Stars of American Ballet
Stars of American Ballet is a showcase that Daniel Ulbricht, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, has been bringing to Santa Fe for the last five years. It features a changing cast of actual stars from NYCB, as well as dancers from other companies and often a few corps de ballet members to fill out the ranks. The formula is a bit of a smorgasbord, a program of mostly solos and duets featuring choreography by George Balanchine (co-founder of the company) as well as work by some of the other dancemakers associated with the NYCB, including Jerome Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon, Peter Martins (the company’s current ballet master in chief), and Ulysses Dove.
This year’s Balanchine slots were filled by the seminal works Apollo (1928) and Agon (1957) as well as the peppy pas de deux Tarantella (1964). Apollo marked Balanchine’s first major collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky, and he considered the work a turning point in his life. The ballet features the Greek god Apollo as he is visited by three Muses — Terpsichore, Muse of dance and song, Polyhymnia, Muse of mime, and Calliope, Muse of poetry. The score was based, in part, on 17th- century French poetic meters and the narrative on classical antiquity, but the ideas behind the choreography are strictly 20th century. Created when Balanchine was twentyfour, this neoclassic work presaged the leggy, angular style of dancing he is known for.
Adrian Danchig-Waring danced Apollo, and he looked every bit a ballet god as he led his team of Muses through sections that didn’t particularly explore mime, poetry, or song, and which looked more like experiments with classical form. Corps member Sara Adams and soloist Ashley Isaacs, both from City Ballet, ably handled two of the Muse parts, but it was Sterling Hyltin, a principal with the company, who gave the ballet luster.
Hyltin had a lovely lightness to her dancing, and the way she claimed authority over the tricky Balanchine technique was stunning. Every moment was performed with clarity, intention, and ease. This is the promise that Ulbricht delivers to Santa Fe, the opportunity to see great dancers.
Agon, a plotless ballet with sections based on French court dances, was another collaboration between Balanchine and Stravinsky. The composer’s music was by then heading into twelve-tone vocabulary. The ballet offers a look at the company’s stylistic neoclassicism after decades of development. The pas de deux, an excerpt from the work for twelve dancers, featured NYCB principals Teresa Reichlen and Amar Ramasar. The word “agon” is Greek for contest, and the duet has a quality of combat to it, of partnering that is rough rather than romantic, hard rather than sweet. Other pieces on the program included the quartet
Red Angels, choreographed in 1994 for City Ballet by Dove, who had long been associated with Alvin Ailey’s company. The score, by Richard Einhorn, features an electric violin, played at the Lensic by Cenovia Cummins, who was just as likely to be pounding against the strings in a percussive manner as she was to be playing notes. With its stark lighting and athletic solos, the piece was reminiscent of the dances Aspen Santa Fe Ballet often commissions. Powerful, dark, virtuosic, and plotless, Red Angels was danced by Hyltin, Reichlen, Tyler Angle (another principal dancer at NYCB), and Ramasar.
Ulbricht, who danced in a number of crowd pleasers during the two-night engagement, presented by Performance Santa Fe, has the ability to pull off thrilling leaps and turns. But the best thing about his dancing is the “aw shucks” quality he brings to it. A surprise addition to the Thursday night performance included young local dancers from NDI; Ulbricht looked not only jaw-droppingly efficient in a series of high-speed ballet tricks, but happy to be sharing the stage with a bunch of young dancers having the time of their lives. — Michael Wade Simpson
Clockwise from top; Adrian Danchig-Waring, Ashly Isaacs, and Daniel Ulbricht in rehearsal;
courtesy Performance Santa Fe