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"Fancy Free," "Prodigal Son," "Firebird"

by Lori Ortiz
January 19, 2010
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
212.875.5456

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New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet (office)
New York State Theater
20 Lincoln Center
New York, NY 10023
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www.nycballet.com

David H. Koch Theater
At the refurbished and renamed David H. Koch (formerly State) Theater, a New York City Ballet winter program fulfilled its promise. In this interesting and enjoyable evening, the curtain closed with Ashley Bouder's Firebird emanating warmth and good will to take away.

Peter Martins, to his credit, cast Daniel Ulbricht, Tyler Angle, and the fast-up-and-coming Robbie Fairchild in Jerome Robbins' 1944 Fancy Free. The ballet was their vehicle on January 19. Ulbricht danced the acrobatic first mate. Angle was the tall, dreamy, romantic type. Fairchild was a most interesting jazzy Sailor. His musicality brought out the syncopation in Leonard Bernstein's score. It was wonderfully easygoing, but not enough to inspire the audience's laughter. Tiler Peck was lovely as the second Passerby. Each successive lady held her leg up higher, with the third (Caitlin Gilliland's) pointed toe at eleven o'clock in her brief appearance.

There is no clunker in this program. Each number is a feast for the eye. As the evening progresses, the second and then third works demand more of our spirit and intellect. Meanwhile, Maria Kowrowski and Ashley Bouder hold us rapt.

Balanchine's 1929 (!) classic, "Prodigal Son" has Sergei Prokofiev music and backdrops by the modern painter Georges Rouault. Mark Stanley's execution of Ronald Bates original lighting plan was fine in the home scenes. In camp, where the errant wanderer cavorts with menacing characters and meets the Siren, the backdrop is a painted feast in an open tent. It is barely visible. So much for state-of-the-art lights.

That annoyance was minor while Maria Kowrowski was on stage as the extraordinarily self-possessed Siren. Backbends are a motif, and hers are exquisite. She wears a red satiny leotard and a tall, Rouault crown, Her palm rises above it with fingers spread in a pay-attention sign. A circle of creepy Drinking Companions supports one central male in a bridged back-bend. Their hands meet in the middle of another circle in an updated show of camaraderie. Joaqin De Luz adds all the emotion, and performs The Son's acrobatic feats with his usual panache, but he does not pull us into the drama. He undergoes what ought to be a dark trauma, but actual darkness is not helpful. We in the audience need to see him. Still, his communicative movement tells the story.

In this modern, Ballet Russes commission, where the body types help convey character and theme, the tall Kowrowski and the short, stocky De Luz complement each other. In fact, the story and Kowrowski illustrate Balanchine's devotion to women. Perhaps this is Martins' direction.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Karin von Aroldingen lead in the seventies television production overseen by Balanchine. We can be grateful that it's available on DVD for comparison. Von Aroldingen is self-possessed, but untamed. She belongs to the fantastic world of the creepy camp Companions. But Kowrowski is all pageantry and show. Though Mr. B liked to see what his dancers brought to roles, and Kowrowski brings technical brilliance, wouldn't he take issue with her interpretation? Even if his own staging of the parable, from the Boris Kochno libretto, is unconventional. Prokofiev, who envisioned a demure Siren, would have been more disappointed.

As for queenly characters, up next, Ashley Bouder's tantalizing Firebird has richness and depth. She has only altruistic intentions when she offers a healing plume to her accommodating and selfless partner Jonathan Stafford. Here, the Bates/ Stanley lighting on Marc Chagall's backgrounds is superb. Sketchy representations— now a castle, now a wedding couple— within a large bird's outline, signify changing scenes. Prince Ivan encounters the free spirits in a painted forest. The scenery is like a chorus, as it should be, supporting the story and reiterating the movement.

This evening of three classic repertory works satisfied well, after the company's absence in the fall. Andrews Sill conducted the orchestra. The music from the improved pit was a warm welcome.
Ashley Bouder as The Firebird

Ashley Bouder as The Firebird

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Daniel Ulbricht, Tyler Angle, Robbie Fairchild in Fancy Free

Daniel Ulbricht, Tyler Angle, Robbie Fairchild in Fancy Free

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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