Large ballet companies are, by necessity, always in a state of transition, with young dancers being promoted and senior dancers retiring, often with great fanfare and wistfulness. But now, more than ever, it seems that New York City Ballet is top-heavy with principals—30 in all, versus 15 soloists. A rash of promotions has taken place in the last few years, some of them premature, some well-deserved. But there hardly seems to be any difference between the two ranks casting-wise; soloists (and even corps members) seem to appear in lead roles with frequency, particularly with the age-appropriate leads of Romeo & Juliet. And some principals seem to disappear for spans of time.
The casting for the company’s recent run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream showcased the exciting young principal Sara Mearns (Titania) opposite Gonzalo Garcia (Oberon), in contrast to company veteran Darci Kistler, in the lead role in many of the performances. Mearns is gaining a reputation as a risk-taker, in a good way. She throws herself into her performing, pushing the limits of physics and emotional boundaries, and sometimes pays the price. Her controlled abandon shows up in simple ways, like the way she tosses her head and exposes her throat, or pulls her arms back like airplane wings. Her arabesques have gained amplitude—so loose now that they threaten to topple her weight. The theatricality of Balanchine’s Midsummer suits her expressiveness in a way that the more abstract dances don’t.
NYCB just announced the pending retirement of four longtime principals: Albert Evans, Philip Neal, Yvonne Borree, and Darci Kistler (wife of artistic director Peter Martins). I usually catch performances that feature dancers other than Borree and Kistler, since for many years I have not felt rewarded for paying them keen attention. They contrast with, say, Damian Woetzler or Nikolai Hubbe, who left the company in good form (or Nina Ananiashvili at ABT last year). For sure it is a difficult decision to retire, but for many, it is long due, particularly at a time when corps members are being cut for budget reasons. In any case, I look forward to seeing the younger generation take hold of the repertory and make it their own, in particular the rhyming pair—Tyler Angle, elegant, and exemplary with epaulement and partnering, and Tiler Peck, technically stellar, whose love of dance shines brightly.
The newly configured David H. Koch Theater (nee, State) now has two aisles perpendicular to the stage (and the new elevatored orchestra pit). I never thought I’d say this, but they do break the cohesion of the old layout, especially since they seem to have left the space between rows (generous, that is) the same. However, no longer needing to crash into the feet and knees of dozens of people far outweighs this looser knit feeling. I do wish they would lay down carpet or rubber runners on the aisle floors though… even if there is no late seating during action proper, they allow it in overtures, and the clicking heels and soles are perfectly distracting. And one note on the new Martins ballet, Naive and Sentimental Music, which features mainly principals—I’m not sure which is more troubling, the leaden choreography that has the men dragging around the women like sacks of cement, or the fact that it’s being danced repeatedly with so much grand repertory and dancing talent available.
Image: Sara Mearns as Tatiana and Adrian Danchig-Waring as Bottom in NYCB’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Paul Kolnik