By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
Christopher Wheeldon isnt saying farewell to the New York City Ballet, even though hes leaving his post as Resident Choreographer in order to focus on the company he formed last year (Morphoses/The Wheeldon Project). NYCB will simply take its place in the lineup of organizations anxious to acquire ballets by this gifted man. Spreading himself too thin will, I suspect, be an ongoing problem to surmount.
He hasnt conceived his choreographic au revoir to the company he joined as a dancer in 1993 as a fanfare. No sounding of trumpets or bringing on of tutued hordes in homage to the magnificent dance kingdom that George Balanchine built. Instead he has created an elegant little envoy of a ballet, with flourishes of eccentricity in keeping with its title, Rococo Variations, and its music, Tchaikovskys Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, opus 33. It is performed by just two couples, who might be out for a decorous night on the town together. At one point, just for a second, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Giovanni Villalobos lean out to each other from behind their partners, as if for a conspiratorial exchange (you happy with your date?).
This is a well-dressed foursome, and neither of the women (Sara Mearns and Sterling Hyltin) appears worried that she may have bought the same outfit as her friend. They both look gorgeous in Holly Hyness delectable strapless gowns, with fancy gold trim edging the very full chocolate-brown skirts. The men sport beige tights, gold vests, and full-sleeved white shirts.
Wheeldons small cast is somewhat in keeping with Tchaikovskys scaled-down orchestra (strings, pairs of wind instruments, and two horns), but the choreography doesnt equate a solo performer with the cello that Fred Zlotkin plays in the pit. Nor does it follow the theme-and-variations form as strictly as the music does, although in both, classical formality is perfumed by whiffs of Romanticism. Some of Wheeldons inventions capture the spirit of rococo designits graceful lightness, its embellishing scrolls and curlicues and shell moifs, its playful eccentricities. The entrance of the first couple is so involved that, even though its repeated several times over the course of the ballet, I couldnt parse it. Mearns stands close to the edge of the stage, slightly caved-in, pushing down on her skirt, or her flank. Danching-Waring, dipping low, ducks under her arms and slips his own through them and around her in some way. Its almost like creating a knot in order to untangle one. Now theyre ready to join the party.
As in most of Wheeldons ballets, the performers often drop to the floornot from any excess of emotion, but to deepen the trajectory of a movement phrase. And every now and them a thoroughly standard gesture is set off like a new discovery by both choreographic timing and the sensitivity of the adept young dancers. In one of the duets for Mearns and Danchig-Waring, she, poised on one toe and steadied by her partner, slowly folds her other leg down from a high extension as if the move gave her immense pleasure. Although there are fine pas de deuxslow for Mearns and Danchig Waring, fast and sprightly for Hyltin and Villalobosand a scampy display of jumps by the two men, the picture that stays with me is that of the two couples, close together, slipping from vigorous unison into mirror-image symmetry, like an opening scallop shell, and then suddenly darting their movements in the same direction again. When the curtain comes down, theyre still doing this, and they look as if they might keep it up all night.
Choreographers like Wheeldon bring new perspectives to the companys repertory, but the program dubbed Balanchines World reveals that that world in itself certainly doesnt lack variety. Balanchines ravishing Tombeau de Couperin, created for the NYCBs 1975 Ravel Festival, has no stars. Eight couples formed into two quadrilles charm the eye with the twinning of their meet-and-greet patterns and orderly partner changes. The stage becomes an optical delight of shifting squares, semi-circles, and diagonals. And the youthful verve of the dancers in their black and white practice clothes freshen the formality of the designs, just as Ravel respectfully unbuttons Couperins 18th-century manners.
The 1964 Tarantella is all verve. And flirty bravado. The rollicking music is by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, orchestrated by Hershy Kay but with a piano soloist (Susan Walters). Balanchine designed it as a showpiece for Edward Villella and Patricia McBride and whatever virtuosi could follow in their footsteps. So what if Daniel Ulbricht drops his tambourine one night and goes a little over the top in terms of exuberance? Hes still the hottest jumper in town, and Fairchild is a charmer. Balanchine knew how to get a crowd cheering.
Bugaku (1963) provokes a different sort of reaction. This bit of delicate exotica evokes not only erotic Japanese prints but the patronizing visions of 19th-century orientalism. Balanchine was inspired by performances by visiting Gagaku musicians and Bugaku performers. Although David Hays handsome scenery and Toshiro Mayazumis score refer to the ancient Japanese court form, the ballet is a ritual matingmiles away from a court dance with religious significance performed by men. Better he had called it The Deflowering.