City Ballet: Interplay; Seven Deadly Sins; Vienna Waltzes

After the amazing all-Wheeldon evening a couple of weeks ago, I knew nothing at the ballet would compare. Still, I was looking forward to heading over to the State Theatre on Friday night because there were things I liked about or was intrigued by for each of the three pieces. Turns out that what drew me to this program met my expectations, though not much more.

First up was the Jerome Robbins classic, Interplay. This fun and mostly light-hearted ballet was Robbins’s follow up to the frolicking Fancy Free, and is a wonderful precursor to my favorite Robbins ballet, New York Export: Opus Jazz. (Remember: you can watch a great film adaptation of that ballet; City Ballet company members conceived, produced, directed and starred in this take on youth exuberance.)

I’ve seen and written in detail about this piece before so here I’ll focus on Friday night’s performance. Soloist Sean Suozzi (one of the Opus Jazz film co-conceivers) led the group in the first movement, “Free Play.” I was disappointed in his take because he didn’t really show anything. He looked like it was his first time dancing the role – continually looking down at the stage and rarely cracking a smile. He improved as the piece went on, and particularly when looking at and feeding off the energy of his fellow dancers.

As lackluster as Suozzi was, corps member Taylor Stanley thoroughly impressed, displaying an appealing grace and fluidity. Stanley danced with fellow corps member Lauren Lovette in “Byplay,” the sultry pas de deux that is always my favorite movement in Interplay. The two had good chemistry, giving off heat that I’m sure made its way to the back of the house. (Watching him dance on Friday night, it was no wonder the company member had just received the Janice Levin Dancer Award, given each year to one of City Ballet’s most promising corps members.)

Every time I see this ballet, I think it would be such fun to see a bill of Fancy Free, Interplay and Opus Jazz, so you can really see the progression of Robbins’s meditation on the youth culture. Peter Martins, are you listening?

Next up was The Seven Deadly Sins, Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s interpretation of Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht’s last major collaboration. While the company members can take care of the dancing aspect, they needed someone to sing. And thus, on Friday night I had the joyous challenge of choosing between watching master Wendy Whelan dance or master Patti LuPone sing. Decisions, decisions!

This is definitely a strange piece. It’s very Brechtian, employing the kind of unconventional story-telling Brecht and Weil probably would have loved. As a ballet, it’s just fine and a little strange; as an opera, it’s just fine and little strange. But as a piece of performance art, as one complete piece, it’s an interesting exercise – and a great excuse for a little crossover collaboration.

While it was great hearing Ms. LuPone sing (she appeared to be wearing her wig from Gypsy), and it’s always a joy to watch the incomparable Whelan dance her way through a story, the real stand out was soloist Craig Hall. Hall has been partnering with Whelan recently and his pas de deux with her in this was nothing short of extraordinary. It’s easy to fade into the background when Whelan is at work, but Hall makes his presence known, expressing through his body and dance a variety of beautiful and moving emotions. When will he be promoted to principal? (Again, paging Mr. Martins!)

Finishing the evening was Vienna Waltzes. I’ve seen this before and have thrilled over the ending (which I’ll get to in a moment), but I had forgotten just how long it takes to get there.

Set to pieces by Johan Strauss II, Franz Lehar and Richard Strauss, Balanchine’s ballet plays out over five vignettes. The contrast between the first two actually reminded me of Downton Abbey! The first vignette, set to J. Strauss’s “G’schichten aus dem Wienerwald,” is the upstairs world – Lady Mary and Matthew, the Dowager Countess, et al. Soloist Savannah Lowery and principal Tyler Angle lead a full ensemble in the woods (scenic design by Rouben ter-Arutunian). Their costumes, by Karinska, are heavy and starched. The piece is long and rather staid.

But then some of the trees go up in the fly and principals Ashley Bouder and Gonzalo Garcia (Anna and Mr. Bates?!?) come prancing in. Their costumes are light and flowy and the two dancers, and the corps they lead, appear as tree sprites come out to play. I did notice, though, that while Bouder is technically near flawless and she smiled the whole time, there’s nothing intriguing about her – no palpable personality to speak of.

The third movement, led by soloists Erica Pereira and Adam Henrickson, brought us neither the upstairs nor downstairs but rather the jesters of the court. The dancers stomped around all while making funny faces. It was frivolous—and mercifully short. Excellent principal dancers Teresa Reichlen and Jonathan Stafford come out for the fourth movement (backed by a sizable ensemble) and instead of the jesters we just watched, we’re now watching a lot of gestures. Which is frustrating. Reichlen and Stafford are such great dancers (and I hadn’t seen Stafford dance recently) that when they’re on stage, I want to watch them dance, not move around while miming.

At long last, we enter the fifth and prettiest movement. It begins with Sara Mearns dancing mostly alone, though Jared Angle comes out to assist now and then. Eventually all the dancers—the featured ones from each movement and nearly the entire company—flood the stage to close out the ballet with a flourish. And that’s the best part. (Not because it’s the end.) It’s not so much that the dancing is so titillating. It’s because of the wonderful aesthetic.

The upstage wall is mirrored—so the 50 dancers on stage look like hundreds—and the men are in tailed tuxedoes while the ladies wear beautiful white satin gowns with a train made for twirling. They all converge on stage to give the illusion of the grand ball we all wish we could attend. It is doubtlessly the most exciting part of a very long ballet. (I think some of the dancers may not love the ballet, either. After a matinee of Vienna Waltzes the following afternoon, corps member Justin Peck said via Twitter, “You know the Work ain’t good when the costume-changing is more exhausting and fulfilling than the time spent onstage.”)

This is my last ballet for the winter season, but performances continue through February 26. Visit nycballet.com for more information and to purchase tickets.

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