Before the cheers begin for Christopher Wheeldon’s new After the Rain, I sense from the audience a mild, collective exhalation, as if we’ve barely breathed during the exquisite pas de deux that forms the ballet’s second half. I sense, too, a trace of puzzlement. Is this all? No third movement? Arvo Pärt has written many pieces suitable for dancing besides
Tabula Rasa‘s first movement and Spiegel im Spiegel, the two Wheeldon uses. Yet any conclusion Wheeldon could concoct might mar the haunted quiet of that final duet.
After the Rain begins coolly. When Jock Soto, Edwaard Liang, and Ask la Cour drop to one knee, Wendy Whelan, Sofiane Sylve, and Maria Kowroski lean forward, hands on their partners’ shoulders, and each swings one leg high into arabesque penchée, as if readying her limbs to be calipers for tracing geometries of distance and nearness. The atmosphere is gleamingly monochromatic: Holly Hynes’s unitards shade from silvery blue to dark blue-gray; Mark Stanley’s lighting on the backcloth echoes the scheme in grays—first vertically, later horizontally. Wheeldon artfully deploys the pairs in unison patterns, breaks some performers away, returns them to the fold. The dancing—clear, classical, easy and unmannered in its elegance—only occasionally suggests individual behavior.
Then Soto and Whelan return alone to the stage after a brief absence. The orchestra, two solo violins, and a prepared piano in the pit stop playing, and violinist Jean Ingraham and pianist Richard Moredock begin Spiegel im Spiegel onstage. Whelan, in soft slippers, her hair down, wears a pink leotard so cleverly cut and dyed that it blends into her skin. Soto, in white trousers, is bare chested and barefoot. We might be gazing into a slow dream about intimacy. The mirror (spiegel) of the music’s title is reflected in the ballet, not by identical poses but by responsive desires.
This is Soto’s last season with NYCB. In recent years, he has been lauded mostly for his superb partnering. Not only does he have a gift for making ballerinas look their best, he projects an awareness of the drama inherent in any pas de deux. Wheeldon presents him as fertile earth to Whelan’s blossoming. When she begins to lean against him, hang on him, allow him to lift her, her body seems both to merge with his and emerge from it. As Wheeldon’s choreography winds through the gentle chimings of Pärt’s music, Whelan floats from one open, almost abandoned position to another. She makes her limbs look like skeins of silk being spun out, and Soto keeps her weaving faultlessly around him.
The movements aren’t always conventionally graceful. Soto carefully lifts Whelan in a back bend and turns with her; she remains in that position, legs splayed, feet flexed as if still touching the ground. They repeat that lift at the end of the ballet, except that this time he places her on the floor again, slides backward under the arch of her body, and pulls her down over him. Spare and poignant, the duet intimates a renewal of faith, the reburgeoning of love.
Peter Martins’s Todo Buenos Aires isn’t billed as a new ballet; however, the advent of Julio Bocca as guest artist engendered new choreography and a new slant that greatly enliven the work we saw in 2000. Four men with greased hair (Albert Evans, Nilas Martins, Philip Neal, and Robert Tewsley) still assume stern stances, throw hot looks at Whelan and Darci Kistler, and team up with them in trios. But Bocca brings a vibrancy to the events onstage. Admittedly, his role is somewhat puzzling. He begins alone—working his way into dancing as if the Astor Piazzolla tangos were stirring memories or dreams. His initial encounters with each woman make him explode into jumps and turns. Whether they accept him or he rejects them or they’re borne away by their escorts, he bears no one ill will and joins the men in male-male partnering. At the end, the guys throw themselves at his feet. Entirely appropriate: His performing is on a whole other level. He doesn’t show off or overact, yet every step seems to come from an emotional center, and while they strain for machismo, he dances as if he adores playing with the tango rhythms of his native Argentina.
Ashley Bouder is one of the NYCB dancers promoted to principal status this season. Bouder dances the killer role Balanchine choreographed for Merrill Ashley in Ballo della Regina as if its intricacies were duck soup to her. Her clarity, irresistible brio, and vaulting jump also make her a standout in Part I of Jerome Robbins’s 1971 The Goldberg Variations.
The splendidly danced revival of Goldberg reaffirms the wealth of Robbins’s imagination. His big, rich, architectural ballet dovetails beautifully with Bach’s monumental set of piano variations (excellently played by Cameron Grant). Whereas Part I suggests young dancers (six principals and a corps of 12) romping in the ballet vocabulary, competing in little games of skills, and making discoveries as they go, Part II separates its leading dancers (Kowroski, Whelan, Miranda Weese, Neal, Evans, and Peter Boal) into pairs and backs them with a larger ensemble. Now Robbins’s subject is the structure and development of grand ballets, and it’s as if, in investigating Bach, he were finding for himself a new world within the classical tradition he loved.