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Letter from New York, 2-29: Back to the Future
Hübbe Caps NYCB Career with a Flower Festival
By Harris Green
Copyright 2008 Harris Green
Photography copyright Paul Kolnik
NEW YORK -- Nikolaj Hübbe's farewell performance for New York City Ballet on February 10 left an adoring capacity audience with a sense of double loss. While Hübbe in Balanchine's "Apollo" no longer looked every inch the
young god he did in 1992, when he left the Royal
Danish Ballet to join City Ballet as a principal, the
performance was obviously that of a great dancer whose
authority, undiminished at age 40, would be missed. When his Apollo responded to the call of Zeus, a moment marred as usual at the New York State Theater by childlike applause, the audience felt his surge of newfound godhood as surely
as did his excellent trio of muses: Wendy Whelan (Terpsichore), Ashley Bouder (Polyhymnia), Rachel
Rutherford (Calliope). After understandably falling
back in awe, the muses followed Apollo up the slopes
of Parnassus. The rest of us remained at ground level
in New York while Hübbe returned to Copenhagen to
become artistc director of the RDB.
Nikolaj Hübbe performs George Balanchine's "Apollo" in his farewell performance with New York City Ballet, February 10. Paul Kolnik photo courtesy New York City Ballet and ©Paul Kolnik.
Further loss mixed with delight was felt after
intermission. Hübbe's departure also deprives New York
of the gifts of a great teacher at the School of
American Ballet. Coached by him, fledgling City Ballet
corps members Kathryn Morgan and David Prottas danced
a "Flower Festival at Genzano" that revealed a
breathtaking command of the subtleties and
difficulties of the Bournonville style. Without for a
moment treating their hard-won technique as a
secondary achievement, one must surely credit Hübbe's coaching for the unerring rightness of their sunny
openness, buoyant elevation, and modest mastery of
every seemingly simple demand.
The rest of the program was obviously chosen to
demonstrate the scope of Hübbe's versatility without
taxing his diminished stamina. Megan Fairchild and
Andrew Veyette occasionally spelled him and his
frequent partner Yvonne Borree during the first and
fourth movements of ballet master in chief Peter
Martins's 1992 pas de deux "Zakouski," the first work
made on Hübbe in New York. "Cool," a helpfully miked vocal solo from Jerome Robbins's "West Side Story Suite,"
mostly demonstrated his diction. ("You sound foreign,"
Robbins had sneered at the first rehearsal.)
Ironically, Hübbe's last performance couldn't have ended fast enough. He was paired with that slinky dance-hall
gal Maria Kowroski, giving all he had left in the
finale of "Western Symphony." This "applause machine" is now performed in a mercifully reduced three-movement format, but that still leaves a lot of Balanchine's
pseudo-folksiness and Hershy Kay's equally ersatz
"frontier" score to endure.
New York City Ballet's Nikolaj Hübbe... and friends. February 10, New York City. Paul Kolnik photo courtesy New York City Ballet and ©Paul Kolnik.
For authenticity in abundance there was the prolonged
tribute of genuine affection that erupted after the
final curtain: onstage showers of festive detritis
(petals, paper, confetti), a sustained bombardment of
bouquets hurled with varying accuracy across the
orchestra pit, a parade of beaming, flower-bearing
colleagues of both sexes and all accompanied by a
continuous standing ovation that easily lasted 15
Arlene Croce wrote that no one ever retires at New
York City Ballet, and, sure enough, Hübbe is to return in April for the Jerome Robbins 90th birthday season
to perform -- or to be present in -- three performances of the dreaded 1972 "Watermill." (Croce called it "Waterloo.") Done in a state of near stasis in a Noh theater cum Robert Wilson manner under a changing moon, it purportedly recalls the life of A Man. The great Edward Villella often got conjunctivitis just sitting around onstage in a ballet belt. I don't know how old
A Man was when the curtain fell, but I felt like
Nikolaj Hübbe gives his farewell performance with the Royal Danish Ballet April 2 in Copenhagen, dancing "La Sylphide" and "Lost on Slow."