Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater performed "Nuttin' But A Word" at The Egg on Friday night. (Photo by Brian Mengini)
Rennie Harris has no peers.
He’s the only choreographer of street dance that is elevating the art so it can speak to the masses. And thus be appreciated by them too.
His dances tell a story. His dances take advantage of stagecraft, creating a world audiences are willingly to immerse. His musical choices surprise, but are strangely ideal.
Harris knows too what is pleasing to the eye, synchronicity and symmetry, so that attention remains trained on his amazing dancers.
Watching his company, Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater performed on Friday night at The Egg, all I could think of was Harris is the George Balanchine of hip-hop.
Harris lovely pushes the art beyond its roots without destroying its heart. He gives agency to hip-hop and club dance, thus proving its power should not be contained in the small display box it is now placed.
All this could be seen in “Nuttin’ But A Word,” a work that lit up the stage.
The program with just six dancers was an invigorating suite that acknowledges Harris’ innovations while upholding this highly personal dance style.
It opens with Danzel Thompson-Stout, alone on stage, in “Worth.” He presents his struggle, revealed in his twisting and shaking and his falling and rebounding. He’s a seeker in world that doesn’t always allow entry to all. But as his spotlight disappears, so too do his barriers. It’s a somber and sobering opening to what follows, an explosion of unified energy that is staggering.
The dancers – all in black loose fitting street clothes and sneakers — then join together in “Continuum,” where they recreate the dance circle, with each taking turns to show off their moves. Here, one sees the astounding technical capabilities of Harris’ dancers – fluent in street and club dancing as well as traditional African – a mix that is vibrant.
While all of the dancers are wonderously adept, two stood out, Joshua Culbreath and Emily Pietruszka. Culbreath, slender and slight compared to the others, he dominated with his agility, speed and fluidity.
Pietruszka, who somehow appeared in nearly every piece, was tireless and perfect — hitting the right moves hard and precise throughout the 75-minute duration of the show.
Moreover, the musical selections were nothing one would expect – Al Jarreau’s syncopated “Round, Round, Round;” Cinematic Orchestra’s “Man with a Movie Camera” and Dharfar Youssef’s “Sacre The Wine Ode Suite.” Again, it shows Harris’ ability to move outside of hip-hop's current narrow confines that many artists indeed like to keep it.
The evening ended with the exhilarating “Get Down or Lay Down,” set to Mandrill’s “Can, You Get It,” proving that Harris' company is tops, a giant growing and serving the art.
Lauren Lovette as she appeared on Saturday afternoon in Jerome Robbins' "Opus 19/The Dreamer" at Lincoln Center at her final performance with New York City Ballet, (Photo by Erin Baiano)
After months of pandemic shutdowns and digital performances, New York City Ballet has rebooted, opening its Lincoln Center doors to patrons once again.
And while in-person performances are enthusiastically welcome, even for the staid New York audience, this season also marks endings. Principals Abi Stafford, Ask LaCour and Maria Kowroski are retiring.
And so too is Lauren Lovette.
The vivacious and spritely dancer made her final curtain call on Saturday afternoon in a program that revealed her ability to sweep up her audience in otherworldly romance.
It started with Jerome Robbins “Opus 19/The Dreamer.” And then George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” In both, she was, as usual, charming.
In “Opus 19/The Dreamer,” she danced the ethereal force that soothes the tortured soul of the dreamer, Joseph Gordon. He expressed his anguish by tossing his arms and head about as an army of 14 corps dancers watch over him – side stepping, but containing his distress.
Among the corps emerges Lovette — who is a wave – moving in and out of Gordon’s dream as a balm. Yet she was also a power to propel him forward in a chase for the elusive embrace. Not surprisingly, Lovette was ideal.
I like this work, set to Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major with soloist Kurt Nikkanen, not only because it is spiritual, but because it is one of Robbins’ many nods to the masterful Balanchine. For example, Lovette’s part underscores Balanchine’s affection for women as mystical, unattainable creatures while Gordon’s part took inspiration from Balanchine’s “Apollo,” a portrait of a man struggling with himself.
While a beautiful work, nothing is more satisfying than “Serenade.” This rightly beloved ballet, set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, was also perfect vehicle for Lovette who appeared as the woman touched by and transcending death.
Her tiny frame revealed her sympathetic fragility. And the ending, with her being raised to the heavens in a surrendering backbend, was symbolic of Lovette’s departure. She gave her all to ballet and thus the audience, and now will ascend in honor to a new life chapter.
The afternoon also included a pas de deux by Mauro Bigonzetti for Kowroski and Amar Ramasar, who himself will retire in the spring. “Amaria” or “to Maria,” is set to Scarlatti sonatas, as performed at the piano by Craig Baldwin. Kowroski, in slippers, and Ramasar entangled in a duet that emphasized their flexibility and long and limber limbs. But mainly, it too was symbolic, showing that both dancers – so central to City Ballet – are cutting their attachments, no longer marionettes for a choreographer, but forever strong, memorable figures just the same.
Of course, as tradition dictates, the company joined Lovette onstage for her final, flower-filled bow – a moving tribute that will be repeated next week when Kowroski departs. It’s the dawn of a new era at City Ballet.
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company's Laura Teeter poses on her stoop in an untitled work performed outside for Troy Night Out.
edEllen Sinopoli always had an eye for architecture. As a choreographer, it probably comes with the territory – seeing the grace, style and beauty in the inanimate as much as the animate.
In her latest work, which is untitled, outdoors and created for Troy Night Out, she melded the art forms of dance and architecture by embracing the region’s most elegant buildings – those that line Second Street in the Collar City.
She built her short work, performed on Friday night, on four, contiguous stoops – using the steps as a playground and the banisters and door frames as the proscenium arch.
It didn’t start that way, however. At first, the only thing spectators, who were strolling about for the monthly Troy Night Out, saw was Devesh Chandra, a classical Indian tabla musician. The pong of his tabla brought forth four of Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company artists, Maggie Ciambrone, Erin Dooley, Andre Robles and Laura Teeter, from the lower level of one of the brownstones.
As they started to twirl or leap along the sidewalk – almost inconspicuous in their street clothes and sneakers – the spring in their step lent them an urban chic. But the mysterious music, which Chandra enhanced with traditional percussive vocals, shaded the overall sensation with a sheen of the ancient and a gloss of primal.
Each dancer eventually found their personal stoop where they partnered with the railings and tip toed and tapped down the stairs. In between, they scurried their way to each other on the pavement, entwining arms and legs, embracing trees, iron balustrades and each other.
What made it fun too was the pedestrians who passed by and others who peered out their windows, unknowingly becoming part of the dance’s tableau. And behind the windows of the houses, one could see a television broadcasting the news and a sparkling kitchen in use. Thus the work had the mundane competing with the art, which in this case, offered a glimpse of the interior mind.
While brief – a mere 15 minutes – the piece d’occasion would have been worth watching again and again as each time the scene would likely present another flash of something unique -- a reminder that the banal is always competing with one's aesthetic.
The work finished with the dancer posed gracefully in their doorways, symbolically claiming their domain and becoming an ornament within the structures themselves.
Houston Ballet dancers Karina Gonzalez, Harper Watters and Chandler Dalton dance in Justin Peck's "Reflections," a ballet that premiered just days before the pandemic shutdown theaters. (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
Many of us will remember this summer as the great reunion – a return to places we love with people we love.
Among the great reunions is that of the ballet dancer with the stage. For months during the pandemic, they toiled in living rooms and kitchens trying to maintain their strength and technique.
At Jacob’s Pillow this week, sadly the last for the 2021 festival, ballet dancers from around the country prove their efforts at home were not in vain. Not only did they show they can endure, but also grow as artists.
That is clear in a thoughtful program with dancers from three major companies – Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet – on the outdoor stage. Going under the moniker of Ballet Coast to Coast, the group presented five short works that ensure audiences that ballet’s evocative beauty, despite the pandemic, continues to be relevant.
Being a balletomane, I must say this was one of my favorite programs of the summer. But beyond ballet, it’s the fact that the dancers aren’t showing off an individual prowess (something we saw a lot this summer at the Pillow). Instead they are relating how their unity with and sensitivity toward each other creates something that resonates.
Most impressive was Houston’s Harper Watters and Karina Gonzalez in Stanton Welch’s “Sons de L’Ame.” To music by Chopin, the piece begins to a waltz with Watters who is sheer perfection. Watters becomes the Slavic-flavored music with his exquisite lines, balances and turns.
And then Gonzalez appears and the two melt into each other to a Chopin nocturne in a way this is both gentle but shimmering. These two have a rapport is unique and sends the work – that might seem banal on other dancers – to its zenith.
The program also featured a world premiere by Helen Pickett for a trio of dancers from Boston Ballet. The piece reflects life at home – it’s highs and lows – with floppy boredom and burst of silliness playing a part. While cute and showed off the dancers – the supple Lia Ciro with Paul Craig and My’Kal Stromile – well, it’s a curiosity for its time.
Disappointing was Justin Peck’s “Reflections,” also danced by Houston Ballet. To music by Sufjian Stevens, the piece demonstrates Peck’s ability to move dancers into configuration that always surprise. However, “Reflections” loses something in the staging, which happens often in the stripped down Pillow stagings outdoors.
Certainly, that is the case with Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angels,” performed by a Pacific Northwest quartet. Still the ballet, to Richard Einhorn’s “Maxwell’s Demon,” startles with dancers in red, taking flight like warriors in the battle for good and evil. It remains powerful.
The program’s finale is also potent – Alejandro Cerruda’s gorgeous “Second to Last” to music by Avro Part. In a series of duets for all of the Coast to Coast dancers, Cerruda’s succulent suite seems to mark the minutes of the pandemic in the most sobering terms. Its message: every moment is precious, so love fully.
Ballet Coast to Coast runs through Sunday at Jacob’s Pillow.
From left, Duane Lee Holland Jr., Ray F. Davis, Reyna Núñez, Tyedric Hill, LaTasha Barnes, Alaine Lauture and Shana Maria Weaver perform in LaTasha Barnes' "The Jazz Continuum." (Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima)
Having a dance party? Then you need to invite Latasha Barnes and her crew.
Performing this week at Jacob’s Pillow, this ensemble of dancers and musicians, including DJ Britney Brown, had the outdoor stage at the historic dance venue bouncing (literally) to “The Jazz Continuum.”
This work is infectiously upbeat, yeasty brew that has audiences swaying and clapping. But it is also scholarly for its ability to show audience the evolution of social dance forged in the Black community. From traditional African to jazz to lindy to house to waacking, there is a connection and audience can see it for themselves in the work that plays through Sunday.
The thing that makes “Jazz Continuum” so invigorating for dancers and audience is the emphasis on social. It’s about having fun with others – not about being a refined, synchronized ensemble.
In six indistinguishable sections called “Explorations,” Barnes and six other dancers are drawn together – in choreographed circles and lines that give way for the individual to emerge.
Shana Maria Weaver offers a simmering solo. Slow and low to the ground, she draws out the saxophone (played by Christopher McBride). Together, they meld in a way that music and dance should always bond, symbiotically.
Reyna Nunez is the queen of sultry waacking, Duane Lee Holland Jr. punctuates his fancy footwork with cartwheels and flips while Alaine Lauture and Tyedric Hill are towers of the coolest house moves.
Barnes, a spitfire, is pure joy to watch. Dancing with a bright smile that never fades, she surprises with her ability to embody all styles with optimism. One could watch her all day because she radiates hope for the world.
Together or separate, the dancers and musicians do it all with a touch that is light and playful. They banter as they move, demonstrating an honest and respectful rapport.
Moreover, Barnes and her dancers, with a gestural embrace to the heavens, acknowledge all those who have gone before them – creating the dance they enjoy and embellish today. Thus, Barnes gives her party some spiritual and intellectual depth.
Barnes and troupe enhance an already amazing season at the Pillow. Since the pandemic, the dance haven has transformed to accommodate artists and audiences safely by keeping it all outdoors. But the artistic choices have also been broader, embracing dance styles not often seen on the formal stages at the venue where mostly white artists perform.
Thank you Jacob’s Pillow for creating this oasis for all dance and dancers.
Momoko Burbine danced Odette/Odile and Klevis Tafaj portrayed Prince Siegfried in Ajkun Ballet Theatre's condensed "Swan Lake" at The Egg.
The region’s performing arts saw two triumphs on Saturday night.
1. The Egg, Albany’s premiere stage, reopened with its first show since March 2020.
2. Ajkun Ballet performed “Swan Lake” beautifully there.
The first, of course, offers a glimmer of what is to come – theaters opened with masked and socially distanced patrons – even with the pandemic still raging.
The second is amazing as the Ajkun Ballet Theatre often doesn’t perform well – appearing as a ragtag group of dancers of all abilities whom its Artistic Director Chiara Ajkun tires to shape into a scintillating, cohesive classical ballet ensemble.
The company performs every summer at The Egg, with 2020 as the exception. When I saw the company on the calendar for Saturday, I was skeptical, but felt an obligation to go. Allowing myself to only go to the shows I know have promise isn’t fair to me or my few readers.
But as soon as Momoko Burbine stepped on stage as Odette/Odile, the enchanted swan who seeks true love from the capricious Prince Siegfried, I was the one enchanted. She was a near perfect Odette/Odile, the most challenging role that any ballerina dances as she must play two characters – the sweet, fearful Odette and the evil, scheming Odile.
As Odette, Burbine was delicate – the flutter of her foot as Siegfried, danced by Klevis Tafaj, twirled her, spoke of her fragility. This tiny dancer melted and swooned into the Tafaj who lifted her with tenderness and ease. And of course the provocative and lush Tchaikovsky score ramped up the impassioned emotion.
They convinced the audience that the bond they sealed at the lake could not be severed. Of course, we were wrong.
As Odile, Burbine transformed – she was sharp with a plastered sinister smile. (That was not necessary and a little distracting.) She also faltered on the ballet’s most steely technical test – the 32 fouettes. I counted 25 rotations of the leg-whipping step.
That’s ok because even top ballerina struggle with that. And all was forgiven as she returned to as the desperate Odette who realizes Siegfried betrayed her with Odile.
Burbine was not the only amazing dancer. Telmen Munkherdene as the Jester was also superb. As Siegfried’s entertainer and confidant, he was a whirling, leaping marvel who was a pleasure to watch every time he took the stage.
Because there was no intermission, which seems to be a COVID-19 precaution at all the theaters, Ajkun trimmed down the ballet to the essential storytelling segments – without the incidental dancing. She did, happily, preserve the divertissements at the ball.
But condensing the ballet required chopping up the score, which at times was jarring.
Also annoying was the continuous mid-ballet bows, cutting off the action and the magic. It’s old-fashioned, a relic from the days when Russia was king of the artform, and unsettling for American audiences who feel forced to applaud.
Also, I’m not thrilled with Ajkun’s ending. “Swan Lake” is ballet’s great tragedy, on par with “Romeo and Juliet.” But Ajkun gave it a happy ending with Siegfried killing the sorcerer, freeing Odette. Thus the two live happily ever after. The tragic ending, though sad, provides resonance that the sweet finale simply can’t.
While the bowing and the ending need to go, the dancing, especially that of Burbine, lives on.
Archie Burnett, foreground, dances in his "Life Encounters" on the outdoor stage at Jacob's Pillow. (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
When Archie Burnett plunks done at the rim of the outdoor stage at Jacob’s Pillow, one expects to hear a story. And indeed, one does.
In his “Life Encounters,” we hear and see Burnett narrate the parallel journey of his life and that of the club scene in New York City and beyond. We see him grow from a child whose mother disapproves of his watching “Soul Train” on the Sabbath to his voguing and waacking as the First Father of the House of Ninja.
And it’s delightful.
“Life Encounter: Archie Burnett” is another example of the Pillow’s dedication to inclusion – not just to formal theatrical dance but to the street and club dance as a way to enlighten the often staid Pillow audience.
Over the years, Pillow management have often done that. But this year’s effort is more concerted with the curtain welcome read in English and Spanish and with the Executive Director Pamela Tatge thanking, at the start of each show, the Native Americans – naming every tribe -- who lived on the Pillow grounds long before Ted Shawn showed up there with his Men Dancers. This, hopefully, will spark an awakening in all of us.
But back to Burnett, who is charming. He appears in a white tank top and yellow wind pants. Then, swaggering across the stage waving his arms, he takes the audience back to the 1970s when disco and the hustle were king.
Six other dancers join him on stage. And to the infectious sounds created by Steve “DJ Chip Chop” Gonzalez, it becomes a party.
Burnett and his dancers are a diverse set of technicians who can show off the skills of each type of dance. Burnett is a vogue artist supreme who can work his arms like a hibachi chef wields knives. And then there are his legs that he kicks to hit his nose and the split that he lands with all hitting the floor.
Abdiel is a hustler – gliding through different members of the ensemble – taking them in their (preferred pronoun) arms to whisk each dancer across the stage. At one point, the music goes quiet, allowing the audience a moment to examine the smooth intricacy of their steps. It is beautiful.
Burnett moves through post-disco house, with its fancy footwork that moves the body closer to the floor and away from the partnering of disco. Here Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie and Maya Llanos shine – switching up steps faster than the eye can absorb.
The big number is “Vogue” with all the dancers recreating the nightclub scene – with dancers in drag, strutting like runway models in their spiked heels (how do they do anything in those?). Donning frilly garb, they come to the edge of the stage and slay the audience with their sharp, daring motions.
At one point, Burnett talks about teaching in Amsterdam, relating the experimental dancing there. But that section is not as insightful, thus it falls flat.
Also, disappointing is the recorded track of Burnett’s voice. He lip-synched his story, which is an impediment to a full embrace of the audience. However, a microphone on a dancer is not easy to technically achieve, but worth a try on a small stage like the Pillow’s.
By the ending, all questionable choices are forgiven. Here, each dancer takes turns showing off their specialty – including Asherie’s breaking and Llano’s African shimmying. Each is deserving of enthusiastic applause.
"Life Encounters: Archie Burnett" will continue at the Jacob's Pillow through Sunday.
From left, Evan Fisk, Zack Gonder and Stephanie Terasaki of Brian Brooks / Moving Company in "Closing Distance" on the outdoor stage at Jacob's Pillow through Sunday, July 25. (Photo by Jamie Kraus)
The pandemic has affected all of us in different ways – one of which was, in some cases, bringing the close closer and severing the ties of the remote.
But even before the pandemic, on its very eve, choreographer Brian Brooks seemed to foreshadow it in “Closing Distance,” a work he premiered just prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and one that tapped into the need for, but difficulty with intimacy.
The work is now onstage at Jacob’s Pillow’s outdoor stage, the Henry J. Leir. It is among three pieces, including a solo featuring Brooks that will be performed through Sunday. And though the entire program is just an hour long, as all of this year’s outdoors shows are, Brian Brooks / Moving Company demonstrated that, as an ensemble, the dancers are deeply in-tune and sensitive to each other. Together, they make for a beautiful company, for which audiences should be grateful.
To the award-winning, “Partita for 8” score by Caroline Shaw, “Closing Distance” at first seems like a scientific experiment. Dancers were bundled together moving each other in mechanical ways as the vocalist sing words “to the side” or “to the midpoint.” But the work blossoms, along with the score, into a spiritual journey with dancers Evan Fisk and Taylor LaBruzzo. She’s an unseen, powerful figure, whom with a flutter of her hand, moves Fisk, literally and figuratively. He, who hypnotized by her actions, flops and springs about, an unwitting soul who is open to the universe’s energy force.
The final section, with all eight dancers, swirling together fluidly – a band of unifying angels that signals an optimism that is a welcome sight for world-weary souls.
The program also features two world premieres – Brooks’ solo “Quiet Music,” named for a Nico Muhly piano score, and the night's opener “Flight Study.” Both, created at the Pillow during a pandemic bubble residency, were intriguing.
“Flight Study,” to music by Bryce Dessner “Aheym” as recorded by Ensemble Resonanz, had echoes of “Swan Lake,” but a prehistoric version – one where the birds fight their way out of an egg and crawl across the grass before taking off to cloud-high heights. The string music is driving, at times, and carries these creatures along a path that is gloriously transformative. And with the real birds in nature singing and the oak trees behind them swaying, “Flight Study” is a highly recommended experience – particularly in this setting.
Finally, I loved “Quiet Music.” Firstly, it’s rare to see Brooks, who is a fascinatingly emotive dancer in his own right, performing. In this work, he takes us by surprise by arriving to the stage from the center aisle of the house. Once onstage, his trajectory is back and forth, upstage to down, bringing him in and out of focus – as upstage he is silhouetted by the sun and downstage his kind face, in the trees shadow, comes into view.
Here, in the desperately tender work, he is showing the audience a wave – reaching out and retreating – shaping in our minds a way of life and death, of lost and restoration. It was a moving tribute to all of us as we continue to wrestle with the pandemic.
The pas de deux from George Balanchine's "Agon" from 1957 is complex and revolutionary for the art of ballet.
What a difference a day makes.
While I’m still not thrilled with New York City Ballet’s pandemic-inspired lecture-demonstration format during its brief stay at Saratoga Performing Arts Center this week, Thursday afternoon’s “All Balanchine” version seemed less awkward. And happily, more enjoyable.
Multiple departures from Wednesday’s program, though slight, made for the happy difference.
First Gonzalo Garcia was host. Unlike Maria Kowroski who read from index cards, Garcia was speaking extemporaneously, pacing the stage like a motivational speaker, signaling the audience must hang on every word. We did.
And then there were the excerpts – they were longer – only slightly. But that little extra moment to savor the dance was precious. It was exactly what we needed in order to feel like yes, we are at the ballet.
Moreover, the snippets from company founder and genius choreographer George Balanchine’s “Apollo” “Four Temperaments,” “Agon” are unadorned. None of them have the elaborate sets or are backed up with slews of corps de ballet dancers. So two dancers on stage was ideal, unlike on Wednesday night’s showing of story ballets excerpts. Design and dancers were sorely missing.
Thus Balanchine’s neoclassical excerpts felt more complete and audience did not feel cheated out of an experience.
And the dancers, as usual, were superb. It’s amazing to note that they have not danced in front of an audience since the start of the pandemic. But they performed beautifully, each with precision, careful to point out how special – and in some cases revolutionary – Balanchine ballets were and remain.
The afternoon started with the variations performed by Apollo’s three muses with the supple Teresa Reichlen as Terpsichore. Her variation, a show of the muse’s artistry, devotion and affability, was enchanting for the mix of emotions it inspired. And Reichlen, now a senior dancer, has the ability to draw out every ounce of meaning in every step and gesture.
Equally wonderful were Miriam Miller and Amar Ramasar in the complex “Agon” pas de deux. As one watches the intertwining of arms and legs and their miraculous unraveling, one can’t help but wonder how the classical trained Balanchine came up with such radical movement.
While he was an insurgent, Balanchine was also a showman. In excerpts from the triptych “Jewels,” “Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds,” and “Who Cares,” Balanchine’s love for making music visible was clear.
“Diamonds” was especially glorious with Miller and Tyler Angle – the approach walking and circling each other is tentatively, but revealing the draw that they eventually surrendered to was sumptuous.
And though I’m not a huge fan of “Who Cares,” the dancing – with the men strutting and the women skipping – was uplifting.
Certainly, the company is leaving us wanting for more.
This program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 16 and 17, at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
New York City Ballet performed the donkey pas de deux on Wednesday during its "Short Stories" program at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
During the last several years, Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s relationship with New York City Ballet has thinned, with the outdoor venue allowing the founding flagship company to fade with fewer and fewer performances.
The pandemic strained things all the more. Last year’s season had to be canceled. And this year’s, due to COVID-19 restrictions that were in place during the planning, dancing had to be limited.
Thus City Ballet’s 2021 SPAC season, now dwindled to four days from a once robust four-week season, includes just a handful of dancers and two pianists (Alan Moverman and Nancy McDill) with the audience sitting in socially distanced pods.
Because there is no orchestra and no cast of nearly 100 dancers, this year the audience has to settle for of a lecture-demonstration style show. Dancers are performing short snippets of ballets between a lot of talking. Actually, too much talking.
On Wednesday night, the ballet’s opener, principal dancer Maria Korowski was the host. This veteran dancer – appearing poise in street clothes and standing in a slight first position -- was perfectly charming in a program called “Short Stories.” Reading from index cards, she explained the origins and plot lines of such ballets as “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Firebird” and “Fancy Free.”
Then the dancers would appear in costume to discuss their takes on the roles and how they prepared. Beloved ballerina and the company’s Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan also made an appearance, discussing coaching of Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara on the Rose Adagio, one of ballet’s most difficult ballerina feats.
But people in the seats want to see the dancers dance. And when they did, it was over too quickly.
Of course, it’s City Ballet so there were still flashes of brilliance. For example, it was a Dutton-O’Hara who is in the corps de ballet, proved her strength in the adagio where she must remain balanced on one leg while her four international suitors promenaded her in circles.
Principal dancer Teresa Reichlen was sublime as the Odette, the enchanted swan princess and plucky but vulnerable as the Firebird. Reichlen has the maturity to pour into her technical know-how a heart that moves an audience.
It was also fun to laugh a little bit – with the three sailors in “Fancy Free” in the opening scene when they first arrive in the big city, the donkey pas de deux from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the hilarious mistake waltz from “The Concert.”
Sadly missing were all of the sets and props – including the frilly, pink clamshell that Tatiana, danced by Miriam Miller, sleeps in. It was replaced with a mismatched backstage chair.
Also missing was the corps de ballet that beefs up every ballet with their energy and precision beauty. The hoards of swans from “Swan Lake,” which were absent, was especially keenly felt.
Still, the audience made do, enjoying the dancing, which always ended too soon with more talk resuming.
I understand that SPAC had to work with COVID-19 restrictions. But these talk shows are better for an audience unfamiliar with ballet. After decades of ballet, SPAC audiences are astute and know much of what was told to us. So revelations were slim.
As one observer put it “it’s better than nothing.” But how much more can City Ballet and its audiences lose?
New York City Ballet will repeat “Short Stories” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15, and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 17.