Divertimento No. 15 has always been a stretch for this company, both in the playing and in the dancing. The temptation in Mozart, and in Balanchine's Mozart, is to look attractive, orderly, composed. It's not easy to create the heartstopping undercurrents that make both the music and the dance a kind of Mozartian opera. Last night, Whiteside and Ichikawa were the most successful on stage. With his soft-paw pas de chat and huge, quiet double tours, Whiteside offered amplitude and elegance in equal measure. Ichikawa gave the music more weight by waiting on it, phrasing it, and she threw in a gorgeous développé on pointe in her adagio duet with Whiteside.
Lam and Diaz were big in their welcoming flourishes and traveling beats. And in the variations, there was nice staccato work from Parrondo, insinuation and speed from Cornejo, extension from Hedman, and still more speed from Feijóo, flipper-footed as always. It was big, but it could get bigger.
Set to Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, Afternoon of a Faun is Robbins's sly gloss on Nijinsky's legendary 1912 piece for the Ballets Russes. The action has moved from ancient Greece to a contemporary ballet studio, and our faun is a bare-chested male dancer (Sabi Varga last night) on his side. After replicating a Nijinsky pose or two, he stares out at us in a way that makes it clear that the fourth wall — the audience — is one big mirror. A minute or two of entranced obsession is followed by a casual forward roll and then a nap, whereupon a flowing-tressed woman (Whitney Jensen) in a barely-skirted tunic like the ones the Muses wear in Balanchine's Apollo enters and does her own looking-glass thing, preening for her Dance Magazine cover shot, before she realizes she's not alone. When she pliés at the barre, he comes up behind her and they strike a series of erotic poses and movements, always checking the mirror to be sure everything's just right. It's as if they needed to see how they look in order to know how they feel — even when he cups her face in his hand, his eyes are on the reflection, not the original. When he kisses her on the cheek, however, it's as if he'd broken the fourth wall: she puts a hand to that cheek and rushes out of the studio. He's left with the masturbatory consolation of Nijinsky's faun.
Varga and Jensen both underline the narcissism in Robbins's concept; they're tempted to give in to each other, but how can they resist their own beauty? Another pair might be less contained, more yearning, in this work, but they'd hardly be better than these two.
Antique Epigraphs could be a gloss on the minuet from Divertimento No. 15. The backstory comes out of the music, Debussy's 1914 Épigraphes antiques, six four-hand piano pieces inspired by Pierre Louÿs's Chansons de Bilitis, which purported to be translations of newly discovered works by Sappho but were actually Louÿs's own creations. Robbins used orchestrated (lots of oboe) versions of the piano set and added as a seventh piece Debussy's 1913 flute solo Syrinx. There's an irony here: the first of the piano pieces (they all have titles) is called "To Invoke Pan, God of the Summer Wind," but in Greek mythology, Syrinx is the chaste nymph who was pursued by Pan and saved when her fellow nymphs turned her into a reed.