Balanchine Short Stories was one of the NYCB Winter Season performances I was most looking forward to because I particularly love narrative ballets. The three pieces were Balanchine’s La Sonnambula, Balanchine’s Prodigal Son (which I saw ABT perform last fall), and Robbins and Balanchine’s Firebird (of which I’d seen two other choreographies, but not this one).
La Sonnambula was my favorite of the night in terms of narrative; it has the clearest and tightest storyline. (That’s not to say that it’s objectively clear or tight, but this is ballet. The standards for narrative are low.) I enjoyed Rebecca Krohn as the Coquette; she was flirtatious and sensitive, acting well throughout the ballet. I couldn’t quite figure out Robert Fairchild’s portrayal of the Poet during the party scene, but in the sleepwalker scene he was excellent. Tiler Peck performed the titular Sleepwalker and was gorgeous. Her movements were unfocused and yet single-minded, aware of obstacles and nothing else. Her bourrees were smooth and fast. Fairchild led Peck in a promenade with both holding the same candle instead of holding hands, which was impressive. Their partnering throughout was very natural while being in character, and I loved Fairchild bending and looping around Peck to try to stop her movement.
The choreography of the party dancing is well done. I particularly liked a sequence in which couples started in a circle, then began spiraling out to form a line. They then linked hands in twisty ways, unfolded, and soon ended up back in a circle. The divertissements were also well done. Claire Von Enck and Sebastian Villarini-Velez performed the pas de deux, full of little jumps (many of them battu). Villarini-Velez leading Von Enck in a promenade while doing battu jumps was particularly impressive. (I was just really impressed with the promenades in this ballet.) Troy Schumacher as the Harlequin had a really fun part, with more jumps with beats, some acrobatics, and a lovely series of toe touches.
I enjoyed Prodigal Son, but I preferred the cast I saw when ABT performed it last fall. In this performance, Daniel Ulbrecht was the Prodigal Son and Teresa Reichlen the Siren. I appreciated Ulbrecht’s power in the first scene. His checkmark leaps were high and strong, and his repeated forced arch quintuple (!) pirouettes looked easy. You could feel how much he longed to leave home. As the ballet went on, though, his acting became weaker; he was far less convincing as the Son at the mercy of the Siren and the Son left destitute and limp. Teresa Reichlen’s height served her well, making her seem very imposing. But while she was entrancing to watch, she was a bit too cold and not seductive enough for me in this role.
Firebird worked because Ashley Bouder was captivating as the title character. She was wild and inhuman and imperious, just right for this magical creature. She moved with bird-like undulations through her shoulders and arms but angular steps; her portrayal could never be mistaken for that of a swan. The other key to this Firebird production is the scenery and costume design by Chagall, which significantly helps build the characters and setting. Zachary Catazaro, who danced Prince Ivan, partnered both Bouder and Ashley Laracey (the Prince’s Bride) well. His dynamic with Bouder in their duet was particularly good, both in the section where she is trying to escape and in the negotiation-focused section. Laracey was graceful and light as the Bride. The dances of the Maidens, the Bride, and Prince Ivan felt very Russian but also a bit Caucasian (which isn’t surprising given Balanchine’s background), which I appreciated. Robbins’ choreography for Kastchei the Wizard and his Subjects is bizarre and disorienting as intended. I’ve seen choreographies where these were better dancing parts or where this was a more frightening scene, but I liked the pure confusion and overwhelming-ness of the creatures here.