So yesterday I headed into New York to see the NYC Ballet for the first time and I thought I’d share my experience, as well as giving you all an update on how my classes are going and what’s coming up the next few weeks.
A night at the New York City Ballet
So first, the NYC Ballet. If I was forced to sum my entire evening up in one word I think I would have to go with:
My trip to New York started with a trip to Capezio for some supplies, but I’ll expand on that later and concentrate on the Ballet first. So what did I see? I seem to have picked a perfect evening for my first ‘real’ trip to the Ballet as I managed to catch a little of everything in the triple bill:
- Serenade (music by Tchaikovsky, choreography by Balanchine)
- The Magic Flute (music by Drigo, choreography by Martins)
- Stars and Stripes (music by Sousa, choreography by Balanchine)
A delightful mix of deep emotion, humor, solos, partnering, ensemble dances, “story Ballet” and “plotless Ballet” – a bit of everything really!
The David H Kock Theater and the Met at the Lincoln Center
First off, I just want to say how stunning the David H. Koch Theater is – I have always loved going to the Lincoln Center however had never been in the Koch Theater so I was taken aback when I entered. The foyer is a relatively innocuous space but as soon as you walk up either of the side staircases you are faced with a huge atrium surrounded on each of the four levels with a walkway around the entire atrium. I had a ticket for the fourth ring which meant a trek up a few sets of stairs but I was pleasantly surprised to find that even that high up I had a pretty good view of the stage. I was towards the center of the ring and could see the stage in its entirety, the only thing I seemed to miss out on was detail in some facial expressions of the dancers. The seats were fantastically comfortable, and I had plenty of leg room. But now onto the Ballet.
Principals: Ashley Bouder, Rebecca Krohn, Jennifer Ringer, Ask la Cour, Jonathan Stafford
I had heard of Serenade referred to as a seminal piece, and the first piece Balanchine choreographed in America and so was eager to see what made it so special. The strings lifted their bows, started playing the opening bars and the curtain raised to an array of women, bathed in blue light and fabric, with their arms outstretched as if trying to catch the moon in the night sky. It is such a striking image, and I really can’t do justice to it with mere words.
From then on I was transfixed. Serenade is essentially plotless, and was originally conceived by Balanchine as an exercise for his students to practice stage technique. As any balletomane will surely tell you, the piece evolved as classes progressed and he worked in little nuances from the practices: a girl arriving late, the sudden appearance of men at a class, a girl falling down (which begins the final Elegy movement). Balanchine also took a little artistic licence in switching the final two movements therefore ending the piece with the Elegy, a much darker ending than if he had stuck with the original finale.
Serenade by NYC Ballet (Photo © Paul Kolnik)
After reaching for the moon the “lesson” begins, with all the women working in unison before the centre dancer starts to distinguish herself. The rest of the story is essentially a love story (or perhaps two) all taking place in the soft blue lighting. Soon the men are introduced, first the two principals each partner one of the females and then later four of the corps danseurs enter to partner multiple women in the corps.
I’m not going to try and describe what happens in terms of combinations or specific moves, but I can remember some delightfully intricate sections with the corps and some superb partnering between the principals. I do want to describe the final movement however.
At the end of the third movement (the pieces original finale) one of the principals has collapsed and lies on the floor. In enters one of the male principals with his eyes covered by a woman, who has her arms clasped around his chest and he is dragging towards the body. As he reaches the body the other woman finally uncovers his eyes so he can see the fallen girl. What follows is a stunningly beautiful final movement which culminates in what I took to signify the fallen girls death followed by a gorgeous scene where she gets raised by three men with her back arched and arms back in agony and walked slowly to the back of the stage while her “sisters” raise en pointe and mimic her pose while the curtain falls.
All in all, Serenade left me utterly speechless. I am glad there was an intermission straight after as I could walk outside and reign my emotions in. For having no real story, Serenade somehow managed to pull very strong and deep emotions out of me, and I had tears in my eyes for most of the final movement. The dancing was impeccable, and it made me realise how much the dancers must have to open themselves up emotionally to perform this piece. I can honestly say that Serenade is one of the most beautiful things I have seen. A masterpiece.
The Magic Flute
Principals: Megan Fairchild, Andrew Veyette
Next up was a complete change of pace – The Magic Flute with music by Drigo and choreography by Peter Martins. Now many of you, like myself, may know Mozart’s fantastic opera Die Zauberflote, however this is completely different music, and indeed a completely different storyline! The basic plot is as follows: peasant girl Lise (Fairchild) is in love with peasant boy Luke (Veyette); Lise’s parents then pretty much sell their daughter’s hand in marriage to an old, creepy king. Oberon appears disguised as a hag and peasant boy helps him/her (I thought Oberon was the king of the faeries, yet in this production he is actually a she) and in return gets given the Magic Flute – an enchanted object that, when played, forces all around to dance. Much jollity ensues as he torments the villagers and king, however he soon gets threatened with hanging because of his misdeeds. Just in time, Oberon reappears and explains that it is his/her own flute after which suddenly everyone wants Lise and Luke to marry and everyone ends up very happy. Kinda typical fairytale stuff, and a nice happy ending for all!
So now that the story is out of the way, what about the dancing? Well first off, this dancing was of a much different style to Serenade and there was a lot of miming to convey the storyline. In fact, other than the villagers, Lise and Luke most of the rest of the cast wore heeled shoes and refrained from dancing, sticking solely to mime. That being said, Fairchild and Veyette easily filled the dancing quote with a stellar performance. You could feel their connection on stage (even in such a comic Ballet) and this was explained when I found out later that they are in fact engaged in real life!
Fairchild and Veyette in The Magic Flute (from NYC Ballet's Twitter account)
One scene in particular I enjoyed was Veyette’s first solo which was basically his character showing off to Lise – involving lots of grand jetes, fouettes and other impressive stuff. What made it even better though, was through all this 6 boys from the American School of Ballet were onstage with him as his backing dancers, doing smaller versions of the moves he was performing. It was great to see the boys enjoying themselves so much, and they were ridiculously good considering their age. Needless to say, they got one of the loudest cheers of the night!
There were some beautiful partnering sections between Fairchild and Veyette and some lovely dancing from a handful of soloists and the corps including a section when the young boys got partners and danced once again. The culmination was a fantastic staging where Fairchild and Veyette danced at center stage surrounded by soloists and the arrangement was matched upstage either side by the young boys and girls.
On that note, I think The Magic Flute would be a great Ballet to take a family to see – that’s not to say that the dancing isn’t exemplary , it is just that there is so much pantomime and humor to the plot that it is ridiculously fun to watch also!
Stars and Stripes
Principals: Erica Pereira, Savannah Lowery, Daniel Ulbricht, Sara Mearns, Charles Askegard
So the night was rounded off with Stars and Stripes which, as the program put it, “contains as much pure dancing as many full-length classical ballets.” They certainly weren’t lying, and as soon as the snare started up for the first movement, the ‘Corcoran Cadets’ appeared, resplendent in military dress (and bright pink tutus!).
This was yet again another style of Ballet completely different from what had preceded. Whereas Serenade was comprised of lush, almost sensual movements, and The Magic Flute filled with expressive, story-based combinations, Stars and Stripes is instead filled with sharp movements, carried out with military-like precision and a smattering of salutes.
The first two ‘campaigns’ were with all female dancers, Corcoran Cadets in pink and the Rifle Regiment in Yellow. Both principals were fantastic however unfortunately during the second campaign Savannah Lowery slipped while running through the stage. She finished the section of dancing but did not return for the rest of the movement, resulting in the corps dancing without a principal for the rest of the campaign. For the final movement (where every regiment dances) Savannah had been replaced by her understudy so as not to affect the overall choreography. I haven’t heard exactly what was the matter with her, but I really hope that she is okay, and just remained out of the final movement as a precaution. In a weird way, this did remind me of how live and real watching a Ballet is. There isn’t room to “do another take” if something goes wrong and as someone once said to me “Ballet is truly an art set in the present, the here and now.”
After the Rifle Regiment, out came ‘Thunder and Gladiator” – the all male regiment. Unsurprisingly, I was looking forward to this regiment the most and couldn’t wait to see plenty of jumps, leaps and turns. I was certainly not disappointed! Every single member of the corps was fantastic but were ultimately overshadowed by the brilliant Daniel Ulbricht. His leaps looked effortless, his turns crisp and he dominated the stage, even while surrounded by 20 or so guys. It sounds a little thing, but another thing that impressed me was his salutes: he had the crispest salutes of anyone dancing, so crisp that I am convinced he must have spent some time in the army! They really gave a feeling that he was the commander of these troops and just added another layer to the performance.
NYC Ballet's Stars and Stripes (Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Following Thunder and Gladiator was Liberty Bell and El Capitan – the Pas des Deux of the piece. This was fantastic, with Mearns and Askegard feeding off each other. They put just enough humor into it to make it fun, while retaining the integrity of the piece. Mearns shone, and I also loved Askegard’s jumping in the coda (where he brings his feet up so his legs form a flat-diamond shape).
For the finale all regiments re-enter, with a stand-in for Savannah, and each get a little highlight before all finishing together while a red and white striped flag was raised at the rear of the stage. I did note with a smile that the men ended up doing a lot of work in this finale – having to partner both sets of women, and not getting much of a break in between!
And all of a sudden it was all over, the lights were raised and I headed out to the Lincoln Center fountain still a little shell-shocked by my night. I had gone through a wealth of emotions during Serenade, laughed through the story of The Magic Flute, and been impressed by the virtuosity of Stars and Stripes. I had experienced a feast for the eyes: dancers with perfect technique, sets varying from effectively bare to immensely detailed, and on top of that the orchestra sounded fantastic. In fact, whereas usually I would concentrate on the music I was amazed at how much of a back seat it took in my mind. I certainly didn’t ignore the music, but it definitely took second place to the dancing.
So to sum up, I will reiterate my one-word description of my evening: Stunning. I can’t think of another word to describe it so perfectly.
Ballet Class Update
So that was my evening at the Ballet – but how are my classes going? Well after my second class I had decided I wanted to do more each week, whether in the form of classes, pilates, yoga or just stretching. With this in mind I headed to my third lesson eager as always. I had more fun than ever and felt I was coming along by the minute. My favorite part was some travelling we did involving two pique passe followed by an arabesque and step. We did it along both diagonals and felt I was starting to nail it when my teacher singled me out for a demonstration. He then handed me a flat tabor-style drum and told me to hold it inside my leading arm. He then made me do the move again, moving the drum out during the arabesque to point out how to hold my arm during the movement. Repeating without the drum I was a little surprised how enthusiastic my teacher was with my technique – he certainly seemed pleased!
One thing that I did find a little confusing was Glissades vs Sissones – it turns out I liked glissades so much that I kept doing them when we moved onto sissones! Definitely something to work on.. I also need to concentrate on my bum (the first time I’ve ever been told that in my life!) and use it to help my weight distribution.
At the end of the lesson I asked my teacher for a quick word and told him my desire to do more and asked what he advised. The first thing he replied with was “can you make the Wednesday class?”. I told him I wasn’t sure and he said that he hoped I could as I had “natural aptitude” and it would be a shame to waste it on only one class a week! I was a little taken aback by this and asked him if there was anything else he suggested. I asked about stretching and the first thing he warned about was lots of static stretching, as this could damage ligaments. His alternative was active stretching: things like grand battements with my back to the Barre (or bathroom sink in my case) to feel the stretch.
After a quick look at my schedule after class I realised I could make the Wednesday class with a little shifting around of stuff, and so signed up straight away. Tuesday seemed to take forever, and Wednesday morning/afternoon even more so but soon enough Wednesday evening came around and I headed back to Princeton for class.
This second class is also taught by Douglas Martin, which I’m really pleased about, and is much smaller than the Monday class – only 10 or 15 students compared to more like 20 to 25. This meant a lot more individual attention which I feel will really help me improve. Another thing that I think is going to help is that there is also an early-twenties beginner guy in this class! I didn’t get much chance to talk to him before the class but as the only two men in the class (and being pretty much the same height and build) we were paired for things like the spotting exercises and travelling across the diagonals.
It was nice to compare technique too – I think at the moment it seems he is a little more flexible whereas my legs are a little stronger so it will be interesting to see how we both progress. Having two young guys also meant Douglas concentrated on a few male specific points during the class – for example, as we are ‘princes’ we have to hold our arms a little lower than we were, as princes only speak softly… I don’t know if I quite got the link between the two, but it certainly was something to think about during the lesson. Oh, and I learned I suck at skipping – obviously not enough practice as a kid in the playground!
So now I’m taking two classes a week (Mon & Wed, both Ballet 101) and the other guy is going to start taking Monday class too so it’ll be good to have someone my own age and sex to discuss class with (most of the class are 40yrs+ women!)and hopefully keep progressing with. So that was why I ended up taking a trip to Capezio – my kit was only just dry for the Wednesday class after washing on Monday so I bought a spare dance belt and tights so I don’t need to worry so much in the future.
As a final note, I’m looking for ideas for what to write posts on – I have a few ideas for some future posts but would like to know what you guys want to read about! Leave any ideas in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time, keep dancing!