New principal dancer promising in ‘Prodigal Son’

The “Prodigal Son” has returned to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The George Balanchine staple
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The “Prodigal Son” has returned to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The George Balanchine staple, as performed by the New York City Ballet on Friday night, crowned a new dancer in the coveted title role — Joaquin de Luz.

He’s filling the void left by Damian Woetzel, who retired in June. (Actually, Woetzel danced the ballet at his farewell.) And while de Luz can’t claim the Prokofiev ballet as his, like Woetzel could, the principal dancer does hold promise as the Prodigal.

What strikes one immediately is that de Luz looks like Edward Villella, another Prodigal of distinction. And while de Luz has the enthusiasm of Villella and Woetzel, he is still finding his way.

The first scene was his best. De Luz attacked the silent screams, the pounding of the thighs and that jump, with his leg tucked under and his arms reaching out for the larger world, with all the rebellious zeal that one would expect. He lost his way in the second scene with Kaitlyn Gilliland as the seductive siren. She’s too much woman for him to handle.

Rather than being seduced by her, he looked intimidated. Part of the problem is that she does not ooze sexuality. And wearing a tall miter, she towers over de Luz. He was a frightened child, she a scolding school marm.

Once alone on stage, with the Siren and the parasitic drunkards dispersed, de Luz found his footing again. The emotions flowed as he begged, with his eyes covered in shame, and then crawled back home.

On Saturday night, Daniel Ulbricht will tackle Prodigal. It will be interesting to see who will emerge as the next standard-bearer of this role.

Friday’s program also included Peter Martins’ 1998 work “River of Light.” Set to a percussive score by Charles Wuorinen, the ballet is a train of pas de deux for three couples.

Of course, this is nothing new for Martins, who is a master of the duet. And in the opener, with Savannah Lowery and Jared Angle, Martins falls back into his comfort zone with an intricate, knotty choreography.

Sterling Hyltin with Ask La Cour were breathtaking in their entry. He tossed her so high that she looked like she was floating. Hyltin was a stirring combination of air and fire. And then when she was paired with Robert Fairchild, she burned even brighter.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about “River of Light” is the lighting designed by Mark Stanley. The dancers enter in rectangles of light, and as the dance proceeds, two tapers of light shimmer in the background. In the end, the dancers are meandering in a circle of light. The shifts of brightness and darkness give the rather pedestrian work shape and purpose.

The evening also showcased two Jerome Robbins masterpieces — the immature erotic fantasy of “Afternoon of a Faun” and the divine “Glass Pieces.” In the latter, Maria Kowroski and Philip Neal performed the central duet with a juiciness that was intoxicating.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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