Fancy Free, Prodigal Son, Firebird
For January, New York City Ballet presented an attractive combination of works from their classic repertoire. The first act was the tradition breaking utra-contemporary FANCY FREE of 1944. This was Jerome Robbins’ first ballet and it put him on the map, instigating everything that came afterwards. He collaborated with the emerging Leonard Bernstein to write the score for a story about three sailors on leave in New York during World War II, which would later be expanded into the Broadway musical, ON THE TOWN. Such a story was a familiar sight in the streets just outside the theater, so the resonance was immediate. Now the piece is a nostalgic classic, but it still registers as innovative and different. Character is more important than the dance and yet the dance is an expression of the character and quite eye-popping. The piece was danced by new principal dancers, Tyler Angle, Robert Fairchild and Daniel Ulbricht, who gave the sailors a charming camaraderie. Their girls were danced by Kaitlyn Gilliland, Georgina Pazcoguin and Tiler Peck. Oliver Smith’s original set design was still in use, looking like quintessential 1940s Broadway design.
The middle piece was the Balanchine masterpiece, PRODIGAL SON. This work was created for the Ballet Russes and premiered in 1929 in that legendary company’s final Paris season. This is the ballet that brought Balanchine International attention and so, a perfect pairing to go with Robbins’ initial success. Company stalwart Joaquin DeLuz danced the lead and was both athletic and graceful. Even from the balcony I could read the sorrow of his broken spirit through his body. The original set design by Georges Rouault was recreated and so the piece served as a small window into the marvels of the lost Ballet Russes.
FIREBIRD closed the show in a truncated version of the full length ballet. Ashley Bouder danced the bird with grace and a mystifying weightlessness. Jonathan Stafford danced the Prince, which was physically demanding and he projected great character. This was a collaboration between Robbins and Balanchine, which had its gestation over a number of years. Balanchine’s own first version debuted in New York in 1949 with scenic and costume designs by Marc Chagall. These designs are still in use and they are truly stunning––a work of art worthy of a museum exhibit. In a way, this entire program was a museum exhibit, save for the new young talent inhabiting the old roles, costumes and scenery worlds. In 1970, Balanchine revisited the work in collaboration with Robbins, who now shares choreography credit for the final version. Although there is a small story going on, the work was conceived as Chagall accompanied by music and dance. Chagall certainly stood out as the star of the ballet, but it would be incomplete without the live moving parts of the work of art. A beautiful evening of Robbins and Balanchine all around, representing those two great talents in their youth when they changed the face of ballet and danced by a new company of principal dancers giving new life to old classics.