I went to the New York City Ballet’s program Classic NYCB on Friday night, which included Balanchine’s Serenade, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Western Symphony and Wheeldon’s American Rhapsody.
The first ballet of the night was Serenade. It was especially cool to see this after World Ballet Day earlier this week, when Oklahoma City Ballet streamed their Serenade rehearsals live. I love the symmetry in this ballet and how much Balanchine played with shape, both with individual dancers and with groups. The 17 women forming two squares that share a corner has to be one of my favorite arrangements on stage ever. This playing with groups and shape and movement among shape continued throughout the ballet, and it actually made me think of number talks/dot cards. I really enjoyed Zachary Catazaro in this piece; he got some nice leap and turn sequences and just flew. There was also a petit allegro-ish sequence near the beginning with five women that I would love to learn.
Second was American Rhapsody, which was my favorite of the night by far. I know a lot of people don’t think it has much substance, and I agree that it doesn’t have a ton of depth most of the time. I still think there’s a lot to appreciate. It was jazzy but felt honest about it, not gimmicky or like it was trying too hard. (Contrasting this to Western Symphony later…) I thought it also did a really good job with shape and in many ways showed a lot of Balanchine influence, but Wheeldon choreographs better for men than Balanchine often did. There were a lot of fun patterns of jumps and turns for both men and women. The trio of Amar Ramasar, Unity Phelan, and Tiler Peck felt flirty and friendly; I’m looking forward to seeing more of Phelan. I thought Robert Fairchild and Peck’s pas was intimate without being heavy. It looks like some of the costumes have changed since last spring, and I think the new color choices are better.
The third piece of the night was Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, which is only about eight minutes long. I didn’t particularly like this piece, though the choreography is fine and I thought Ashly Isaacs and Gonzalo Garcia did a good job. My biggest hang-up with this piece was costuming, but it was something I had a lot of trouble getting past. This felt in many ways like a traditional grand pas. The first section was perhaps less formal in some ways, but the latter sections were not. You’d be forgiven for seeing the man’s solo without music and thinking it was a modification of the Nutcracker tarantella. (So yes, that section I loved.) The costumes — based on old videos I’m finding, the traditional ones — don’t match this feeling at all. The colors of the man’s and woman’s costumes aren’t particularly well coordinated, and a skirt for a piece like this just doesn’t show off the woman’s technique very well.
The final ballet was Western Symphony. The music for this is made up of traditional American melodies arranged by Hershy Kay, but I don’t think it holds up the dancing well enough. There were sections that felt musically flat, particularly the Adagio, and that’s never a good sign for a Balanchine ballet. My other main issue with this piece is that it’s a Western with twice as many women as men, which is an incredibly un-Western dynamic, enough that the ballet really lost that character for me. What was left that was Western-like felt gimmicky, with one main exception. I thought Teresa Reichlen and Andrew Veyette captured the feeling properly, especially Veyette, who was incredible. I kept getting frustrated with the audience being slow to clap for his amazing leaps and turns, especially the series of tours en l’air. I also really loved the ending of the piece, with all thirty-six dancers in an array, doing repeated single pirouettes in unison. It’s a great ending and does feel very American.