New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns danced the bewitched swan in George Balanchine's "Swan Lake" on Sunday afternoon.
Only the greatest classicist can seize a master work and refashioned it into something that honors its gravatis and preciousness while successfully preserving it core. It requires a deep knowledge of every aspect of work to reassemble it parts, strip away its sluff and leave only its essence for savoring.
That's what the late George Balanchine, one of the 20th century most important ballet choreographers, did with Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake." In his hands, the three act ballet has been condensed, some might say crammed as it feels so fleeting, into a 35-minute ballet. He stripped away carousing courtiers, a marriage-minded mother, a pack of princesses and the deceptive other woman.
What is left is an unrequited love-story -- a prince who falls desperately in love with an enchanted swan whom he can never fully embrace.
On Sunday at Lincoln Center, New York City Ballet presented his version, which also included a bevy of black swan, rather than the typical white ones. Balanchine gave them plenty to do, including borrowing music from the third act's waltz and pas de neuf and bestowing it the swans, led by the commanding Megan LeCrone and Emma von Enck, who soared through it all.
The company adagio master, Sara Mearns, portrayed the swan queen with tenderness, extending every note of the music through each finger tips. She caressed the arm of her her beloved prince Tyler Angle who encircled her again and again. It made one believe in this improbable love.
Mearns did appears to struggle a bit on some of the speedier pointe work, but still, she was perfect for the romantic role -- gorgeous, generous and sparkling. She left the audience aching for more.
Still, I wish Balanchine didn't toy with the classic. The haunting musical theme elicits goose bumps and the melodies are brilliant, ranging from playful to sinister. And it made me long to see more.
Still, if anyone was to mettle with a classic, it could only be Balanchine, the choreographic craftsman with a cleared-eye vision and plan to execute it.
"Swan Lake" was preceded by Alexei Ratmansky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," a work in which 10 dancers become as much of an art exhibition as the Wassily Kandinsky paintings that made up its backdrop. The 2014 ballet to music by Modest Mussorgsky is one that is clever in its structure, but also nerve-wracking as some of the lifts appeared dangerous. At times, I thought some women would be dropped on their heads as a few sections looked a tad underrehearsed.
Regardless, Andrew Veyette was most enjoyable. He was fierce, attacking the movement as if he planned on crushing it -- and indeed he did -- keeping all eyes trained on him. He was a standout among the men in "Promenade."
Pianist Susan Walters accompanied them. She was perfection, as always.