Spring season of New York City Ballet opened last night with a program that included two ballets that have been out of the repertoire for quite a few years. Concerto Barocco and Kammermusik No. 2 have a lot of similarities on the surface. Both are neoclassical, with an emphasis on extremely precise footwork. Both have a corps de ballet of 8. In Concerto Barocco the 8 corps members are traditionally some of the most senior in the company. In Kammermusik No. 2, the 8 corps members are men. Both corps are required to perform Balanchine’s signature “knot” choreography in which dancers are linked by the hands and twist themselves in elaborate patterns and then unravel the knots.

Unity Phelan and Tyler Angle with NYCB in Concerto Barocco
© Erin Baiano

Yet Concerto Barocco is a beloved masterpiece, while audience response to Kammermusik has always been dutiful rather than enthusiastic. Critic (and Balanchine enthusiast) Arlene Croce called it “one of those estimable, avoidable ballets” and “fairly unappealing”.

Last night’s performance confirmed this. Concerto Barocco was given a rather dutiful, dull rendition. The corps was not always coordinated. Unity Phelan was the first violin and Ashley Laracey was the second violin. Phelan was fine … and that was it. She did not exude the ballerina authority I remember Teresa Reichlen or Maria Kowroski had in spades. In the sublime adagio Phelan’s limbs lacked that controlled, slow movement so important to the choreography. Ashley Laracey was an odd fit for second violin. This lyrical dancer seems a more natural first violin. Tyler Angle’s movement is now rather slow and plodding and the windmill lifts were surprisingly labored. The audience, however, loved it as always. Barocco can tolerate a less than scintillating performance.

Mira Nadon and Emilie Gerrity in Kammermusik No. 2
© Erin Baiano

Kammermusik No. 2, on the other hand, received a jolly, energetic performance. Emilie Gerrity and Mira Nadon were the high-kicking, high-spirited jolt of adrenaline this ballet needs. The dense, thorny, fast choreography did not defeat them, although Nadon did take a brief spill. Harrison Coll and Aaron Sanz had the same energy. The male corps was precise and in sync. Before the performance, conductor Andrew Litton, gave a brief 'See the Music' lecture in which he demonstrated some of the humor and wit in Paul Hindemith’s score. Yet at the end, the ballet received nothing but golf claps. It remains “fairly unappealing”.

The evening ended with Raymonda Variations. This ballet is really an old-fashioned display of pristine classical technique. The difficult variations for both the leads and five soloists are supposed to look easy and immaculate. Alas, last night’s performance was bumpy. In the pas de deux, Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley had a partnering snafu that resulted in Fairchild falling off pointe. In Huxley’s variation, he ended the solo early and had his back to the audience. His usually textbook turns and jumps had an unusual sloppiness. Claire von Enck’s solo with the difficult hops on pointe in diagonal simply didn’t travel. In the coda, Emily Kikta and Nieve Corrigan were completely out of sync in the simultaneous fouettés. Everyone just looked out of sorts.

Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley with NYCB in Raymonda Variations
© Erin Baiano

The company is currently in transition. A swath of longtime principals, soloists and corps members have retired recently. Performances are bound to be more uneven than they were in the past, when veterans anchored almost every performance with their experience and consistency. Despite the rough opening, I’m hopeful that future programs of the spring season will have more cohesiveness.