By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
To remove the stones one by one while still face-down, Hoghe has to snake his right arm behind him to reach them, then skidding each away across the floor. I feel the strain in my own shoulder. After more slow pacingpunctuated by small bowsthe men again face the back wall. This time, they put their arms around each other and, united, traverse the space with small steps backward and forward. Now the ravishing unseen voice is singing Bachs Bist du bei mir If thou art beside me/I go joyfully to my death. . . . The two men stand together, while the song and the light take an eternity to fade.
Long ago, my children, the New York City Ballet had a fall season. But some time back, that was replaced by a handful of November mixed bills (perhaps even only one) followed by weeks and weeks of The Nutcracker. So its a cause for rejoicing that the company is performing for four weeks in September and October.
The second night program opened with a welcome 2010 revival of Balanchines Danses Concertantes, to Igor Stravinskys music of the same name. Stravinsky wrote his coruscating piece in 1941, and Balanchine snapped it up in 1944, when he was working for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In 1972, programming his ballet for NYCBs Stravinsky Festival, he claimed hed forgotten the choreography and had to start over.
Judging by reviews of the two productions, however, the steps may have changed, but the structure and the mood remain the same, as does the scenery and the ornate, jewel-bright costumes by Eugene Berman. Balanchine introduces each of four trios (one man, two women) and a leading couple one by one; each entry has its own color scheme: green, blue, purple, and red, with the pair in yellow. A group shows off for a few seconds, bows, and exits. Since Bermans fancy painted drop (which flaunts the date of the ballets premiere and his name, Stravinskys, and Balanchines) is hung downstage, the effect is that of little introductory vaudeville acts in one.
Like the music, the steps are jaunty and playful, a bit saucy. The three in the blue trio race-walk on, all but winking at us. The ladies in red exit strutting on pointe. In one of the trios, the women throw their legs onto their partners shoulders and look pleased with themselves. Their performers hand gestures are as flippy as the womens fluffy, swinging little tutus. You know the gesture I mean. The dancer lifts his or her arm slightly to the side, elbow bent, and angles the wrist back to turn the palm to the ceiling; it can mean May I present? or Here you have me!
When all the performers have greeted us and departed, the painted curtain rises, and there they are, neatly and symmetrically arrayed. In Bermans curious all-charcoal-gray set, they look like jewels on black velvet. The wings mimic the elaborate boxes of an 18th-century theater, but at the back is a painted balustrade with various painted musical instruments perched on it. The denizens of this society behave with the politesse of courtiers, but that decorum has an edge. Perhaps theyre commedia dellarte performers or an assembly of court jesters subtly mocking the aristocracy. When the ballerina (Megan Fairchild at the performance I saw) shows off, the eight women watch and hasten to copy her. When her cavalier (Andrew Veyette) makes a statement, the four men echo his words.
Stravinskys music is dense, fast, and witty, with outspoken utterances by the brass section. The ensuing brief numbers for each trio have little surprises and smart syncopations. The man in the blue trio ends in a deep plié between his dates for the evening. The intricate interweavings of the three in purple culminate in a kind of seesaw enabled by the man: he tips one woman forward in arabesque on pointe; as she straightens up, the other, hanging onto the guys shoulder, lifts her leg high. They can see we like it, so they repeat it a few times. Balanchine has a lexicon of moves for Stravinsky ballets (and for others set to scores by certain acerbic or jazz-influenced 20th-century composers). Here they are: those crooked wrists, the swinging hips, the knees that flip in and out, and the pinup-girl pose (the woman stands on one leg, with the other bent, coyly turned in, and resting on a pointed toe). The dancers in red have the spiciest, jazziest bit.
But thats not counting the pas de deux. Balanchine created the original duet for Alexandra Danilovaonce his lover, and a sophisticated 40-year-old charmerand her frequent partner, Frederick Franklin, ten years her junior. It would be unfair to expect Veyette and Fairchild to have that pairs elegant ease with one another (even though the very well-spoken pre-curtain speech by principal dancer Tyler Anglea new audience-wooing deviceclued us in to their upcoming marriage), but they perform it engagingly. The choreography crackles with wit. Instead of rotating Fairchild by walking soberly in a circle, Veyette sort of dithers around her, stepping in when hes needed. He watches her rapid feet admiringly; what a girl! He springs up into an entrechat from a deep plié to impress her, and when she has displayed her pirouettes, he kisses her hand.