City Ballet: In G Major; In Memory Of...; and The Concert

New York City Ballet is back for its winter season. Though the week kicked off with several Balanchine ballets, just in time for the founding choreographer’s birthday, on Friday evening I saw an all Robbins program. While I’ve seen a lot of Jerome Robbins, Friday night marked the first time I saw the three pieces on the program.

First up, In G Major, a whimsical ballet set to Maurice Ravel’s music. The first two things I noticed were the costumes, which looked like 20s bathing suits, and the painted scrim, which suggested water. (Both were designed by Erte.) Given this combination, I couldn’t help but think this delightful ballet would make a good companion piece to Anything Goes. (I know, I know – Anything Goes is set in 1934. Close enough.) And that’s not the only connection I made. Overall, In G Major has the playfulness of Interplay and moves reminiscent of NY Export: Opus Jazz, two of my favorite Robbins ballets.

In G Major featured principal dancers Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle, backed up by a dozen soloist and corps members, who were sharp and appropriately buoyant.

When Kowroski first took the stage, she seemed to have to settle into her comfort zone. She appeared tense and ill at ease. By the end of the movement, however, she looked like she was having fun, “flirting” with the male corps.

Next Angle came out, and he is just amazing to watch. He’s very powerful and commanding on stage. I particularly liked the section in which he looks like he’s underwater, moving not quite in slow-motion but rather pushing against the water. Angle has a magnetic presence that holds your attention in even the quietest, stillest moments.

I was a little disappointed, however, in Kowroski and Angle’s chemistry. Their pas de deux was technically flawless, but they weren’t connected. (Kowroski used to partner with Charles Askegard, who left the company at the end of this past fall season. Perhaps she misses him?) I could see myself enjoying the pas de deux a lot more had it been danced by Tyler Angle and Tiler Peck or Robbie Fairchild and Sterling Hyltin (or Fairchild and Sara Mearns), but this duo just didn’t click for me.

Still, In G Major finishes with a good, playful ending, full of energetic and precise movements – and the Ravel score is lovely.

Next up was In Memory Of… This is a much more personal piece. As repertory notes indicate, composer Alban Berg was working on his opera Lulu when he learned that a close friend’s 18-year-old daughter had died. He immediately set aside Lulu and “began composing a violin concerto which, in his own words, was ‘dedicated to an angel.’ The music divided into programmatic sections: first, a portrait of the girl; next, her illness and death; lastly, her transfiguration.”

Of course I read the repertory notes before the ballet began so I knew the narrative. I’m not sure that I would have gotten the full story otherwise, but with the notes the story is easy to discern.

I most enjoyed the middle section, when the girl is fighting her illness. That’s not meant as a macabre or sadistic statement; rather, it’s a testament to Wendy Whelan’s phenomenal dancing. The prima ballerina has a great fight in her thin, willowy body, and sitting as close as I was I could see the exquisite look of anguish on her face when the girl dies.

The final section of In Memory Of… is the transfiguration, which is light and, while not exactly hopeful, a pleasant and reassuring resolution. This Robbins ballet isn’t entirely transfixing, but the movement – especially when danced by Whelan, is nice to look at nonetheless.

Finally we were treated to The Concert, or The Perils of Everyone. And what fun it was. This fantastical child’s play ballet actually reminded me of a Muppet Babies episode (stay with me): it’s the one in which one of them, probably Piggy, starts the story and then the egg timer goes off and another Muppet baby takes over the storytelling. There are all these funny, variations-on-a-theme yarns being spun, which is exactly what The Concert is. The ballet is everyone’s interpretation of the music, and it’s wonderfully whimsical.

In the repertory notes, Jerome Robbins is quoted: “One of the pleasures of attending a concert is the freedom to lose oneself in listening to the music. Quite often, unconsciously, mental pictures and images form, and the patterns and paths of these reveries are influenced by the music itself, or its program notes or by the personal dreams, problems and fantasies of the listener.” That’s just what we get in this concert, featuring a game and funny ensemble led by principals Sterling Hyltin and Joaquin de Luz and corps de ballet member Gwyneth Muller.

There’s a section in which the girls are “messing up” the dance, only they’re not messing up, it’s just that it’s everyone’s individual fantasy…being danced out simultaneously. Of course there are discrepancies! It’s hard to explain, but, if you can believe it, it was laugh out loud funny.

De Luz was great here because his character’s quirkiness and showiness fit de Luz’s style of dancing just right.

And that effervescent Sterling Hyltin. I can’t say enough good things about this young and lovely dancer. She’s so playful and at ease. The way she flitted about to the music it was like she was dancing along to the music in her room – having a ball the whole time. I love, love, love watching her dance!

So, that’s one week down. Check back in next week when I’ll have attended City Ballet’s first ever All Wheeldon night, which includes Polyphonia, the NYC Ballet premiere of DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse and the world premiere (!!!) of Les Carillons.

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