Review | New York City Ballet Arrives in Israel, but Fails to Meet Expectations

Tal Levin
Tal Levin
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New York City Ballet dancers perform 'After the Rain.'
New York City Ballet dancers perform 'After the Rain.'Credit: Serena S.Y. Hsu
Tal Levin
Tal Levin

Besides Bolshoi, there’s probably no better classical ballet than the New York City Ballet. Its dancers are graced not only with amazing technique, but also elegance, versatility and enviable agility. Thus, a show in which the troupe’s stars perform works by the greatest choreographers of the 20th century ought to be a stellar event.

But in practice, Thursday evening’s performance at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center failed to meet expectations. In some cases, this was due to the choice of dancers, and in others, to the choice of the works – or, more specifically, to the decision to mainly perform duets and solos from these works. There weren’t enough ensemble pieces.

The evening begins with a selection from Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night” set to the music of Chopin’s famous Nocturnes. The first duet is, unfortunately, also the lamest of the show, both because of the pianist’s overly slow and stuttering performance and because of the dancers, who were somewhat hesitant.

Christopher Wheeldon’s 'After the Rain'

Robbins distinguishes the duets not just via the different Nocturnes to which they are set, but also in the style of movement. The first is delicate and lyrical, the second sharp and rigid, and the third stormy and full of desire.

It is not clear that this was the most interesting Robbins work that could have been chosen for such an evening, and certainly not for the opening piece. But soloist ballerina Teresa Reichlen stood out for her delicate hands and elegant movements.

The second selection was “Les Lutins” by Johan Kobborg, a celebrated Danish choreographer who spent some time with the New York City Ballet as a guest choreographer. This selection is essentially a virtuoso trio, full of humor, and includes live accompaniment onstage by a violinist and pianist.

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It’s a likeable piece, and certainly packed with opportunities for the marvelous dancers to show off their abilities (here, unlike in the first selection, the level of all the participants was uniformly high). But beyond that, it didn’t leave much of an impression. Perhaps that’s the nature of works selected for evenings of this sort.

New York City Ballet dancers perform Balanchine's 'Diamonds.'

I had high expectations for Christopher Wheeldon’s duet “After the Rain.” A proper performance of this work should echo the duet between the piano and the violin. On one side, the piano dictates the pace, just like the drip-drip of rain on a winter morning, or like heartbeats that slowly grow louder. On the other side is the violin, which is in a continuous legato, giving the feeling of movement without beginning or end.

What undermines the final result here is the choice of dancers, whose execution is ponderous. But above all, their performance doesn't have the right emotional baggage.

The last two selections are also the best of the evening. The first was a duet from “Diamonds,” which is the third and final section of George Balanchine’s masterpiece “Jewels.”

The choreographer drew his inspiration for this work from the gleaming precious stones in the display windows on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and each section is devoted to a different gem – emeralds, rubies and diamonds. In addition, each section is dedicated to a different country that played a role in Balanchine’s biography – France, the United States (especially New York) and Russia.

The dancers perform the opening duet from “Diamonds.” Here, the audience can enjoy Teresa Reichlen’s elegant performance; she was perfectly cast for the role. It’s just a pity that we only saw the duet rather than the entire piece.

The final selection is also by Balanchine, this time from a more lighthearted work, “Who Cares.” It’s a wonderful crowd-pleaser, comprised of duets and solos that are full of technical challenges, mainly because of the choreographer’s tendency to link together steps that are extremely difficult to perform consecutively, and to violate the conventions of continuity of movement that were accepted in classical ballet until he arrived.

This is also an opportunity to enjoy the talents of soloist Megan Fairchild, one of the New York City Ballet’s veteran dancers. Despite having given birth several months ago, her nimble feet manage to meet Balanchine’s challenges without difficulty.

New York City Ballet dancers performing 'After the Rain.' Credit: Serena S.Y. Hsu

Many ballet troupes perform tours of this kind, and they definitely have an economic logic to them (given they have few dancers and no lighting or other major expenses, yet the troupe’s reputation guarantees full halls). Nevertheless, for anyone familiar with this troupe and the complete ballets from which these selections were taken, this is a fairly mediocre show.

My hope is that the New York City Ballet will come here with a fuller ensemble, so that we can see the world’s best dancers at the height of their powers.

The Stars of American Ballet – soloists from the New York City Ballet in a selection of works. Herzliya Performing Arts Center, March 5.

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