This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Strictly Ballroom 

The New York City Ballet’s excellent 2023 Fall Season featured only the works of founding choreographer George Balanchine. This winter, eight choreographers are being showcased as the company’s 75th anniversary celebration continues. But on paper, the most well-conceived program is another all-Balanchine one: the combination of “The Four Temperaments” and “Liebeslieder Walzer.” These ballets present both sides of the Balanchine coin: his stark coolness as well as his lush romanticism. On Tuesday night, however, a wan “4Ts” and a somewhat miscast “Liebeslieder” failed to make this contrast pop, though there were some thrilling individual performances in both pieces that hinted at this bill’s latent potency. 

Performance

New York City Ballet: “The Four Temperaments” and “Liebeslieder Walzer” by George Balanchine

Place

David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, February 6, 2024

Words

Faye Arthurs

Tyler Angle, Tiler Peck, Unity Phelan, Roman Mejia, Peter Walker, Mira Nadon, Megan Fairchild and Adrian Danchig-Waring in George Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Walzer.” Photograph by Erin Baiano

subscribe to continue reading


Starting at $49.99/year

  • Unlimited access to 1000+ articles
  • Weekly writing that inspires and provokes thought
  • Understanding the artform on a deeper level

Already a paid subscriber? Login

“The Four Temperaments” had a lot of new faces, which was possibly the reason for the overriding tentativeness. In general, the cast looked afraid to make a mistake, and because of this, the dancing was too small-scale. Hips needed more thrust, legs needed more slice, toe-heel struts needed more stomp. A lot of the partnering in the three Themes looked like classroom adagio practice instead of innovative modernism. Much of this ballet involves legs and backs slowly contorting into unusual shapes. On Tuesday, many of these twisty passages looked like transitions instead of the main event. Because of this, dancers were quite often ahead of the music. Ideally, the bodies in “4Ts” should seem like they have an electric charge to them, as if limbs are lightsabers abuzz and aglow. Also, there is a move to basically every note in the score, so the steps should look inevitable. Some of the dancing on Tuesday was over the music, ruining the effect. The dancers were not yet acting like conduits for the Hindemith score.  

When India Bradley and Mary Thomas MacKinnon sync up, they will be a great pair of Mosquitoes in the Melancholic section—they had the requisite attack. And there were a few dancers who had the right approach as well as the right counts, like Emily Kikta, who fearlessly tore through the Choleric solo. Likewise, Adrian Danchig-Waring—a veteran Phlegmatic interpreter—made even his tiniest moves legible. Phlegmatic was the strongest section, with the leggy and sure Christina Clark anchoring a good quartet completed by Naomi Corti, Savannah Durham, and Malorie Lundgren. 

Emily Kikta in George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments.” Photograph by Erin Baiano

Sebastián Villarini-Vélez in George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments.” Photograph by Erin Baiano

Unfortunately, Isabella Lafreniere stumbled on the dreaded double single-double pass in Sanguinic. She is not the first and she won’t be the last. I’ve seen most Sanguinic ballerinas botch this at least once in performance. Balanchine demands two single en dedans-double en dehors pirouette combinations back-to-back at the very end of the ballerina’s exhausting, extended first entrance. It’s nasty: six turns cut by just one quick plié halfway through. Lafreniere looked shaken after the mishap, which was a shame because she had begun the section with a pleasant boldness. She was sanguine in the modern English definition of the term (Balanchine’s “sanguinic” comes from to the four Hippocratic bodily humors; referring to an excess of blood)—more cheerleader than warrior. This was interesting, and it suited her. I hope she can regain her confidence for later shows because this was a promising start. She was partnered by Preston Chamblee, finally back and in good form after an injury. It was nice to see him featured again. They matched up well. 

“Liebeslieder Walzer,” on the other hand, was hampered by some less felicitous pairings. Megan Fairchild and Danchig-Waring did not appear to have much to say to each other. When she touched his head at the end of one pas de deux it almost felt like she was patting a dog. Unity Phelan and Roman Mejia were great in their solo passages but uneven when they got together. They had some partnering issues to iron out, especially the slow ronds de jambe à terre with their four hands clasped low on her pelvis. This is an odd grip, depending on its execution it can read anywhere from incredibly romantic to terribly awkward. But this is a partnership worth developing: his chivalric bravado could potentially play off her fragile beauty well. 

Mira Nadon and Peter Walkerin George Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Walzer.” Photograph by Erin Baiano

Mira Nadon made another impressive debut. She swished her skirts flirtatiously when dancing with the men and glided with girlish innocence through the Whisper pas de deux. She is an innate storyteller; she was dramatically compelling even when just nodding at another couple to pick them up for a speedy group waltz. Her partner, Peter Walker (also debuting), tended to her somewhat invisibly in the formal first half, then came to gallant life in the balletic second half. They looked lovely together, all raven hair and long lines. 

Then there were the Ti/ylers (Peck and Angle), who were operating on another level entirely. They were both extraordinarily responsive to the music and to each other. They ran away with the ballet, which was remarkable considering how subtle they were being. Paradoxically, there was power in their restraint. They honed teensy details, which added theatrical texture to their storyline. It made them seem like a loving couple with a long and complicated history. Angle took great care with every move, which was a reminder that really paying attention to someone is one of the most romantic behaviors. And Peck is having a truly winning season. Her range and instincts are astounding. Just as she can craft dances equally well for Tik Tok or Carnegie Hall, as a dancer she can punch hard when she wants to, yet she can also be a master of refinement. I don’t know of anyone else who looks perfectly at home on Dancing with the Stars as well as in the Viennese salon of Balanchine, Brahms, and Karinska. 

Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle in George Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Walzer.” Photograph by Erin Baiano

Peck and Angle’s delicacy carried the show, which felt like one long ballet instead of two. “The Four Temperaments,” begins with a man and woman standing alone on the stage. He offers her his hand and she takes it—the classic drawing room invitation to a dance. It is as polite and conventional a beginning to a ballet as can be. Oddly enough, the beginning of “Liebeslieder,” seems like a midpoint—the four couples are frozen in the middle of the dance floor and suddenly come to swooshing life as if someone pressed “un-pause” on a remote. This ball is already in full swing. But the end of the ballet is clearly delineated: the couples reenter in their original costumes and shoes and sit to watch the musicians play the final song, Zum Schluß. When it is over, they clap as the curtain falls. On this night, “4Ts” felt almost like a prelude to “Liebeslieder”; it rather completed the structure.       

Instead of the thrilling contrast I had anticipated, these works read as variations on a theme. It is true that they are intrinsically connected. The angular austerity that follows that courteous opening in the “4Ts” is not an ideological departure from the ballroom realm, but a stylistic one. The “4Ts” vocabulary is extreme, but its format is musical, orderly, and hierarchical. The abstract Balanchine of the “4Ts” and the sentimental Balanchine of “Liebeslieder” coexisted harmoniously—he was not Jekyll and Hyde. But he was devilish in his details. These ballets should not look so similar, even though they share DNA. (There is overlap everywhere: that low pelvis grip in “Liebeslieder” could slot in easily to the “4Ts,” it takes great finesse to make it look like the tender cradling of a womb.) Peck and Angle did their part on Tuesday night by committing to one end of the Balanchine spectrum. Now the “4Ts” dancers need to throw themselves into demonstrating the other.                

Faye Arthurs


Faye Arthurs is a former ballet dancer with New York City Ballet. She chronicled her time as a professional dancer in her blog Thoughts from the Paint. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Fordham University. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and their sons.

comments

Faye

Oh, thank you Mindy!

Mindy Aloff

Good points here; the production and performances are sharply observed. We see the stage events in a welcomely fresh way. One note: Balanchine went on record as saying that the setting for Liebeslieder he had in mind was not based on anything in Vienna but rather on a rococo building in Munich—the Amalienburg Park palace.
https://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de/englisch/p-palaces/amalien.htm

Ed

A delightful reading of performances I missed while recovering at home from surgery. The review had me visualizing the ballets as if sitting in the theater.

Blog posts

Old (Creative) Habits
REVIEWS | Faye Arthurs

Old (Creative) Habits

At 82, Twyla Tharp shows no signs of slowing down. She brought two world premieres and an all-star revival to the Joyce this week. The newest dances made it clear that although she’s still a dynamo, aging is very much on her mind. She is exploring wistful terrain these days, but she is doing it with her characteristic humor and high step count.  

Continue Reading
Good Subscription Agency