George Balanchine’s Apollo is one of the great male roles in ballet. When Balanchine taught it, it was apparently more specific than in any other ballet, yet there are still many ways to play the young god when he comes of age. (One of the great interpreters, Jacques d’Amboise, recently passed away but you can see his version from 1960 online.)
To Vadim Muntagirov, who donned the deity’s white stockings to open this all-American show, Apollo seems preoccupied with the weight of expectation on his shoulders, a bit like Prince Siegfried from Swan Lake. There is a subtle wariness, denial, and resistance, but with each breath and each leap into a deep lunge, you are growing toward your destination. Muntagirov appears to have undergone a transformation of his own in the last year, appearing as a more mature dancer, with more layers, perhaps more confident in his authority on stage. His pious technique was never in doubt, his divine sense of the line; To put it unromantic, man’s proprioception must be off the scale.
Apollo is brought up by the muses, the brilliant presence of Mayara Magri’s Polyhymnia and the most inscrutable Calliope (Anna Rose O’Sullivan) and Terpsichore (Yasmine Nagdhi, as confident as ever), embodying the precision and restraint of ballet choreography. The ballet, from 1928, is almost a century old and still revels in its invention and idiosyncrasy. It’s full of images: an eagle, a chariot, Apollo playing his lute with a full circle swinging his arm like a very refined rock god. Together with Stravinsky’s magnificent score, it all amounts to something close to the sublime.
In a way, Apollo’s muses are ciphers, feminine ideals; there is a certain void in its purity. That couldn’t be further from how Natalia Osipova seizes her role in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, another Balanchine play from 1960. You’ve never seen someone bring so much drama to a plotless masterpiece. Osipova picks up the pace, braking so that she then has to speed across the stage to hit the target. He does the risky stuff, as if challenging himself: how fast can I go? How sharp can I do this pose? Whistle! Bam! His partner Reece Clarke does very well to keep up with him. Osipova makes eye contact with the audience and says “Here it goes!” while diving headfirst into Clarke’s arms. It is extravagant in its high development, generous in its movement (it cannot hide its roots in the Bolshoi, where everything is bigger), but it considers itself even the smallest posé or port de bras. Osipova is a real artist, but she also looks like a real woman, a real person, up there on stage, and it’s exciting to go on that ride with her.
There’s one more character going with the flow in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering (from 1969). With an hour of Chopin’s waltzes and mazurkas, solo piano at all times, dancers must keep making new discoveries or it may begin to ebb a little more than flow. Of the cast of 10, William Bracewell is the one who is most carried away by music, as if this was not something learned, just instinct. She lives in the moment with her partner Francesca Hayward, their eyes meet as if they share a secret joke. The denouement of the play is one of the most beautiful final scenes, when everything reaches stillness and the magic of the night fades away; dance is only a transitory gift.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism