NYCB’s All Rodgers program included three pieces by Richard Rodgers. First was Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance), using music from the musical Carousel. The next piece was Peter Martins’s Thou Swell to a variety of Rodgers songs with lyrics mainly by Lorenz Hart. The final piece was George Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, from the Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance), based off the musical, is meant to evoke the dream ballet scenes that Rodgers and Hammerstein used in their musicals. I think Wheeldon succeeding in achieving that feel, but I’m not sure it was the right goal. Without familiarity with the plot of the musical, this ballet — which doesn’t really share that plot — makes very little sense. The two leads portray a lot of conflicting emotions, and those are the most understandable in the context of the missing plot. That said, Zachary Catazaro and especially Tiler Peck acted these parts well. Peck had to show a wide range of emotions, and she was particularly good at the beginning when she was unsure and in denial that this was the man she moved; it was never unclear what she was feelings. Peck and Catazaro also partnered well. The moment that stood out most was a series in which Peck turned in attitude and then was swept up by Catazaro repeatedly.
Often in intimate pas de deux like this, I feel really close to the dancers, like there’s little separation. In this case, though, I felt a lot of distance. The stage was pretty dark, and Peck and Catazaro seemed small and isolated. They just had each other; we as the audience were looking at something far away.
I liked many parts of the choreography in the first movement, Waltz, and it seemed fun, but it also relied heavily on tropes, especially the men’s steps. There was some lack of togetherness in the corps near the beginning, but that was cleaned up in the rest of the ballet. Catazaro got to leap a bit in the Waltz and after the pas de deux with Peck. In particular, he did some check-like jumps in front of a line of men, and those really hung in the air. Catazaro generally doesn’t get a lot of flight. It seems like most of the principal NYCB men (with the very key exception of Chase Finley) don’t.
The most interesting bit of blocking came at the beginning and the end when part of the corps essentially formed a carousel. At the beginning, they just walked in circles in a way that evoked it; at the end, the dancers carried posts, and some of the women sat on the men’s shoulders. As they walked, they moved the posts up and down, more strongly evoking the carousel.
Thou Swell, choreographed by Peter Martins, had potential, but it was far too long and ended up flat and full of filler as a result. However, I saw what seemed like the perfect cast, at least for the women. Sara Mearns danced the sweetest and most in love of the women. I thought she had the easiest acting part of the four, but she was very committed to it, even when walking off stage at the end of the piece. Her partner was Jared Angle. Teresa Reichlen danced a colder, more aloof, and elegant woman, but while I found her flat in Prodigal Son, I didn’t here. She was partnered by Ask la Cour. Rebecca Krohn’s part was sharp and sexy, initially without seduction but with a seductive side growing through the piece. Amar Ramasar was a particularly good partner choice for this character. (I’ve often seen him matched with Mearns, and I doubt that would have worked as well here.) Finally, the relationship between Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay in the piece is best described by the song for one of their duets, “Getting to Know You.” Through the work, their characters grew more comfortable together, but the relationship remained more casual.
This piece felt very much like a series of divertissements, though it was more grounded by the fact that all couples stayed on stage most of the time, sitting at their tables and appearing to chat. The length of the piece, however, and the fact that it was almost entirely duets, made it repetitive, and there was often too little substance to the duets. (The worst offender was the first dance between Mearns and Angle, which seemed to mostly consist of running away from each other and then to each other again, but it was not the only one.)
Slaughter on Tenth Avenue was far and away the best piece of the night; I suppose it’s not surprising that a Balanchine work would be better than a Martins or a 2002 Wheeldon. It’s also the piece about which I have the least to say. True to its origin, it’s more of a musical theater piece than a ballet. Sara Mearns and Andrew Veyette were impressive, funny, and in character as the Striptease Girl and the Hoofer. (I didn’t knew Veyette could tap!) The full cast was spot-on in terms of humor, actually, especially Cameron Dieck and Alec Knight as the bartenders and Spartak Hoxha, Ghaleb Kayali, and Giovanni Villalobos as the policemen.