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Gonzalo Garcia in “Prodigal Son” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Paul Kolnik

Prodigal Son No More

New York City Ballet’s Gonzalo García retired after fifteen years

Performance
New York City Ballet: Gonzalo García's farewell
Place
David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, February 27, 2022
Words
Marina Harss

On February 27th, at a matinee performance, New York City Ballet’s Gonzalo García retired after fifteen years at the company, following ten at San Francisco Ballet. He’s 42—a respectable retirement age for a dancer, and he surely has his share of aches and pains. His retirement comes just as three young men in the company have been promoted to principal status. A wave of change has arrived at City Ballet.

But if the outpouring of affection on the stage of the Koch Theater, and online, was any indication, his fellow dancers would be happy for him to stay another ten years. As a dancer, García projects affability and a kind of quiet poetry. He is handsome in the full sense of the word, not just easy on the eye, but appealing in a deeper way, not just because of the way he moves, but because of a quality of warmth he projects onstage. Luckily, he won’t be going very far. After this farewell performance, he takes up the duties of repetiteur at the company.

Like Joaquín de Luz, another City Ballet star who retired a few years ago, García is from Spain, but, though he shares de Luz’s good looks and joyful aura, he lacks his flash and virtuosity. His qualities lie more in his lyrical port de bras, his relaxed, dreamy manner, and in the sense of molten energy coursing through his body. He has been most at home in the more poetic, pensive roles, like the “Brown Boy” in Jerome Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering,” or the boneless “Melancholic” in Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments.” He is the only dancer I’ve seen who could turn Balanchine’s “Orpheus” into convincing drama.

Tiler Peck and Gonzalo García in “Opus 19/The Dreamer” by Jerome Robbins. Photograph by Erin Baiano

García chose to end his dancing career with a program made up of ballets by Jerome Robbins, Justin Peck, and George Balanchine. From Robbins, there was “Opus 19/The Dreamer,” a role created for Baryshnikov in 1979 that García has molded to his particular brand of lyricism, a stretch through the torso and arms rising to his upturned face, drinking in the light. “Opus 19” is, with the exception of the first movement, set to a gorgeous melody by Prokofiev, a rather obvious ballet about a man conjuring memories and demons. But García makes it compelling, or at least as compelling as it can be. When Robbins has him sit and gaze at his fellow dancers onstage, he seems to really watch them, to lose himself in their world. At this performance, the lead female role was split between Sterling Hyltin and Tiler Peck, two frequent partners. He was equally warm and present with each. Hyltin, in particular, seemed to mold her body to his, with real trust and affection.

From left: Gonzalo García, Unity Phelan, Sara Adams, Brittany Pollack, Miriam Miller and Claire Kretzschmar in “Rotunda” by Justin Peck. Photograph by Erin Baiano

A short film by García’s husband Ezra Hurwitz extended the love fest, as fellow dancers and former teachers and bosses (Helgi Tomasson) gushed about his work ethic, ease of manner, and dedication. This was followed by an excerpt from Peck’s 2020 ballet “Rotunda,” set to pleasantly anodyne music by Nico Muhly. It began with a solo for García, in which he seemed to test out the space around him, stretching, turning, turning some more, looking down and out and to the side. Then the rest of the twelve-person cast ran on. García looked as content to be part of the pack, running, leading, following, as he had been alone onstage.

He ended the performance, and his dancing career, with one last “Prodigal Son.” The particularity of García’s “Prodigal” is that he doesn’t come across as particularly rebellious. He is impatient, excitable, hungry for life, but lacking in the anger and edge of other Prodigals. Once he arrives in the land of the sexy Siren and her laddish Drinking Companions, he becomes a heedless, enthusiastic reveler overwhelmed by the Siren’s sexual charms. His downfall appears all the more cruel, like stomping on a puppy. As he returns to his home, broken, the paternal embrace is all the more touching.

Gonzalo García’s bows at his farewell performance. Photograph by Paul Kolnik

Most touching of all, though, was the outpouring of affection that erupted once the curtain rose again, to reveal García alone onstage. Dancer after dancer appeared, bearing flowers, offering embraces. I’ve never seen the stage quite so full at a farewell. The crowd included dancers, repetiteurs, family members, friends, and even three violinists from the orchestra, who arrived carrying their instruments. García seemed both happy, and for once, a little overwhelmed.