A wanderer, Ravel and Suzanne Farrell: Life is good at City Ballet

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A wanderer, Ravel and Suzanne Farrell: Life is good at City Ballet
In an image provided by the company, Mira Nadon in a New York City Ballet production of George Balanchine’s “Errante,” in April 2024. “Errante,” originally known as “Tzigane” after its score by Maurice Ravel, was revived this season with a staging by Suzanne Farrell — the dancer for whom it was originally made in 1975. (Erin Baiano via The New York Times)

by Gia Kourlas

NEW YORK, NY.- With certain dancers, there is an interior drama, an intimate dialogue between movement and music that manages to quiet the air around them, pulling them into greater focus. Mira Nadon, the young New York City Ballet principal, is growing into that place of spellbinding luminosity.

We’ve seen her unflappable elegance, her cool sensuality and her creamy elasticity. But dancing in “Errante,” on the opening program of the company’s spring season that began Tuesday, she displayed a new kind of dancing courage. The ballet, originally known as “Tzigane” after its score by Maurice Ravel, was revived this season with a staging by Suzanne Farrell and a new name, “Errante,” or wandering.

Created for the company’s 1975 Ravel Festival, it was the first ballet George Balanchine choreographed for Farrell upon her return to City Ballet after a rift with Balanchine and time spent in Europe. In Farrell’s restoration, “Errante” is a passionate musical adventure — rich with play, mystery and seduction — that opens with a five-minute solo for its female lead.

As solos go, it’s headstrong and questing, revealing a dancer’s rebellious streak in the choreography’s defiant twists and turns. As for the title change? Tzigane, a word that refers to Romani people, is now considered derogatory. Farrell, who holds the rights to the work, selected “Errante”; the decision to rename was made by Farrell, the George Balanchine Trust and City Ballet, which hasn’t staged the ballet in more than 30 years.

Of the ballet and Farrell, Lincoln Kirstein, a founder of the company, wrote, “Was part of this an echo of her own wandering, of the fact that she had at last returned to her tribe’s encampment, while proclaiming her own increased identity and independence?”

It feels, especially now, like a stand for female autonomy. Starting with Nadon’s casual entrance — a detached, loose walk across the stage as her hands come to rest on the hips — the ballet has a smoldering perfume that heats up over time. Nadon’s sighing shoulders lead her on a path of self-discovery that she fills in with lustrous details. Her elbows rise above her chin like a veil. She flings her arms wildly yet with surgical precision. She arches backward with a rapid shudder of her shoulders.

Ever the wanderer, Nadon seems to be etching her identity onto a role made years before she was born. And like Farrell, she looks great in red, cutting a blazing figure in Joe Eula’s skirt of shredded ribbons, offset by a burgundy bodice with creamy sleeves.

Nadon occasionally snaps her eyes to gaze at the audience. Throughout the violin solo, performed by Kurt Nikkanen, she is a wonder of brazen poise. After stretching her hands forward and slowly wrapping the fingers of one around the pointer finger of another, she whips into tight chaîné turns, pausing to reach and lunge with a daring that seemed to grow from one performance to the next.

When her partner finally appears on the opposite diagonal — Aarón Sanz, dancing with admirable fullness and focus — Nadon has her back to him. Gradually they shift closer until Sanz embraces her around the waist, close but not quite touching.

With whiffs of Hungarian folk dance, they rock on their toes and heels and, eventually, are joined by four couples as a more wild energy overtakes the stage. Nadon spins into a backbend, dangling herself over Sanz’s arm, where she remains as she walks, no, trots — en pointe — across the stage. In moments like these, “Errante” is a rebirth: not a dusty character study from the 1970s, but a vibrant Balanchine miniature imbued with the spirit of the modern world.

On Tuesday, another happy surprise occurred when Farrell, her arm linked in Sanz’s, slipped onto the stage for a bow. Nadon and Sanz, in awe, backed away to applaud along with the crowd. Her appearance was a reminder that preserving Balanchine ballets is a race against time: Former dancers must coach current ones. They knew Balanchine. They knew his counts, and that is everything.

While I could have done without “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” — I don’t need to see a Christmas tree onstage for many more months — the program was a bright start to the season. Despite some rough patches in “Bourrée Fantasque” on opening night, it remained witty and rambunctious, especially the pairings of Emily Kikta and KJ Takahashi, and Emilie Gerrity and Gilbert Bolden III.

Many performances were eye-catching, but Sara Mearns was astounding in the second movement of “Symphony in C” — her dancing now seems to be getting to the essence of a dance — and Alston Macgill and Harrison Coll, making their debuts in the fourth movement, were superbly free. Not every program can end with a ballet as dazzling as “Symphony in C,” but when it does — what a rapturous experience to be listening to Georges Bizet while watching a sea of dancers leaping and spinning in choreographic harmony. It’s not a special effect! This is what human bodies are capable of, and it always blows my mind.

New York City Ballet

Through June 2 at the David H. Koch Theater, nycballet.com.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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