NYC BALLET: EPISODES

February 10, 2020
Historic works rarely revived at NYC Ballet both puzzled and delighted audiences. Last performed in 1993, George Balanchine’s charming Haieff Divertimento (premiered 1947) showcases the company’s new class of ace dancers. In a combination of classical ballet and a jazzy, modern dance vocabulary the ballet features one lead couple, the engaging Unity Phelan and Harrison Ball along with 4 supporting couples. Musically, it flows in a five-part piece that flexes its danceable American music roots—at times referencing Balanchine’s Square Dance.


If Haieff Divertimento resembles bubbly wine, then the 1959 Episodes equals a dry martini—hold the olives. An early experiment meant to bring together two giants of dance world, Balanchine and Martha Graham, Episodes was broken into two parts, separated by one intermission, united through Anton von Webern’s music, and the exchange of a couple of dancers. At the time, Taylor was a member of the Graham Company so Balanchine invited Taylor to dance in his section of Episodes while Graham selected the dramatic NYCB dancer Sallie Wilson.

Taylor performed the solo for two seasons in 1959-60. After that, Episodes appeared now and again in the rep, but minus the solo. In 1986, NYC Ballet revived the full-length ballet and invited Taylor to coach Peter Frame who performed it in 1986 and 1989. Spin ahead to 2019 when Michael Trusnovec, one of the Taylor Company’s finest dancers was asked to perform the solo. Because of Frame’s sad passing in 2018, Trusnovec lost the direct link to Taylor and was coached by another dancer.

However, Frame appeared on an EYE ON DANCE (EOD) television episode produced in 1987 and discussed his performance of the solo. He shared vivid descriptions of Taylor’s coaching, including the fact that Taylor “took out much of the knee work” fearful it would injure Frame. In addition, Frame demonstrated 5 minutes of the solo, verbalizing Taylor’s descriptions.

Armed with mounds of his own research, information from NYCB, EOD and his own body-truth, Trusnovec reconstructed Taylor’s solo. The result: illuminating. Although not as burly, Trusonvec shares Taylor’s intensity. A series of twisted poses resembling an insect caught in a jar (a Balanchine description) Taylor’s signature Zeus tossing the lighting bolt stance (legs apart, body in profile arms straight out.


Shifting from one twisted sculptural position to another, Trusnovec’s eyes focus sharply, and intently on the audience. Classically built, Trusnovec posses the earthy, mesmerizing stance of a modern dancer embracing the universal Vitruvian Man sphere of movement.

After seeing the solo reinstated, it’s easy to understand why it can stand-alone or be removed from the ballet. The other four sections reflect a singular choreographic hand while the solo is of its own making.
After watching Balanchine’s experimental black and white ballet, Justin Peck’s deconstructed Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes breathes with the wide expansiveness of the America’s western frontier and full throttle camaraderie of men, arms interlaced, generously led by Taylor Stanley.

What a marvelous period at the end of a stimulating evening of dance at Lincoln Center.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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