David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, February 6 (matinee), 2016
George Balanchine’s “Ballo della Regina” and “Kammermusik No. 2” were created approximately at the same time and premiered by New York City Ballet in January 1978. Both pieces are concise and small in scale; both are fascinating and unique; yet neither belongs to the pantheon of Balanchine’s greatest creations. Nevertheless, each ballet, precious in its own way, adds to our understanding and appreciation of the craft of the great ballet master. Dance critic Arlene Croce aptly summed up her attraction to “Ballo della Regina” in particular—and to a Balanchine ballet in general—simply and clearly: “Who cares if it isn’t great? The greatest Balanchine ballet is the one you happen to be watching.”
Indeed, the curtain-opener of the NYCB’s “All Balanchine I” program, the charming “Ballo,” with the superlative Tiler Peck in her debut in the principal ballerina role, came across as a shining masterpiece —a tour de force of virtuoso allegro dancing. Darting through the dynamic steps with effortlessness and exceptional exactitude, Peck commanded attention with every movement. The sheer exuberance of her mercurial dancing, illuminated by her upbeat and sunny personality, turned her performance into pure joy. Her effervescent polka variation, with its swift turns and crisp hops in fifth position, was particularly exhilarating to watch. This was the section of the dance where the music turned from regal to playful, even teasing, inspiring a filigree of intricate and rapid footwork so invigorating and bright, the choreography looked like nothing but a dazzling showpiece of bravura dancing; and Peck was simply breathtaking in it. A brilliant virtuoso at the top of her game, she sailed through the cascade of Balanchine’s most vigorous steps with impeccable style and alluring aplomb, investing her role with new energy and sparkle. Gonzalo Garcia was her skillful partner.
“Ballo” was choreographed to dance music from Verdi’s opera “Don Carlos.” With its aquatic imagery, this ballet slightly alludes to the scene of the opera, in which a fisherman searches for the most beautiful pearl to present to the Queen of Spain. During the performance, the all-female corps de ballet and four demi-soloists, all dressed in shimmering blue dresses, underscored the nautical atmosphere of the ballet. They glided through space with grace and fluid pliability—a tribe of mermaids blissfully surfing through the ocean’s waves. Their expansive movements—wide lunges, airy arabesques, and spacious turns—contrasted those of Peck, creating a striking juxtaposition of style and manner. In all, this “Ballo” proved a real gem, a ballet that I would be happy to see again and again.
“Kammermusik No.2” offered a different ensemble-versus-soloists juxtaposition, brining onstage an all-male corps de ballet and two leading couples. Whereas “Ballo della Regina” is all grace and charm, “Kammermusik” is utterly stark—an apt visual response to austere modernism of Paul Hindemith’s score of the same title to which this ballet is set. This was the second ballet Balanchine created to Hindemith’s music; the first being “The Four Temperaments” from 1946.
One can immediately notice numerous similarities between these two pieces. Just like in “The Four T’s,” in “Kammermusik” sharp body lines, thrusting gestures, and flat-footed turns reign supreme, boldly outlining a vivid dialogue between a solo piano (represented by four soloists) and a chamber orchestra (embodied by the eight-member male group). Rebecca Krohn, Abi Stafford, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Ask la Cour in the leading roles danced with notable fluency and a sense of daring. I found the dancing of Krohn, who imbued her role with zesty wit, especially impressive.
The program closed with a memorable performance of “Tschaikovsky’s Suite No. 3,” with Teresa Reichlen delivering a transformative rendition of the ballerina role in the opening “Élégi.” Never veering into moody clichés, Reichlen, usually so poised and impersonal, endowed her romantic heroine with a bittersweet ardor and genuine passion; her dramatic dancing giving rise to scenes which echoed “Swan Lake” and “Giselle.” The handsome and suave Zachary Catazaro was her inconsolable poet.
Ashley Laracéy and Jared Angle created another dreamy love story, though a happy one, in “Valse Melancolique.” Erica Pereira and Antonio Carmena looked relaxed and elated in the “Scherzo,” coolly capturing the music’s lively pulse. The vibrant Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz shone in “Tema con Variazioni,” concluding the ballet—and the entire program—with a marvelous panache.
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