Symphony in C with Morgan Fairchild and Joseph Gordon Photo Credit: Erin Baiano
In 1948, Concerto Barocco appeared on the first program of the New York City Ballet—exemplifying the Balanchine choreography that would become its trademark—showcasing energetic arms and legs, upright torso, flexible hands and feet. Quick and precise, the dance is a clear reflection of the music (Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in d minor wondrously played by first violin Kurt Nikkanen and second violin Arturo Delmoni). It’s easy to see how this piece was first a school exercise, taxing and demanding, requiring everyone to show their mettle—high technique and, well, pluck. And that Unity Phelan did, with her exacting movements, stellar arabesque, and extreme penché—with Emilie Gerrity right behind her, dancing at the same exquisite level, both partnered by the noble Andrew Veyette and supported by the outstanding corps.
In the abstract set of Georges Rouault, Daniel Ulbricht in the title role of Prodigal Son throws himself into the piece with huge jumps and turns and an arrogant greed that eventually spells his demise. Miriam Miller as the Siren is a perfect complement to the prodigal’s ruinous indulgence. She’s sleek, self-assured, and authoritative as she walks on point to the provocative music of Prokofiev. Winning over the Prodigal, she wraps her foot around him, sinking him to new lows. Only when he crawls back to his father (danced by Preston Chamblee) and is taken into his arms, is there any kind of repentance. The Son carried away in his father’s arms is the resolution to this highly emotional piece. In the performance, I sat just a few seats away from Edward Villella, who before his retirement from NYCB, had been dancing the title role since Balanchine’s 1960 revival of the ballet. As he writes in Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic, “…it was what Balanchine wanted: attack, speed, angularity…” Even in this story ballet, Balanchine’s choreography demands great accuracy.
Balanchine’s Symphony in C, too, delights with its emphasis on the angular, abstract, and unpredictable. This is a ballet best seen from some height to discern Balanchine’s brilliant formations and use of space. The ballet is danced by four lead couples, soloists, and corps in four movements to the joyful music of Bizet with costumes by Mark Happel and bodices and tutus amply decorated with Swarovski crystals, and lighting by Mark Stanley.
Megan Fairchild and Joseph Gordon danced light and lively in the Allegro Vivo. The section requires crisp chaîné, balanced arabesque, and flawless pirouette. Otherwise, Fairchild and Gordon sweep across the stage, part of the genius use of space in the piece—astounding in their roles. The haunting Adagio, danced by Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle, was just as lovely—with its overhead lifts, her free falls backwards into Angles’ arms, and its sensitive partnering. Emma von Enck and Roman Mejia stunned in their Allegro Vivace, both as big jumpers, especially Mejia. Of note was von Enck’s striking and clear-cut positioning in penché and other moves. The Allegro Vivace, performed by Indiana Woodward and Troy Schumacher, was another study in exactitude and speed, danced beautifully by the couple. Kudos to the entire ensemble who perform Balanchine’s moves with the dizzying pace and swiftness they require. This breathtaking program, conducted by Clotilde Otranto, is a tribute to Balanchine’s enduring choreographic ease and skill, and to the dancers that embody it.