NYC Ballet:Apollo, Orpheus, Agon
January 25, 2019
Opening night of the NYC Ballet, January 22, 2019, marked George Balanchine’s 90th anniversary. The audience and dancers saluted this master choreographer and architect of American ballet by passing his dances from body to the next, one generation to the next.
To celebrate the founding force of NYCB, the company presented three Balanchine classics from the “Greek Trilogy”: Apollo, Orpheus, and Agon.
Dipped in the ancient Greek mythology, Apollo, one of the oldest ballets in the NYCB repertory contemplates a youthful god surrounded by three muses. Like the ancient Greeks who prized symmetry, harmony and beauty, so too Balanchine forges a ballet of balance and precision.
In his debut as Apollo, Taylor Stanley projects a more serious, conscientious young man. He stands with his leg outstretched to the side, poised for destiny. This interpretation of the fair god of music and the arts, appears thoughtful and curious. Joined by the three muses, Apollo finds his way through a world of art. Structurally, many of the movements appear two-dimenstional, as if Balanchine animates ancient Greek images found on the red clay vases.
Precise in his footing, Stanley demonstrates restraint rather than a deep-breathing freedom-- perhaps in part because he is still absorbing the keenly precise shape and intent of each movement in his muscle memory. But Stanley does relish a couple of passages—for instance when his arm strums the lyre three times, when he scuffles on his heels in a, spirited staccato-style moonwalk, Stanley telegraphs ease and freedom.
Not to be neglected, the three muses Calliope, Polyhymnia and Terpsichore surround him in flirtatious demonstrations, Assured and musically dynamic, Tiler Peck’s Terpsichore teases and challenges Apollo. As Calliope, Indiana Woodward proved she could swim inside Igor Stravinsky’s music while fleshing out Balanchine’s toe pricks and prances. Brittany Pollack rounded out the trio.
Balanchine’s 1948 Orpheus, is steeped in mythological imagery constructed by Isamu Noguchi, a sculptor and set designer who had been collaborating with Martha Graham since 1935. Visually tantalizing, the set depicts a wilder land where rocks, and hanging moons refract the light. Gonzalo Garcia was Orpheus, the love stricken god whose music could melt hearts. Wildly in love with Eurydice (Sterling Hyltin), Orpheus descends into Hades to bring her back to the living. Mixed into the plot the whirling dervish Furies descend in animalistic headdress whipping up the action on top of Stravinsky’s cascading music.
Finally united, Hyltin and and a very assured Gonzalo gravitate towards each other in a duet that devolves into Hyltin buzzing around him like a bee overly desperate to see his face. In the end, Orpheus is unable to resist, looks on his Eurydice only to lose her to the underworld forever. On this occasion, when Eurydice loses all life breath and collapses in his arms, instead of mysteriously being pulled back into the underworld (under the curtain) she’s physical pushed back into the netherworld.
Although Orpheus was choreographed in the United States and Apollo debuted in Paris as part of the Ballets Russes season, “Orpheus” feels very theatrically European, whereas “Apollo” exudes a new world look.
Now Agon could only be an American ballet. This “black and white” ballet pits dancers against their bodies in physically demanding choreography that extends the limits of fierceness and flexibility. Outstanding in the central duet, Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle negotiated the complicated balances with grit. Kowroski’s coiled strength exhaled into a leap that snapped around a turn so fast the audience gasped. From then on, Angle’s unpretentious partnering and her long, flexible legs forged the signature Balanchine ethos.