"Tchaikovsky pas de Deux," "Morgen," "Carnival
of the Animals"
For those unable to attend Jock Soto's final performance on Sunday, Friday evening's program served as an admirable substitute—an opportunity to see him in two roles he originated, in the course of which he demonstrated his exemplary, deferential partnering skills as well as his quietly impassioned, earthy dramatic presence. In "Chiaroscuro," choreographed by Lynn Taylor-Corbett in 1994, he is the quiet center of a steady, urgent stream of activity. It is a quietly compelling work, one that does not evoke an outright scenario, but suggests that Soto is conjuring up a series of memories, looking back on crucial encounters.
Arriving first on stage, in simple dark-grey/almost black practice clothes, he pushes through space, clearing a way for the figures that haunt, or assault, him to arrive. Taylor-Corbett makes wonderful use of Soto's plush attack as well as his gravitas. One by one, the five other dancers enter the fray. The women are fierce, sleek figures in shades of grey, who at times seem like attackers Soto is trying to ward off with his deft partnering. James Fayette provides a brooding, lurking potential antagonist for Soto, while Tom Gold—who was exceptional in his demonically fast entrance solo, slicing and twisting through the air daringly—is a more mercurial presence. (Both men, like Soto, were in the original cast.)
Taylor-Corbett chose her music wisely. With its propulsive rhythms and melancholy flavor, the Gemignani arrangements of selections from Corelli's "La Folia" create an undertow of tension and implied drama. Various permutations and groupings succeed one another in smooth sequence; once everyone has arrived on stage, nobody leaves until the very end. Some moments seem forced, such as the trio for the men in which Soto ends up suspended, almost Christ-like, across the shoulders of the other two. But "Chiaroscuro is compact, smartly constructed, and flattering to its dancers. While not daring or brilliantly original, it marks out its own territory rather than alluding, as so many recent NYCB creations do, to earlier works.
In addition to the resonance of being Soto's penultimate appearance in the work, Friday's performance also featured two women returning from lengthy injury-induced absences. The sight of Jennie Somogyi, absent since early 2004, with her crisp attack and keen musicality, was welcome indeed. Pascale van Kipnis had not appeared since last spring, and was in excellent form, bringing a dynamic attack and intriguingly stinging presence to the sharp contours of her role.
Alexandra Ansanelli and Damian Woetzel—often paired in Christopher Wheeldon's ballets—were admirably in sync on this occasion for an exceptionally fluent, inspired performance of "Tchaikovsky pas de Deux." She made everything look fleet and effortless, letting no detail escape her while radiating a calm, relaxed presence throughout, even during the extremely speedy tempo at which Maurice Kaplow conducted her variation. Woetzel, who will now assume the mantle of NYCB's senior male principal after Soto's retirement, brought his characteristic flair to his pirouette sequences, but never let his bravura boldness overrun an innate elegance. This was an occasion to simply sit back, smile, and be grateful for the wonders of such exquisite dancing—and to marvel, yet again, at how Balanchine shaped a showpiece pas de deux that is both homage to the great classic pas de deux yet also such a slyly contemporary gloss on them.
Peter Martins' new ballets have come so thick and fast over the years that somehow I had missed "Morgen," from 2001, until now. Set to ten intense Richard Strauss songs for soprano and orchestra, it takes its title from the last of them, but seems to be taking place at dusk. Five tall classical columns, placed in an approximate V-formation, break up the stage space, and the backdrop suggests a moody-blue-grey outdoor setting. Performed on this occasion by the complete original cast, this is a series of pas de deux, but the partnerships are not set. In the course of nine duets, each woman and each man have a chance to dance together, and in the finale they all come together, size each other up, and settle for a (possibly permanent?) partner. The ballet owes more than a little to Robbins' "In the Night," but referring to Robbins is not a bad thing for Martins, whose choreography can often be so cold and calculating.
Darci Kistler, looking reflective and yearning, was shown to better advantage here than in most of what she dances these days—until she seemed to run out of steam and suffered a few bobbles on pointe in her final duet. Janie Taylor, in a shorter dress than the other two (all wore slightly different pale filmy costumes), seemed to represent a youthful, headstrong eagerness, while Jenifer Ringer was glowingly passionate. Martins sustains a tone of reflective wistfulness throughout. In most of the duets, the partners exit separately—often with the woman bourréeing away, leaving the man quietly bereft. In the final three of duets, they find greater fulfillment, exiting in soaring, swooping lifts, and these are the partnerships that prove to be lasting, after some momentary hesitation, in the final sextet. Martins has come up with many subtle and beautiful permutations on lyrical, romantic partnering, and the ballet has many striking moments. He is brave not to try to vary things too much, but in the end, "Morgen" does feel over-extended. The dancers—including Nilas Martins and Jared Angle and Soto, in addition to those already mentioned—performed with rapt delicacy, and the music (Andrea Quinn was the conductor, with Jessica Jones as soloist), filled with delicate solo instrumental obbligatos, sounded glorious.
Christopher Wheeldon's "Carnival of the Animals" completed the program.