and never slows down. It’s constantly in motion and changing, as the name suggests. The pulse hurtles through so that when the dancers strike their final pose and the curtain is lowered, those 21 fantastic dancers aren’t the only ones who need to catch their breath!

The 2011-2012 New York City Ballet season is just getting started. Visit nycballet.com for information about the season and to purchase tickets.

Original Reviews:

Bonus: Check out this slideshow of Saturday's program from the New York Times.

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