NYC Ballet’s Beguiling ‘Cage’

gia on the move
Reviewed by Carlos Stafford

There’s always a beguiling question in dance: how is it that two performers with the identical choreography and music, of equal talents, appear to convey such different nuances and meanings? The answer seems no less satisfying, but perhaps we must consider the idea that souls come in different sizes.

gia on the move
New York City Ballet’s Lauren Lovette and Savannah Lowery in Jerome Robbins’ ‘The Cage’
Photo © Paul Kolnik

What is it that makes one think of the former greats of the NYC Ballet from recent history–Farrell, Martins, McBride, Watts, Kissler, Whalen, d’Amboise, Soto, Peck, Mearns–to name a few among the many talented dancers that have performed here? It’s many things for sure, all mysteriously combined that connects audience to performer. Energy? Magic? Knowing? We all recognize it, but have no words to describe it; ephemeral as dance itself. But from a dancers perspective it could be as simple and profound as the Duke Ellington quote, “You’ve got to find a way of saying it without saying it.”

Recently, I saw The Cage by Jerome Robbins, with music by Stravinsky; a piece done in the early 1950’s that was a scandal for some in its day. Today, not so much, but still an electrifying, and entertaining short dance that can be enjoyed on many levels. Robbins said you had only to look to the Act 11 of Giselle for reference.

Lauren Lovette appears as the Novice in a colony of hairy female spiders. She unwraps from her chrysalis with the aid of the Queen. A male spider approaches and she instinctually kills him, sending him to spider heaven. After her first unnerving kill, her sisters depart the clearing, and another unsuspecting, enthusiastic male wanders in. Here, after spider pleasantries, they commence a love duet, entwine, mate in a wild frenzy, and afterwards, he too is sent on a permanent dirt nap. (No afterglow, no pillow talk, no cigarette. Don’t these male spiders talk amongst themselves?)

Lovette has a big soul, communicates effortlessly. She has all the magical, many-sided elements working for her as a ballerina. She conveys beauty, light, and intelligence–an open, joyful quality–even in this darker piece. She is feminine but strong, playful but profound, natural but complex. She paints colorful fleeting pictures.

The program honored Balanchine’s birthday, and his close long time friendship and collaboration with Stravinsky, with five choreographers creating to Stravinsky’s varied and sometimes dissonant and uncountable music.

Chris Wheldon’s brilliant piece opened with Scènes de Ballet, performed with exuberant precision by the students of SAB. What a delight, composed of dancers entering a dignified Russian studio, with images of onion domes seen through the windows. Two barres sit closely at a diagonal on stage, and as the dancers appear on both sides one group is the mirror image of the other performing in exact unison. From entrances to exits to center floor, with 64 dancers, 32 per image, they duplicate each other’s movements The dancers were flawless and created a truly charming experience–not a gesture out-of-place.

The new Justin Peck piece, Scherzo Fantastique, had little buggy creatures as a theme as well–this time bees, dressed in lavish colorful costumes with a huge colorful painting of plants, from a bees view, as a backdrop. Being a scherzo, there was a whirl of energy, and the dancers raced through patterns with breakneck speed and high energy. This dance offering was a New York City première, and will surely be an audience favorite. Even the bows were exuberant.

Stravinsky once composed piano pieces to teach his children to play, and were eventually turned into a ballet by Peter Martins–Eight Easy Pieces. With a piano on stage and two players playing right and left hand, three young hopefuls from the corps perform a series of solos, duets, and trios to showcase their talents. Rachel. Hutsell, Olivia MacKinnon, and Alexa Maxwell were up to the task, and danced a wide range of styles dancing a March, Valse, Polka, Andante, Espanela, Balalika, Napolitana, and Galup.

Sterling Hyltin with Robert Fairchild, and Maria Kowroski with Amar Ramasar rounded off the program with Stravinsky Violin Concerto–fittingly Balanchine’s creation–danced in black and white practice clothes unadorned, except for the exceptional dancing of the company’s most reliable principal dancers. Fittingly, they delivered with grace, dignity, and wonderful artistry as expected and appreciated from these seasoned, consistent professionals.

Winter seasons continues through the end of February, with two full weeks of Sleeping Beauty–Tschaikovsky/after Petipa, Balanchine.

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