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New York City Ballet: Charles Askegard Farewell: Diamonds Pas de Deux, Episodes, In Memory of…, Western Symphony
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New York City Ballet: Charles Askegard Farewell: Diamonds Pas de Deux, Episodes, In Memory of…, Western Symphony

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New York City Ballet
(New York City Ballet Website)

Charles Askegard Farewell
Diamonds Pas de Deux
In Memory of…
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
Children’s Ballet Master, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Fayçal Karoui
Managing Dir. Communications & Special Projects, Robert Daniels
Manager, Media Relations, Katharina Plumb
Assoc., Communications &Special Projects, Caitlin Gillette
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 9, 2011

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Diamonds Pas de Deux, from the ballet “Jewels”: Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by Peter Harvey, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky (from Symphony No. 3 in D Major, Conductor: Clotilde Otranto, Performed by Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard.

There are many emotions that the ballet community brings to a Principal’s Farewell performance, running the gamut from reverent to wrenching. In the case of Charles Askegard, I would say reverent is appropriate. He has been a superb and attentive, chivalrous and charming partner to current and past ballerina Principals and Soloists, including those in today’s matinee. One of his most renowned partners, who is visually and emotionally a match in Balanchine and Robbins ballets, is Maria Kowroski. So, it was fitting today for Ms. Kowroski to be cast in two of the four ballets in Mr. Askegard’s Farewell.

The first ballet for the Kowroski-Askegard duo was Diamonds Pas de Deux from Balanchine’s Jewels. Since I had just seen them together for this pas de deux that occurs in the third segment of the full-length Jewels, on this occasion I could focus on the nuanced gestures, exaggerated today in this matinee goodbye. It was obvious that both dancers poured their hearts into this pas de deux, with Ms. Kowroski’s extreme arched back, elongated leg lifts, Mr. Askegard’s partnered lifts, and their embraces. Clotilde Otranto kept the Orchestra especially poignant and full, allowing a few extra moments for improvisational flourish. Yet, so much of this particular pas de deux seemed mournful, melancholy, prolonged. It took on the mood of the lakeside pas de deux of Swan Lake, so it was fitting that this was the first, not last, ballet in Mr. Askegard’s Farewell. One solo instrument, maybe a bassoon, was heard in eloquent solitude. It was obvious that this partnership was solid and seasoned.

Episodes (1959): Music from the orchestral works of Anton von Webern, Choreography by George Balanchine, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Clotilde Otranto, Performed by Abi Stafford, Tyler Angle, Teresa Reichlen, Ask la Cour, Jennie Somogyi, Sébastien Marcovici, Maria Kowroski, Charles Askegard, and the Company.

Balanchine’s Episodes has four movements, and Charles Askegard would not appear until the fourth, the “Ricercata” in six voices from Bach’s “Musical Offering”. The first, “Symphony”, Opus 21, featured Abi Stafford and Tyler Angle, plus a Corps ensemble. It was apparent that Ms. Stafford had some stiffness, with Corps dancers reaching higher leg lifts and expressing more intensity. Episodes, scored to orchestral works of Anton von Webern, is anything but light. Mr. Angle, as well, needed to exude more depth, drama, purposefulness. Thankfully, soon, in “Five Pieces”, Opus 10, Teresa Reichlen and Ask la Cour came to the rescue with one of the most stunning moments of Fall Season. These two dancers do not need intensity-prodding. Ms. Reichlen was upside-down, clinging to Mr. la Cour’s leg and neck, in his rear shadow, and the spotlight stopped and started with pregnant pauses. This second movement was a true matinee highlight. Clotilde Otranto, still in the pit, mastered the moment.

Next was the “Concerto”, Opus 24, with Jennie Somogyi and Sébastien Marcovici leading four female Corps dancers. Both performers are especially suited to this abstract, atonal genre, and the intertwining motion was spellbinding. Finally, Mr. Askegard and Ms. Kowroski made their second matinee appearance together in the “Ricercata”, with a substantial female Corps ensemble. This movement of the ballet is melodic and classically drawn. Their partnered choreography was less solemn than in Diamonds, with more focus on momentum and music than on the farewell aspect. It seemed that the Diamonds Pas de Deux had been the essential partner farewell.

In Memory of...(1985): Music by Alban Berg, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Scenery by David Mitchell, Costumes by Dain Marcus, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Conductor: Andrews Sill, Solo Violinist: Kurt Nikkanen, Performed by Wendy Whelan, Charles Askegard, Jared Angle, and the Company.

In Memory of… was another “just seen” ballet, a little over a week ago, but today was Charles Askegard’s farewell to Wendy Whelan, another beloved partner. With Jared Angle, Ms. Whelan characterized the youthful spirit on whose death Berg wrote the music, and Ms. Whelan transformed on stage from nubile innocence in pink, to tragically ill, to succumbing to Death’s draw, to soaring as an angel in white. But, it was Mr. Askegard’s performance in this particular role, as Death, that drew me in, more than he ever has in previous such performances. He was dynamic, devilish, dreaded, as he spun and dragged Ms. Whelan to her demise. In the after-life finale, with dancers in glowing white-golden hues, against Kurt Nikkanen’s searing violin solos, the audience was breathless. Andrews Sill kept the Orchestra compelling.

Western Symphony (1954): Music by Hershy Kay, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by John Boyt, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Andrews Sill, Performed by Rebecca Krohn, Jonathan Stafford, Megan Fairchild, Adam Hendrickson, Sara Mearns, Charles Askegard, Lauren King, Austin Laurent, and the Company.

In every Farewell, the final work brings heated anticipation, as the curtain will surely extend into enormous presentation bouquets, leafy horseshoe shaped neck ornaments (for men), streams of current and former partners, crowds of the entire Company, applauding, and dripping, sparkling confetti, from the rafters. But first, Balanchine’s Western Symphony. The showgirls and cowboys arrived, against John Boyt’s Western town set, and Hershy Kay’s music, led by Andrews Sill, lifted the mood and motif. Three years ago, Nikolaj Hübbe ended his Farewell with the same Balanchine ballet, so the event had a familiar feel. Mr. Hübbe went on to become Artistic Director at Royal Danish Ballet, and Mr. Askegard will form Ballet Next with Michele Wiles, newly retired from Ballet Theatre across the Plaza.

For Mr. Askegard, his “next act” will be one to watch. Meanwhile, today, he partnered Sara Mearns in the third and final movement, “Rondo”, with rip-roaring, leg-slapping, side stage smooching, rapid spinning, dizzying dervish virtuosity. Ms. Mearns, for her part, was the quintessential coquette, coy, sexy, smiling, flirtatious. Her own virtuosity was abundant. In the “Allegro”, Rebecca Krohn and Jonathan Stafford led the showgirls with wild aplomb. For the “Adagio”, Megan Fairchild was the impish showgirl, who enters and leaves with sideway-backwards tiny steps, always in directions that she cannot see. It’s a testament to her superior skill that she always pulls this off with personality and casual fun. Mr. Hendrickson was the dashing recipient of her fawning attention. Then, right on schedule, Mr. Askegard was onstage, with the florals, the horseshoes, the current and retired ballerina embraces, the rambunctious male contingent, the solo curtain calls, and the confetti. He was visibly taken aback with the grandiosity of the moment. Kudos to Charles Askegard.

Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard
in Balanchine's "Diamonds" from Jewels
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Wendy Whelan and Charles Askegard
in Robbins' "In Memory Of..."
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Charles Askegard Bows to His Fans
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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