Apollo shines his light on City Ballet’s spring

He’s only 20 years old and still in the corps de ballet but Chase Finlay is being hailed as the next big thing following his performance last month as Apollo for New York City Ballet.

The New York Times reported this week that “ballet seasons are often identified with a dancer, and this spring, City Ballet has been all about Mr. Finlay…”

The paper quotes Jean-Pierre Frohlich, a ballet master with the company: “When he walks in the room, you know he’s in the room. Certain people have that kind of charisma. Granted, he’s 6 foot, blond and good-looking, but when he’s standing there, he’s not just standing. He’s giving off stage presence”.

Photographer Bruce Weber has captured Finlay at least twice for magazine spreads, once for Vogue Paris, and again for Vanity Fair. All this publicity must be enough to make Finlay’s colleagues grind their teeth and mutter, ‘what about me?’ but the ballet world always longs for, and seeks out, tall men who look like this.

Meredith Brooks, an Australian dancer and teacher, was in the audience for NYCB’s recent triple bill that included Jerome Robbins’ Bach solo piano work, 2&3 Part Inventions in which Finlay danced.

She wrote this review for dancelines:

Tuesday night’s NYCB program captured the essence of Peter Martins’ reign – wonderful dancers delivering Balanchine as only City Ballet can, an early Christopher Wheeldon ballet, choreographed soon after he left the company as dancer, followed by a really awful piece by Martins.

Tiler Peck and Joaquin de Luz were amazing in Donizetti Variations. This is essentially a bit of fluff from mid career Balanchine (premiere in 1960) but is full of joy when done as well as this cast. The corps of six girls and three boys hurtle around, covering huge distance at speed with attack and precision.

Lots of thrust hips and off balance arabesques, intricate floor patterns and quick foot work in quintessential Mr B.

Peck looks better every year – she’s always been technically powerful but now has so much stage confidence she executes even the fastest, most complicated combinations with utter insouciance.

The stage of the State Theater (now called the David H. Koch Theater) is huge and she covered the distance in a manege of piqué turns in which she fearlessly jetéd onto pointe. De Luz matched her technically but his virtuosity is more self-conscious and his performance generally self-congratulatory. The highlight of his variations for me was a combination of six pirouettes turns into slow relevé retiré turns, speeding up into fast ones. All perfectly sur place.

The Wheeldon piece, Polyphonia, was from 2001, his fourth work and his first after retiring from dancing. Choreographically it referred more to Balanchine than his later works but was very interesting musically (Ligeti piano works) which, of course, is a Balanchine legacy too. It was danced with a high level of conviction by four couples. The principals Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle were stunning in the two central pas de deux which were beautifully fluid with some surprising touches (for example, penchée supported by upper arabesque arm).

My eye was caught by Taylor Stanley, a (male) corps member, with lovely effortless plastique work.

And then the Martins. [Thou Swell, choreographed in 2003 to music by Richard Rodgers]. It was absolute rubbish. If I hadn’t been in the middle of a row I would have left. I almost couldn’t watch. It is set in a nightclub, it’s vaguely the thirties, with cheesy “cigarette girls” and a pair of out of tune singers.

Four couples twirled away in very clunky and derivative choreography. It was somewhere between Dancing with the Stars and being stuck at a wedding where you don’t know anyone and inebriated relatives get up to sing. The dancers may have been good, but I didn’t notice, or care.

The following night was generally more satisfying although the Balanchine (Divertimento no. 15, to Mozart) was not particularly strongly danced. Megan Fairchild had the featured role and I tend to find her a bit pert although she did nothing wrong. The corps were very ragged and I suspect it was under-rehearsed.

City Ballet get through a lot of repertoire in a very short time and often some works are under prepared, especially if they are core rep.

Robbins’ Bach solo piano work, 2&3 Part Inventions, was a fantastic showcase for some of the younger dancers. Only one was soloist rank, the remainder all corps, all excellent, with no weak links.

Chase Finlay, at 20 the Next Big Thing in American ballet (he’s doing Apollo this season), was just gorgeous and seems to have it all. A natural mover, nothing too forced, easy ballon, clean relaxed turns – he won’t be in the corps for long. All the women were fabulous, the men very good but paled into insignificance next to six foot blond god-like Finlay.

Another early Wheeldon to finish – 2000’s Mercurial Manoeuvres, to Shostakovich. It’s a slightly ungainly combination of three disparate elements: a virtuosic solo (danced here by Gonzalo Garcia with typical Latin verve), troops of blue tunic-ed girls generally being ominously militaristic, sandwiching a stunning pas de deux. Tiler Peck again, this time with Tyler Angle and they were breathtaking in the adagio.

After seeing Peck the night before, seemingly irrepressibly bouncy, I was surprised and impressed by her ability to produce sustained legato movement. Angle is another dancer who is really developing a mature presence in his second year as principal and their rapport was excellent.

As for Polyphonia, the performances generally outshone the work itself; the dancers evidently like Wheeldon.

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Chase Finlay

Chase Finlay and Laura Love (model and trainee dancer at Los Angeles Ballet), photo by Bruce Weber for Vogue Paris

Chase Finlay and Robert “Robbie” Fairchild, (NYCB), photo by Bruce Weber for Vanity Fair

Teresa Reichlen and Charles Askegard of NYCB in Peter Martins’s Thou Swell, photo by Andrea Mohin/The New York Times