A farewell and the promise of a new future at City Ballet

What stood out? What stopped? Who was still up? The big event of the New York City Ballet’s spring season, the The Stravinsky Festiva...


What stood out? What stopped? Who was still up?

The big event of the New York City Ballet’s spring season, the The Stravinsky Festival, crowded and publicized as it was, was somehow not the most memorable. Something less organized was: modern life. The six-week season, which ended on Sunday, felt Herculean, a testament to the effort, but not the kind born of sweat. The cast, always complicated with so many moving parts, has become even more knotty with the domino effect of Covid and injuries.

Surprise debuts have been made (Georgina Pazcoguin as Polyhymnia in “Apollo”) and debuts have been lost (Ashley Laracey, unfortunately, as Polyhymnia in “Apollo”). As pazcoguin wrote on Instagram ahead of her performances: “Wild times. Sending love to my colleagues who have prepared this role and for various reasons cannot take the stage. I will try to make you proud.

That bumpy, crushing feeling never really subsided. Cast changes were so common that even on the morning of a show, you didn’t always know who was playing that night. At first, one of the company’s managing directors, Sara Mearns, was injured and then contracted Covid-19. (And judging by her Instagram posts, she was not asymptomatic.) Other veteran managers, including Ashley Bouder and Megan Fairchild, were missing for all or most of the season.

And, eight days before his scheduled farewell performance, Amar Ramasar got injured while performing “Four Seasons” by Jerome Robbins.

But your heart really had to go out to Laracey, who after stepping into lead roles in “Symphony in Three Movements” and “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” tested positive for coronavirus and was kicked out of “Orpheus,” along with “ Apollo.”

Laracey, who has been a soloist since 2013, is in her 20th year with City Ballet. It is unlikely that she will be promoted to director, as she said herself in a recent interview in WWD. While she may not be the strongest dancer in the company, she has this weird, wizarding thing about her. I was eager to see what she would do with her role in “Orpheus” (1948), a ballet that still seems inert – Balanchine’s rare work that seems dated. She brings an otherworldly quality to almost everything she dances.

My biggest disappointment this season? I was on a trip and missed the premiere of the new “Law of Mosaics” by Pam Tanowitz. By the time I got back it had been completely cancelled, another fallout of illness and injury.

On Sunday, the season ended with Ramasar’s farewell performance, the luminous Entertainment pas de deux in Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opposite Sterling Hyltin. Due to his injury – a partial tear in the quadriceps tendon – he shared the role with Andrew Veyette, another principal who replaced the more virtuosic choreography.

It’s no secret that Ramasar has had a tough few years. In 2018, he and two other male dancers were caught up in a texting and photo-sharing scandal; he was fired from the company and then reinstated after decision of an arbitrator. His performances since his return weren’t always easy to watch; he took me out of the dance. And lately, he seemed to oscillate between two general moods: impetuous or humble.

On Sunday, he chose humility for the show; bows were something else entirely. Jumping off the stage, he waded through the crowd in search of a hug. His destination was a surprise: Peter Martins, former artistic director of the City Ballet, who retired in 2018, amid accusations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse. (Martins has denied the charges.) Another dancer involved in the photo-sharing scandal, Zachary Catazaro, was among the line of people wishing Ramasar well on stage. Throughout, the crowd roared their approval, as if the last few years had never happened.

Yet so much was good about City Ballet this season – the parts that had to do with reality ballet. And while it was a long six weeks, it also allowed a new generation to take on the lead roles. The week of performances of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” ended the season in style; this richly detailed 1962 ballet could have been choreographed yesterday. It’s the rare story ballet with exuberant choreography and real humor.

Jovani Furlan, who took over the role of Ramasar in the Entertainment after his injury, captured the continuous flow of the choreography in both its attentive and romantic partnership and in its noble dancing. He was also notable in the Sarabande section of Balanchine’s “Agon”. But her presence is worth more than any role or performance: it’s a reminder that there’s a new generation on the march at City Ballet, and it’s astounding.

That word best sums up Indiana Woodward, who shone all season with more than her usual youthful verve and enthusiasm – witnessing her ever-increasing depth has been a delight. In the Entertainment, she had a melancholic mix of discernment and splendor as she danced with Veyette, a veteran better looking than him in years. Woodward is the name you hope to see in any program; his musicianship lit up Robbins’ “Piano Pieces” and “Four Seasons,” which were one of the finest programs of the season.

Curiously, although the season was dominated by the Stravinsky Festival – a selection of several of Balanchine’s most profound ballets, honoring the 50th anniversary of a historic festival – what lingered were the performances of a pair of rarely seen works by Robbins: Along with ‘Piano Pieces’ were the sumptuous ‘Goldberg Variations’ at the start of the season.

Beautifully staged, full of subtlety and richness, these ballets brought out the expansive qualities of the dancers: Unity Phelan, in the June-Barcarolle of “Piano Pieces”, was springy and otherworldly, dancing in another domain ; Anthony Huxley and Roman Mejia, alternating in the same ballet, showed how two approaches, one scrupulously precise, the other bold and daring, could be radiant. And speaking of radiance, Phelan, in her debut as Titania in “Midsummer,” pretty much shone.

At the Stravinsky Festival, there were glorious debuts too, including Isabella LaFreniere in “Firebird,” a long-awaited incandescent performance that used every angle of her long body. His leap was something fantastic, like an illustration of courage; his expansive arms and back were full of breadth. But LaFrenière’s beguilingly vivid imagination seems to be the spark that elevates her technique – especially in roles like Firebird, the queen in “The Cage” and Helena in “Midsummer.” In the right role, her dancing is an emotional response to the music. She’s the kind of soulful, independent dancer who evokes the spirit of the greats. Kyra Nichols.

But so many dancers are thriving right now. Mira Nadon, Emilie Gerrity and Mejia seem ripe for promotion; and the promotion to director of Chun Wai Chan – a noble and generous presence in all the roles in which I have seen him dance – must be a good sign. Farewells are not just farewells but new beginnings, a new beginning for a new generation led by dancers like Chan, Furlan, Woodward and many more. What has the spring season shown us? This talent spills over into the ranks. The proof was on stage.



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