Critic’s Notebook: Bringing It All Back Home: City Ballet Begins Again With Balanchine


On Tuesday, Chase Finlay’s tall and statuesque Apollo and the muses Sterling Hyltin (Terpsichore), Ashley Bouder (Polyhymnia) and Lauren Lovette (Calliope) were utterly lucid exponents of the Balanchine vision. Many who remember City Ballet’s “Apollo” during Balanchine’s lifetime would still like improvements, but they’re the same we’ve wanted for years. Mark Stanley’s lighting is too tepid, and several aspects of the choreography are misaccentuated. Andrew Litton’s conducting, though it elicited wonderful orchestral playing, was insufficiently propulsive. When Terpsichore placed her finger onto Apollo’s at the start of the pas de deux, the emphasis was overdone: What should matter more is the line that follows as she turns away.

So today’s “Apollo” lacks playfulness, excitement, naturalness. (Balanchine once described Apollo as “a country boy,” the muses as “three broads who happen along.”) But its formal qualities remain thrilling: The lines of Mr. Finlay’s dancing open out vastly into the surrounding air.

Balanchine’s “Apollo” was an open-sesame. Its revelatory meeting of ancient and modern became the hallmark of his work. Classicism and modernism also coexist in many of his ballets, not least the five others on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s programs.


Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in “Mozartiana.” Credit Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

On Wednesday, “The Four Temperaments” (1946), one of the peak ballets of the 20th century, was vivid in all its facets, from Lydia Wellington’s gleamingly cool, sure delivery of the opening duet onward. Teresa Reichlen has long been the definitive exponent of Choleric’s thunder-and-lightning steps, while Anthony Huxley, sometimes too contained in the past, broke through as Melancholic to a new fervor, his torso powerfully showing the conflicts embodied here. No conflicts for Tiler Peck’s incisive Sanguinic: She was all full-throttle, outward-bound momentum.

Maria Kowroski, the company’s senior ballerina, and her partner Tyler Angle brought a greater wealth of nuance to “Mozartiana” (1981) than they’ve previously achieved. Sara Mearns, the troupe’s most dramatic stylist, firmly steered “Cortège Hongrois” (1973) from severity to jubilance, and “Chaconne” (1976) from elusive spirituality through to rococo brilliance. She was handsomely partnered by Russell Janzen (“Cortège”) and Adrian Danchig-Waring (“Chaconne”). Both these men were admirable: More authority will come with more experience. Mr. Janzen seems unnecessarily anxious, as if not knowing how good he is.

Wednesday’s account of “Divertimento No. 15” (1956), a celestial work featuring five ballerinas and three cavaliers, was both bold and clear. My cavil here is not a new one: Some of these ballerinas (Megan Fairchild, Abi Stafford) stepped out eagerly into space without illuminating the air around them; they were bubbly but not radiant. But it was good to see Ashley Laracey back from a six-month injury. Could this lovely but often self-absorbed soloist become an exemplar of classical style?

Outside the auditorium, the David H. Koch Theater looked distinctly festive. Jihan Zencirli’s large installation of primary-color balloons in the upstairs foyer is the latest, brightest and merriest of the six art installations the company has presented in the past years; Ms. Zencirli is the first female artist to have been commissioned. Even though I prefer this beautiful foyer in an unadorned, pristine condition, I enjoy these balloons: They hang like huge grapes from a pergola.

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