Ballet in September used to be dead as a dodo. Now, with City Ballet’s ingenious decision to give us four weeks of repertory in the early fall, having cut down on the relentlessly long spring season when dancers, critics and audiences droop on the vine, we wake up after the dog days of August with something to look at. It’s unfortunate that this became possible only when the financially floundering City Opera was forced to decamp from the David H. Koch Theater. (To be fair, this is one thing we can’t blame on David H. Koch and his politics.) But at least the opera’s loss is dance’s gain.
It seems as if the box office results have justified the change—there were well-stuffed houses at most of the performances I attended—although attendance was undoubtedly enhanced by all the hype for the Paul McCartney/Peter Martins debacle, Ocean’s Kingdom, with the nonfail Swan Lake (also Martins) to further pack them in. Good marketing, bad ballet.
But there were artistic gains to offset the deplorable gimmickry of Ocean’s Kingdom. The company as a whole is looking strong. With most of the dead wood of recent years given their obligatory farewell galas and gone with the wind, the younger stars are stepping up to the important roles and frequently making strong impressions.
The single best performance I witnessed was Sterling Hyltin’s in the “Rubies” section of Jewels. Ms. Hyltin is an odd one. Although she has a perfect small-scale body, a large-scale technique and unaffected charm, and has been given many opportunities, she’s never really claimed a significant part of the repertory. So her triumph in “Rubies” is particularly gratifying. Ms. Hyltin’s quicksilver, fearless attack is right for Stravinsky—she’s already been effective in Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Jeu de cartes— and she’s even improved as Terpsichore in Stravinsky’s Apollo, a role she lacks the essential amplitude for, as she does for Swan Lake. Her current performance in “Rubies,” with its blend of delicacy and brio, is just about the most effective since the great original, Patricia McBride.
Andrew Veyette—along with Robert Fairchild one of the company’s two most talented young male stars—made his “Rubies” debut opposite her, and the combination worked. He still has to lay on some extra macho swagger, but all the elements are there, and the two of them grasp that “Rubies” is a ballet about the two of them in their gleeful competition and complicity. Meanwhile, the towering Teresa Reichlen, as the biggest ruby of them all, dominates the scene without hogging it—it’s her best role, and she’s stunning in it, not only a sight for disbelieving eyes but a technical marvel: she sails through the three often-fatal arabesques penchées without even noticing that they’re impossible. To see a “Rubies” so close in spirit and execution to what Balanchine intended was badly needed balm.
“Emeralds,” that exquisite essence of French glamour and piquancy, had its ups and downs. Abi Stafford, for once, was relaxed and imaginative in the great Violette Verdy role; Ashley Bouder was faithful to it, but she’s an impulsive dancer, not a languorous one. Jenifer Ringer was stiff and brittle as the second ballerina, though slightly less so in her second performance, but I’m afraid she now detracts from the famous “Emeralds” perfume.