City Ballet: All Rodgers - Thou Swell, Carousel and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue

The New York City Ballet spring 2013 season is underway and it’s off to a fantastic start. I began my season with an All Rodgers night last Thursday.

Thou Swell is an absolute delight of a ballet. Set in “an art deco ballroom,” complete with an upstage mirror to ensure you don’t miss a single swell step, Thou Swell evokes the kind of old fashioned sophistication from days gone by.

In this essentially plotless ballet, four couples dance the night away to a medley of Richard Rodgers tunes (with arrangements by Glen Kelly), including the titular “Thou Swell.” (Most songs are from the Rodgers and Hart songbook, though there is one Rodgers and Hammerstein tune. See the end of the post for a full song listing.) Guest singers Chloe and Joe Paparella accompany the City Ballet orchestra and a piano-bass-drums trio (the trio’s on stage) while the couples take turns (and, in some glorious moments, dance together) executing Peter Martins’s choreography. 

Jennifer Ringer brought a flamenco look and a sassy and spunky attitude to her dances with the equally matched Bronx native Amar Ramasar. I loved the way the statuesque Teresa Reichlen slinked up to new principal dancer Ask la Cour for a sultry lovers’ pas de deux. Sara Mearns floated like a shooting star, bringing her trademark stunning intensity to her movements with Jared Angle. 

And Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild were the couple you want to be when you’re in the club. They were absolutely sensational. As usual, I was swept away and particularly taken with the way they always look like they’re having a ball. 

(Julius Lumsden’s costumes, supervised by Holly Hynes, only add to the chic, sumptuous feel of the ballet. I especially like the skirt of Mearns’s dress, which was cut and structured to add an element of grace and beauty to her turns and twirls. It’s also fun to note that the ladies began the evening and even did a little dancing in custom-made Manolo Blahnik shoes before switching to more functional pointe shoes.)

My favorite part of the ballet was the penultimate “movement,” set to “Thou Swell.” The four couples rose from their tables and strutted out with looks that said, “You think all that was great? We have one more trick for you!” And then they proceeded to wow us with Martins’s loose, jazzy choreography that lightened up classic balletic moves. City Ballet is just swell!

(Check out Thou Swell rehearsal footage (fast forward to 5:55) from Sara Mearns's blog, Barre None.)

Next was Christopher Wheeldon’s distillation of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel in Carousel (A Dance)

Dear readers, I absolutely love, love, love Christopher Wheeldon. I love what a consummate artist he is (even timing a heretofore unnoticed upstage scrim’s rise with the swell of the music). I love the way he creates unique worlds for each of his ballets. (Here, he sets it up by have the ensemble of dancers (led by soloist Georgina Pazcoguin + corps member Daniel Applebaum and soloists Brittany Pollack + Taylor Stanley) form a carousel, creating a physical obstacle the lovers must overcome). I love the way he tells a story through dance and not through miming and gestures. 

Wheeldon masterfully captures in his dance—even and particularly in brief, subtle movements, like a head roll—the beautiful and anguishing ambivalence of “If I Loved You.” It’s nothing short of divine.

But this is a story that is catalyzed by a carousel, and Wheeldon doesn’t shy away from bringing an air of playfulness, when appropriate. The suggested carousel from the beginning of the dance is made express in the end, with the women posed atop the men’s shoulders, holding carousel poles. It’s fun and whimsical.

Carousel (A Dance) is at its best, though, when telling Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow’s love story, or their dream of it. During the lovers’ pas de deux, I was nearly moved to tears by the emotion packed into every movement of the dance. And to have the ethereal and passionate Tiler Peck dancing it (with the ever capable and versatile Andrew Veyette) is a match made in heaven. (Peck has excelled in recent years in Wheeldon’s ballets, like Estancia and Les Carillons, and she'll debut a brand new Wheeldon work on Wednesday night at the Spring Gala.) It was literally breathtaking.  

Closing out the night was the great ballet-meets-Broadway Balanchine classic, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, the show-within-a-show piece from the Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes (which is getting an Encores! production at City Center this month). Just as fun as it always is, at this performance Maria Kowroski played around as the striptease girl and Tyler Angle charmed us all as the Hoofer. It’s always fun to watch a ballet dancer, like Angle, break from the typical, classical form and tap around on stage. This time was no exception. How ‘bout it? “One more time!”

Thou Swell song list:
  • “Where or When” (1937)
  • “Manhattan” (1925)
  • “Mountain Greenery” (1926)
  • “My Heart Stood Still” (1927)
  • “This Can’t Be Love” (1938)
  • “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (1940)
  • “The Lady is a Tramp” (1937)
  • “Blue Moon” (1934)
  • “Getting to Know You” (1951, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)
  • “Lover” (1932)
  • “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” (1935)
  • “With a Song in My Heart” (1929)
  • “Isn’t it Romantic?” (1932)
  • “You Took Advantage of Me” (1928)
  • “Thou Swell” (1927)
  • “Falling in Love with Love” (1938)

The New York City Ballet season continues through June. Visit the Company's website for more information and to purchase tickets.