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New York City Ballet: Prodigal Son, Mirage, Western Symphony

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New York City Ballet
(New York City Ballet Website)

Prodigal Son
Western Symphony

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief: Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress: Rosemary Dunleavy
Assistant to the Ballet Master in Chief: Sean Lavery
Guest Teacher: Merrill Ashley
Children’s Ballet Master: Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director: Fayçal Karoui
Chairman of the Board: John L. Vogelstein
Managing Dir. Communications and Special Projects: Robert Daniels
Manager, Media Relations: Katharina Plumb
Assoc., Communications and Special Projects, Caitlin Gillette
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 22, 2010

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Prodigal Son (1950) Ballet in Three Scenes: Libretto by Boris Kochno, Music by Sergei Prokofiev, Choreography be George Balanchine, Décor by Georges Rouault, original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Maurice Kaplow, Performed by Joaquin De Luz as The Prodigal Son, Maria Kowroski as The Siren, Ask la Cour as Father, Adam Hendrickson and Sean Suozzi as Servants to The Prodigal Son, Likolani Brown and Glenn Keenan as The Sisters, and the Company as Drinking Companions. Balanchine, the 24 years old and Diaghilev's last Ballet Master, choreographed this work three months prior to Diaghilev's death. Rouault created the décor, and this ballet was premiered in 1950 for NYC Ballet. (NYCB Notes).

Tonight was the seventh and final newly commissioned work in this season’s Architecture of Dance Festival. And, tonight’s star choreographer was Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins. The air was thick with anticipation, but, as is the custom, a warm-up ballet precedes the World Premiere, and tonight’s opening act was Balanchine’s 1950 Prodigal Son. This is a ballet I’ve reviewed numerous times, but there’s always a fresh detail or stunning nuance to be experienced in each viewing. Joaquin De Luz was abundantly energized and impassioned in the role, beating his chest, jumping mid air, as he opens the ballet with the requisite angst. His force of personality is striking. Even Sean Suozzi and Adam Hendrickson, as the Prodigal Son’s Servants, exude a massive temper in brutish fights and scrambles.

Maria Kowroski was at her usual best, the iconic Siren, gazing into the audience, deliberately punctuating each step, en pointe, in her theatrical arrival. She was glowing and searing, as she soared over The Prodigal Son, like a gliding plane. When the Drinking Companions appeared, their cartwheels and emotional thunder seemed extra dramatic. Maurice Kaplow was in the pit, two nights before his own Farewell, and he maximized the percussive force of this Prokofiev score. Toward the ballet’s finale, when Mr. De Luz is spent from his exhausting and tumultuous journey, he writhes and crawls, slowly, persuasively, painfully, a tour de force performance.

Mirage (World Premiere): Music by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Choreography by Peter Martins, Scenic Design by Santiago Calatrava, Costumes by Marc Happel, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Guest Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Guest Solo Violinist: Leila Josefowicz, Performed by Jennie Somogyi, Jared Angle, Kathryn Morgan, Robert Fairchild, Erica Pereira, Anthony Huxley, and the Company.

In the lead up to Peter Martins’ new Mirage, we were again shown City Ballet’s Santiago Calatrava background film, describing the concept and construction of his five new stage sets. Three, including tonight’s, would be structural, and two would be painted backdrops. In addition to the film, Peter Martins and Composer/Guest Conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen were awarded onstage Letters of Distinction from the American Music Center. This organization awards such Letters in recognition of “a significant contribution to the field of contemporary American music”. Past recipients include such choreographers as George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham, and such composers as Leonard Bernstein and Dizzy Gillespie. I also saw on tonight’s Press Notes that Hudson Scenic Studios engineered and built Mr. Calatrava’s extraordinary steel set, and they deserve kudos for all that they contributed to this Season’s Architecture of Dance New Choreography and Music Festival.

First, the Esa-Pekka Salonen commissioned score. It was gripping and atonal, including a lengthy violin solo, played by the virtuosic Leila Josefowicz. In fact, I intend to look for a CD of this music, just to linger mentally on its fascinating, electrified refrains. Mr. Calatrava’s set, as mentioned above, is the Festival’s third steel structure, with wiry spokes that seem to move and shimmer. In fact the entire structure moves like a bird in flight that morphs into a heart held high. First it’s whitish-steel grey, then toward the ballet’s finale it’s lit with a plaid, pastel rainbow, a mesmerizing creation. Robert Fairchild appears and gazes toward the audience. He’s a charismatic dancer in any choreography, and today was no exception. I found Mirage to unfold in exceptionally satisfying simplicity, merging magically with the searing score.

Kathryn Morgan and Robert Fairchild were lone, then duo figures in the center, then sideline, of this new ballet. There was a lot to absorb on first viewing, with action happening simultaneously in various stage locations, stage front, stage rear - through the set’s center, stage-rear, through the set’s sides, stage-rear, under the rising set, then stage front once again, and so on. Choreographic design included sequences of arms held toward the ceiling, in solo and duo combinations, plus sequences of propeller-like swinging motifs, catapulting the body into a spin. But, the enchanting image I walked away with was Kathryn Morgan, in full focus, entering under the set, with its bird-like wings. Jennie Somogyi exuded depth with a serious, internalized persona. She was partnered by Jared Angle, who can grow into the role. In visual form, he is a sophisticated dancer, but he needs to find and present his emotional center. Erica Pereira and Anthony Huxley were poised and purposeful.

It was exciting to have the composer conduct his own score. In future seasons, it would be wonderful to raise the orchestra pit, a new addition to the recent reconstruction, and have the musicians and conductor be the stars. City Ballet Orchestra was in impressive form tonight, true musical artists extraordinaire.

Western Symphony (1954): Music by Hershy Kay, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by John Boyt, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor, Maurice Kaplow, Performed by Rebecca Krohn, Jonathan Stafford, Megan Fairchild, Craig Hall, Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, and the Company. Some of the American folk songs in this ballet are "Red River Valley", "Good Night Ladies", and "Rye Whiskey". (NYCB Notes).

After Prokofiev and Salonen, Hershy Kay was quite a contrast. Rebecca Krohn and Jonathan Stafford led the “Allegro”, Megan Fairchild and Craig Hall led the “Adagio”, and Sara Mearns and Robert Fairchild led the “Rondo”. At this point, I fondly remembered Nikolaj Hübbe’s 2008 Farewell, where he led the “Rondo”, Nilas Martins led the “Allegro”, and Albert Evans led the “Rondo”. Times have changed, but not all dancers look great in a cowboy hat, particularly Craig Hall, who’s so stunning in Afternoon of a Faun and After the Rain. I suggest looking to further casting options, as times and the Company change. However, Robert Fairchild seems to shine in each and every role, with unabashed bravura, wit, and showmanship. Megan Fairchild, in the “Adagio”, was perfectly cast, as she tiptoed fast en pointe, forward and backward, across the stage, to flirt with her cowboy, who’s surrounded by chorus girls.

Sara Mearns, in a show-stopping performance, powerfully partnered by Mr. Fairchild in the “Rondo”, was filled with sensuality, sassiness, and pizzazz. Maurice Kaplow had the conducting honors, so close to his Farewell.

Kathryn Morgan and Robert Fairchild
in Peter Martins' "Mirage"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet Cast
in Peter Martins' "Mirage"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at