Christopher Wheeldon and Nikolaj Hübbe Say Goodbye

While NYCB soldiers on

However, amid the pinup-girl stances, cocked heads, and helpless little hands displayed by the ballerina and her ladies-in-waiting in this painted-teacup world, there’s a slyly explicit pas de deux to which Maria Kowroski brings a whole new dimension, partly because of her size. When this long lean woman spreads her legs for a far too stolid Albert Evans (a samurai cast in stone), you know something more cosmic than a pro forma coupling is going on.

Nikolaj Hübbe in Balanchine’s Apollo
photo: Paul Kolnik
Balanchine knew how to tell a story, although he rarely wanted to. La Sonnambula is one of his most mysterious forays into narrative. I wish he’d continued to call it Night Shadow, the title it bore when he made it in 1946 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, because its only link to the 1827 ballet La Sonnambula and the opera it inspired (Vincenzo Bellini’s opera La Sonnambula) is the fact that Vittorio Rieti based his score on themes from opera. Balanchine’s ballet is far darker than Eugène Scribe’s original tale of jealousy, near-tragic misunderstandings, and suspect virginity. It’s memorable not for the party-entertainment divertissements that don’t seem to divert the guests very much, but for the gothic creepiness of the final duet. It helps that Nikolaj Hübbe makes the Poet far sexier than other dancers have done. Everyone onstage stops and stares when he arrives, apparently uninvited, and in this case it’s justified. Too, if he didn’t know the host’s sly and sensual mistress previously, he certainly gets to first base fast. While Adam Hendrickson is spotlit as a frisky, slightly nasty Harlequin, your gaze slips past him to Hübbe and Mearns on a bench at the back, whispering and touching with covert greediness.
Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rococo Variations
Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rococo Variations


New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
Lincoln Center Plaza
Through February 24

The woman who appears bearing a candle and pattering numbly around on pointe, with the breeze blowing her filmy white nightgown is a docile version of the madwoman in the attic (see Jane Eyre). She (in this case Darci Kistler) isn’t quite as bizarre as the Poet’s reaction to her. He wafts her in one direction and then rushes to catch her. He pushes her into positions like a child experimenting with a new toy. He tries to catch her feet as they purl along. But who’s the stronger here? She can step over his outspread limbs without looking, and when the host (a dignified Amar Ramsar) stabs him out of jealousy, this fragile female bears him off to her lair as if he were a featherweight.

In this program, as in others spread over the season, there’s a wealth of splendid performing. Fairchild may be new to the mysteries of Balanchine’s Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Fée,” but she develops her poses with the velvety roundness of an opening blossom, and Benjamin Millepied brings a poetic unrest to his pursuit of her. Rachel Rutherford, performing Calliope in Balanchine’s Apollo and substituting for Rebecca Krohn in Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons, dances both roles with a lovely clarity and fullness. Stephen Hanna depicts the smart-jumping, self-satisfied “El Capitan” in Stars and Stripes excellently and holds his own against the brazenly virtuosic “Liberty Bell” of Ashley Bouder. Albert Evans has the lowdown on the lonesome cowpoke in Western Symphony (I could wish his partner, the lovely Hyltin, wouldn’t turn a coyly imperious beckoning gesture—“follow me, handsome”— into just another port de bras). Damian Woetzel—soon, alas, to leave the company—wears all his roles as if they were suits he’d been slipping into for years. He’s able to bring out all the nuances lurking in the steps and downplay the physical effort so that every formidable feat seems to come from nowhere, as if it were simply part of his everyday language.

And speaking of departures, on February 10, Nikolaj Hübbe danced for the last time as a principal with NYCB. He leaves to take over the directorship of the Royal Danish Ballet. The cheering fans and the throwers of bouquets and his colleagues assembling on stage didn’t want to see him leave—that afternoon or ever. And with reason. Few male dancers combine his handsome presence, his charisma, his superb dancing, and his sense of drama. He makes every woman he partners look desired and desirable.

He opened his farewell program with Apollo, bringing out the god’s youthful curiosity and letting us see that develop through moments of doubt into full confidence. All this, he provided subtly, without distorting the choreography in any way. For him, the lute was more than a prop; it was something to be examined and investigated. And he showed that he understood the nymphs as both vital to him and dependant upon him. When Wendy Whelan gently folded her arms around him before she, Rutherford, and Bouder formed the sunburst of arabesques that affirm Apollo’s godhood, she looked as if she wanted never to let him go.

The program, showing Hübbe in some of his prominent guises, highlighted his versatility. Peter Martins’s quartet, Zakouksi, allowed him to delve into flashing, twisting steps and sultry gypsy bravado. In “Cool,” from Jerome Robbins’s West Side Story Suite, he not only danced with street-smart, tough-guy manners, he sang the Bernstein-Sondheim song with which Riff dominates the angry, restless Jets. And finally, when the Rondo of Western Symphony came along, he romped outrageously, delighted with Kowroski, and matching her strutting and needle-point footwork with jumps and spins that had a spur-of-the-moment ease. As if he was riding the wave of our love and, tired as he must have been, relishing this last endeavor.

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