NYCB: Bournonville Divertissments; Moves; Tschai Pas; and Symphony in Three Movements

New York City Ballet is back in full swing. For the first of my five ballet outings this spring, I got to see four ballets, three of which I hadn't seen in at least two years.


We began with Bournonville Divertissements, which was paired with La Sylphide last spring. These are selections from August Bournonville's repertoire, and feature music by Holger Simon Paulli and Edvard Helsted. (Based on Bournonville's choreography, Bournonville Divertissements was originally stage by Stanley Williams; it was later staged for NYCB by Nilas Martins.) As divertissements should be, all four movements are presentational, mostly meant to be pretty and pleasant and fun.

The first movement is "Ballabile," led by Erica Periera and Troy Schumacher, and it's the most presentational of all. From my view, it actually looked a little sloppy, and like the men were having trouble partnering with the women. Of course, that's part of the choreography (all I had to do was watch the totally in-sync other ballets on the bill to confirm this), but it makes the movement less enjoyable. The second movement—the pas de deux between Abi Stafford and Zachary Catazaro—is dreamy in its color scheme, and the dance is playful and coy. Stafford and Catazaro are well-matched, and have a nice chemistry. Stafford created beautiful lines, and Catazaro danced with presence to spare.

We then move into the pas de six, which actually features a drop-in by a seventh dancer. This movement, featuring Sara Adams, Russell Janzen, Lauren King, Brittany Pollack, Andrew Scordato, and Indiana Woodward (plus Anthony Huxley as the seventh), can feel a little long, but it's entertaining nevertheless. I particularly liked watching Janzen's extension, and the fact that each of the seven dancers get an opportunity to shine. Bournonville Divertissements comes to a close with a rhythmic tarantella, showing off Bournonville's cosmopolitan influences. The finale is fun, with an ever-growing percussion "section" (the dancers play tambourines), and builds to a festive finish.


Next was a ballet that has been absent from NYCB for about four years, Jerome Robbins's Moves. Moves is particularly noteworthy because it is performed without musical accompaniment. Though the program labels it a "ballet in silence," there is sound (and I'm not just talking about noisy audience members). You hear every step each dancer takes and you hear it when their feet (or toe boxes) hit the stage. You can hear their breath as they recover from an especially trying combination. You can hear the dancers making skin-to-skin contact as the men catch and turn the women. Without music to listen to, you really hear the dance.

Dancers always talk about the line they're supposed to be creating, an ideal aesthetic a ballerina is supposed to represent. What's great about Moves is, intentionally, you focus intensely on the moves and so you don't notice the traditional beauty as much. Rather, you notice the dancers' muscles; you notice their athleticism, and just how hard they are working their bodies. This all nearly demystifies the ballet, removing the sheen and showing what the human body can do. Bravo to the several dancers in Moves on Saturday afternoon, especially Emilie Gerrity and Adrian Danchig-Waring, who led the first pas de deux section.

Third on the program is the technically demanding Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, which is just what it sounds like. George Balanchine created this challenging, eight-minute pas de deux to a Tschaikovsky score. On Saturday, Ashly Isaacs, making her debut in the role, and Chase Finlay took on the challenge.

The bad news first: I just find Chase Finlay thoroughly uninteresting to watch on stage. He's on the taller side, and his technique is undeniable, so his dancing is good enough, but he doesn't show any personality while dancing; he seems to just fade into the scenery (or backdrop, in this case). It's interesting to watch him, a principal dancer, dance shortly after seeing, say, Zachary Catazaro, a soloist. Whereas Finlay appears to simply be hitting his marks, Catazaro is performing.

The good news, though, is that he was paired with Ashly Isaacs. I knew this was her debut, so I was watching almost as a nervous parent might. She nailed it. Again, this is an incredibly challenging role, and it epitomizes the Balanchine style—fast, furious movements, leaving no room for error. Isaacs did not throw away her shot, and gave a resplendent performance.


The afternoon concluded with Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements, which features a Stravinsky score. This is one of Balanchine's leotard ballets; the dancers wear simple, unadorned leotards (or dance pants, for the men), and there's no scenery. The first and third movements are ensemble pieces, and in between is a fascinating pas de deux, which, on Saturday, was danced by Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley.

What's so interesting about this ballet is the way it continually shifts between pretty, graceful combinations and angular, sharp movements. Hyltin is great for this. Her body is sinewy, making her look like putty in Stanley's hands during the graceful parts. She (and Stanley) also expertly exercises control in the angular sections. There's one moment in which she and Stanley look like they're cutting through the dancing space, their arms dangerous and exacting knives. It's a thrilling juxtaposition to watch. (I also loved the way Hyltin entered the stage in the first movement, almost an act of seduction, demanding everybody—on stage and off—watch her. She's fabulous!)

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