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Flash Review, 1-28: All in the family
Prodigal sons & SAB prodigies at City Ballet

Daniel Ulbricht in New York City Ballet's production of Balanchine's "Prodigal Son." Photo copyright
Paul Kolnik.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak

NEW YORK -- To give the performers their due, let's get the Flash out of the way first: If he's neither as physically accomplished as Damian Woetzel nor dramatically powerful as Peter Boal, Daniel Ulbricht brings to the title role in Balanchine and Kochno's 1929 "Prodigal Son" a unique innocence and vulnerability which adds credence to the story, especially when playing opposite Ask la Cour's Father; forget the usual over-the-hill critical buzzards ready to feed on the carcasses of ballerinas as soon as they approach 40, Wendy Whelan is as silken and lyrical and freely joyous in her musical expression as she's been at any point in her 25-year career; the School of American Ballet has at least four solid future candidates for the New York City Ballet, all of whom did school and company proud dancing with Whelan and Tyler Angle in Balanchine's 1981 "Mozartiana" last night, especially when it came to those eloquent Balanchine arms their elders seem to forget so often these days: Leah Chen, Katherine Finch, Lilia Hamdy, and Callie Reiff; and the NYCB orchestra under director Faycal Karoui would be worth paying to see even without the dancers, judging by its rendering of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 4, Op. 61 for the same piece.

In "Mozartiana," Whelan gave her younger charges a lesson in elegance with a regal outing that made her grow in scope and didn't just reflect the music but at times seemed to actually lead it. In "Prodigal Son," Ulbricht, handicapped by a technically adept but sexually and lethally neutered Teresa Reichlin (by lethally neutered I mean that her Siren swallowed not him, as she's meant to, but the towering arm and hand which are supposed to signify the devouring and her predatory nature), revealed a through-line I've never seen before, even in Woetzel and Boal's interpretations, echoing the opening cry which calls him to parts unknown (portrayed by an open hand to an open mouth) with a similar one towards the end that cries out for home and father. In a part often walked (or rather towered) through, Ask la Cour, as his father, paid attention to even the most minute details, including fingers that quivered at seeing his son's return, resisting reaching out that hand and letting the son crawl to him. For the first time, I saw this stoicalness not as 'sans pity' but wanting to let his son crawl like a man.

The evening also included Jerome Robbins's "NY Export: Opus Jazz," previously reviewed click here.

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