Balanchine’s Apollo. Pictured here, Chun Wai Chan and Mira Nadon. Photo Credit: Erin Baiano

October 7 matinee

In its 75th anniversary season this fall, NYCB offered a matinee performance of the company’s foundational work with Balanchine’s Apollo, La Sonnambula, and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2—allegorical, mysterious, and glorious looks, respectively, into the prolific creativity of its founder.

Apollo, one of Balanchine’s first black and white ballets, is an exercise in classical dance moves morphed into the choreographer’s style—showcasing the dancers’ arms tangled around each other, long legs, hops on point, splits to the floor, prances and gallops, and flexed feet and wrists. With different productions in the 1920s and since, much of the ballet’s narrative has been diminished in favor of pure dancing and pure musicality—something Balanchine fostered in his dancers. Said to be the first major collaboration with Stravinsky, the gorgeous strains of the orchestra (conducted by Clotilde Otranto) match perfectly with the dancers’ vibrant moves.

With impeccable focus, Chun Wai Chan as Apollo circles his arms, index finger pointing. His jumps are pristine, his arms punctuating every rotation of his body. The three muses, Mira Nadon (Terpsichore), Emily Kikta (Polyhymnia), and Isabella LaFreniere (Calliope) are just as gifted, their movement, commanding—as with their high, high extensions in penché and battement. The muses clap their hands and their attentive partner responds.

Nadon explodes into sauté, then big walks on point, opening her face into a silent cry as her arms extend and she performs a lengthy balance. Kikta’s arms seem to sweep the air, after fast pirouettes into arabesque. LaFreniere dances huge, too, with high battement. With such distinct personalities, their unison moves are all the more dramatic.

The ballet’s dynamic is quite remarkable, but the quieter moments are particularly memorable. Soft steps as in stylized pas de cheval, soft jumps, and soft walks around the periphery of the stage as the muses following Apollo—softness, too, in the final striking image of multiple arabesques as the women stretch across Apollo’s back and he reaches for the sky.

A masked ball is the venue for La Sonnambula, the couples soaring through the music of Vittorio Rieti (noted in the program as after themes of Vincenzo Bellini). The Coquette, danced by Brittany Pollack, literally sparkles in the crowd in her shimmering black and red costume, her shoulders covered in a cordlike web. Early on, the sweet divertissements of a pastorale (performed by Gabriella Domini, Rommie Tomasini, David Gabriel, and Spartak Hoxha) and a Harlequin variation by Cainin Weber are danced with precision and delight. Weber’s light, smooth, aerial moves feature high leaps into the wings as well as ballon-rich splits in the air. Sara Adams and Harrison Coll’s beautifully danced pas de deux offers contrasting moves—some adagio, some allegro. Anthony Huxley as the Poet partners both the Coquette and the Sleepwalker, although with decidedly different moods. The Coquette’s dances suggest gaiety, a purposeful world of action and seduction, tonight, a ball. The Sleepwalker (danced by Alexa Maxwell) enters and that world melts away. Her search takes place in an ephemeral realm. Her moves tentative at first, with a grand penché (still holding all the time, the candle that lights her way) she then promenades into the castle where she is kept hidden by the Baron (danced by Preston Chamblee). The Poet follows, then reemerges, wounded, only to be carried away by the sleepwalking dancer. This eerie piece is expertly executed by the principals, the soloists, and the corps as guests. The scenery of the decaying castle and the masked ball and costumes are stunning, as is the lighting by Mark Stanley.

The brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (conducted by Andrews Sill, as was La Sonnambula), with costumes in soft blue hues by Marc Happel and lighting by Mark Stanley shines through in Balanchine’s piece originally titled, Ballet Imperial. Over the years the piece has been redesigned to lose some of the imperial Russian themes.

Tiler Peck and Joseph Gordon lit up the stage with their dancing, as did soloist Olivia MacKinnon with her spry dance. MacKinnon mastered all the turns, arabesques, and balances the piece demanded—many of her moves (chaîné turns into arabesque) requiring all three at the same time. But she also sailed through the moves requiring more nuance.

Peck is well-known for her musicality (as I’ve written about here Whether a slow developé or a stage run, Peck is either on or ever so slightly behind the music, as if to capture all it can give. Even a hop backwards for her is an elegant move. Peck dances, flanked by the corps, with both principles and ensemble dancers breaking free to dance past the others. Gordon is a wondrous match for Peck. With his ballon and clean, fast beats, much less his tours en l’air, the two of them are a sensation to watch.

This piece requires attitude (in the sense of confidence), posing (a lot in open fourth position), odd formations (in one part, Gordon takes the hands of other dancers, swinging them around as if on a rope), and a lot of conviction to create a smooth, assured, elegant effect. The three leads—Peck, Gordon, and MacKinnon—have certainly achieved that here. And so has pianist Hanna Hyunjung Kim and the other musicians. This piano concerto #2 is demanding, with much interplay between piano and other instruments. All must be in top form as they were for this matinee.

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