duo contertant feature this one

Last Dance – Robert Fairchild’s Final Performance at the New York City Ballet

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New York, Sunday, October 15 — Today marks the occasion of the final performance by one of the most brilliant ballet dancers of our time, Robert Fairchild, with the New York City Ballet, the company he has danced with for the past twelve years. The last ballet he will dance with them is Duo Concertant, which the great choreographer George Balanchine, founder of City Ballet, created in 1972 to music by Igor Stravinsky; and Fairchild’s partner in the duo will be one of the company’s finest ballerinas, Sterling Hyltin. Fairchild is leaving the company to pursue a career in musical theater as a singer-dancer and choreographer, at which he has already found much success. Balanchine, too, had dual careers in ballet and on Broadway (and in Hollywood), choreographing musicals and operettas in the 1930s and 1940s, including Rodgers and Hart’s On Your Toes and The Boys from Syracuse and Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow.

Of the ballet Duo Concertant, Fairchild has remarked that it “encapsulates what I love about dance and why I wanted to be in Balanchine’s company. It’s like tap dancing with ballet shoes, skimming like a stone on water.” Of his dual careers, Fairchild has said, “Dancing with New York City Ballet has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Growing up in Salt Lake City, all I ever wanted was to be a ‘song and dance man’ like Gene Kelly. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would fall in love with ballet and embark on this amazing journey with one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world. I am so grateful to Peter Martins, who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and gave me the most incredible ballets to dance. Now I’m continuing the journey I started three years ago with An American in Paris, by pursuing new projects in theater, television, and film. I’m excited for the opportunity to challenge myself in new ways and follow the dream I had as a little kid.”

Fairchild was taken on by NYCB as an apprentice in 2005, was invited to join the company in 2006, and was promoted to soloist in 2007 (when the company’s ballet master-in-chief Peter Martins created the lead roles in Romeo + Juliet for him and Hyltin), and then to principal dancer in 2009. He took a leave of absence from the company in 2015 to make his Broadway debut as Jerry Mulligan in Christopher Wheeldon’s production of An American in Paris, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award, and won the 2015 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Musical, as well as the Astaire Award for Best Male Dancer.

Texas-born Hyltin, who started off with aspirations of being an ice skater, began ballet lessons at the age of six at the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet. She moved to New York City to study at the School of American Ballet, NYCB’s official school, in the fall of 2000. She was accepted as an NYCB apprentice in 2002, entered the corps de ballet in June 2003, was promoted to soloist in 2006, and then in 2007 to principal, the same year as Fairchild. They have each had featured roles in more than seventy ballets at City Ballet.

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Robert Fairchild and Sterling Hyltin performing in George Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, May 4, 2010

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From its beginnings in 1948, when Balanchine founded the New York City Ballet with the help and support of Lincoln Kirstein, the company has been celebrated for its dancers’ incomparable speed, precision, and agility, matched with ardor, elegance, and lyricism in equal measure. The magician who inspired and developed those qualities in the dancers was Balanchine. Today, the company is in the midst of a renaissance, due primarily to a new generation of remarkably gifted dancers, both male and female. Among the most remarkable of them are principals Fairchild and Hyltin, whose dancing as individuals shines particularly brightly, but whose work as a duo has been incandescent, especially in many of Balanchine’s ballets, including Apollo, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Symphony in Three Movements, and Who Cares?, as well as Duo Concertant. Theirs has been one of the great ballet partnerships at NYCB, rooted in their perfectly matched way of moving, their complete immersion in the music they’re dancing to, and an extraordinary rapport with each other—an onstage intimacy that gives every performance the sense of a private story we have the good fortune of eavesdropping on.

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The story in Balanchine’s ballet Duo Concertant—a double duet for two instruments and two dancers—is one of enigmatic enchantment about a man and his muse, lasting only 17 minutes. When the curtain goes up, it begins with the violinist and pianist at the left side of the stage playing the first movement of Stravinsky’s piece as the dancers stand side by side behind the piano and listen intently to the music, occasionally glancing at each other affectionately. Right before the musicians start playing the second movement, the dancers walk hand in hand to the right side of the stage to perform their first duo—which opens with a memorable sequence of syncopated gestures: first, she moves one leg to the side, then he does so right away in mirror image, while they alternately move their bodies up and down, all in strict time to the pulsating music, movements that they repeat for the first minute; they then begin to add angular arm movements in tandem with their changing body movements until a lively and elegant pas de deux ensues, accented with courtly flourishes. When the music stops, they walk over to the piano to listen to the next movement, which is slow and sad, until, halfway through, they begin a second pas de deux, he as her courtier, featuring elegant lifts and ending with a tender embrace.

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After that, the music turns ebullient; and, while the other watches, they each do an animated solo featuring quick, complicated footwork, then dance another duo filled with wit and brio, followed by a pause in which they watch and listen to the musicians play, then another solo each and a final duo—all in a style that is both playful and modern. When their third duo is over, the stage is suddenly bathed in darkness and a slow, melancholy melody begins, with a spotlight illuminating the musicians, after which a second spotlight illuminates the face of the female dancer on the right side of the stage, and then just her single outstretched hand, then his, and then both hands intertwined. The light spreads to show both figures, and he briefly clasps her hands before embracing her, falling to one knee, then withdrawing before rushing forward and entwining hands and arms, and after repeating that sequence, touching her face with both his hands before embracing her. He moves away again and when he looks back, finds that she has disappeared into darkness. Then, the stage is once again completely dark, and the first part of the sequence is repeated to a reprise of the melancholy music. Finally, after we see a glimpse of her spotlit hand one last time, she disappears into the darkness, ending the ballet—and the music—on a mysterious and poignant note.

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“Was ‘Duo’ really this good in the 1970s?” asked Alastair Macaulay, the chief dance critic for the New York Times, writing in 2013 of Fairchild and Hyltin’s performance in Duo Concertant. Today, I saw them dance their next-to-last performance of it together, and they were as fresh and spontaneous as I’ve seen them, revealing all the nuances of Balanchine’s choreography, and even more moving than ever before.

They both have a natural grace and sensitivity, an innate musicality and lyricism, and an ability to evoke a range of emotions from tenderness and ardor to mischievous humor.

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Hyltin has said of Fairchild that “he almost has a swagger when he dances.” Interviewing her this week, I asked her about her partnership with him: “Our first ballet together was Martins’s Romeo + Juliet. We hadn’t danced together up until then, but we had both been students at SAB and we were good friends when we lived in the dorms, but I was already in the company—I’m a little older.”

“Robbie and I had a great connection right away. We just clicked: our limbs fit together; and the way Robbie touched me, or when he would touch me, always made sense to me musically. Robbie and I are such great partners because we hear the music the same, so we’re moving at the same time. I appreciate a partner with whom I can really go for something and they’ll anchor me. If the two of you don’t hear the music the same way—and I’m talking about hairs of difference—you feel it. And, most important, we fix problems the same way, and without talking about it. If all of a sudden I slip a little bit, we fix it the same way. Sometimes, in the moment, in performance, I’ve gone and done something I’ve never done before, and Robbie’s just there.”

“You can rehearse a ballet forever, but new facets, new portals open up to you in a performance of it. That’s what’s valuable. It comes from your response to the live music played by the orchestra, to being onstage with the lights, to your sense of the audience’s response. In a lot of ballets I’ve danced for ten years, I can look at my partner and think ‘I never saw you here before.’ They clearly were there for ten years, but something has changed.”

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Sterling Hylin, Robert Fairchild, Cameron Grant-Piano, Kurt Nikkanen-Violin Duo Concertant; Chor. George Balanchine New York City Ballet 5/4/10 Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik ©2010 Paul Kolnik 212.362.7778 studio@paulkolnik.com

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This fall, Fairchild will have a full schedule performing in musicals: In November he will appear as Harry Beaton in a concert production of Lerner & Loewe’s Brigadoon at City Center here in New York City, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, several of whose ballets Fairchild has performed in at NYCB. In December, Fairchild will choreograph and star Off-Broadway in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which will be his debut as a choreographer. Another upcoming project will be his role as modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn in the PBS Masterpiece feature film The Chaperone.

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Hyltin is currently beginning rehearsals for one of her roles in the Robbins Festival at NYCB next spring, in which she will perform in the following ballets by Jerome Robbins: Dybbuk, Four Seasons, Afternoon of a Fawn, The Cage, Goldberg Variations, Opus 19: The Dreamer, Dances at a Gathering, Fancy Free, and perhaps In the Night. She will also continue to dance in ballets by Balanchine and by a number of contemporary choreographers.

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Robert Fairchild’s final bow at the New York City Ballet, October 15, 2017

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PHOTO CREDITS

Photos courtesy of New York City Ballet.

©2010 Photos

Duo Concertant – Sterling Hyltin, Robert Fairchild, Cameron Grant (Piano), Kurt Nikkanen (Violin); Chor. George Balanchine; New York City Ballet; 5/4/10.

©2010 photos by Paul Kolnik (212.362.7778; studio@paulkolnik.com).

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©2017 Final Bow Photo (last photo in sequence)

Duo Concertant – Sterling Hyltin, Robert Fairchild; Final performance photo taken on 10/15/17.

©2017 photo by Paul Kolnik (212.362.7778; studio@paulkolnik.com).