Critic’s Notebook: Versions of Sugar Plums at New York City Ballet

December 29th, 2012

How can anyone foresee the career developments of individual ballet dancers? Stand back, and they seem determined by the whims of fate. Close up, fate seems scarcely involved. We all know that intensely human matters contribute: directorial taste, personal talent, discipline, health and character.

Two aspiring ballerinas show promise when they make their debuts in the same leading role in a big Tchaikovsky ballet. Yet who knows what the next few years will bring? In 2007 the teenage Kathryn Morgan made an admirable, striking debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy in New York City Ballet’s production of “George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker,’ ” one of several roles she claimed with individuality around that time.

Illness, however, interrupted her career. This summer, after announcing a return to the stage that did not materialize, she left the company to focus on her health. A new Sugar Plum of 2008, Kaitlyn Gilliland, has also stopped performing with the company. (She is now assistant children’s ballet master.)

This “Nutcracker” season brought Sugar Plum debuts from two gifted young women in New York City Ballet’s corps de ballet, Lauren King and Lauren Lovette. A scarcely known third dancer, Mary Elizabeth Sell, danced her first Dewdrop (the soloist who leads the Waltz of the Flowers). Ms. Lovette and two other corps members, Sara Adams and Kristen Segin, made their first appearances in the short but taxing role of Marzipan. In the elusive, exotic role of Coffee, debuts came from two other dancers, Ashley Laracey and Claire Kretzschmar.

These women were all well prepared and acquitted themselves with skill. Which of them will stand out most in 5 or 10 years’ time?

Ms. King, a strawberry blonde who joined the company in 2004, has been eye-catching for some time. With a happy, warm, engaging presence, she takes to the full stretch of ballet as if by nature, giving off light. She isn’t, however, reliable in high-definition fast roles; at present the ballerina role of the fourth movement of “Symphony in C” — a notoriously hard part — is evidently more than she can handle. But the company keeps giving her roles that have been visibly brightening up her technique, and you understand why; her luster surpasses the more facile but low-watt efficiency shown by some of her fellow dancers.

Her radiant sweetness conferred a touch of magic upon the Sugar Plum Fairy’s opening scene, with the miniature angels and visiting children. Later, returning for the grand pas de deux with Robert Fairchild as her cavalier, she found drama, just enough dazzle, and even suggestions of ecstasy.

Though the dark-haired Ms. Lovette is some years younger (she became a company member in 2010), she seems in some ways more adult. She has poise, refinement and delicacy; she seems to have an inner world. This season she was riveting — eager, lovely, charming, ardent — in four smaller “Nutcracker” roles: the Columbine doll and then a snowflake in Act I, and one of the two Tea girls and the Marzipan soloist in Act II.

But as the Sugar Plum Fairy, she showed qualities both touching and gracious: a sense of both ceremony and awe. Chase Finlay, her partner, heightened all of her virtues: his combination of spacious grandeur, modesty and nobility is very moving.

You can feel that you know each of these women. With Ms. Sell, a company member since 2006, you don’t as yet. She has the steps, though when she strikes rapid positions on one point, her torso sometimes lurches as she adjusts her placement; she has speed but not yet the ultralucid delivery that makes this role scintillating.

Nor do you yet know Brittany Pollack. A 2007 arrival, she first danced Sugar Plum in 2010; I watched her again in the role this season. She’s all bright, smiling facade. Still, she’s a strong, reliable technician, and she’s begun to shade this role, finding time here and there within the music for moments of sudden softness and luxuriance. Though these hints don’t yet coalesce into a completely sustained interpretation, they make me curious to see more of her.

A bigger puzzle is Erica Pereira, who joined in 2007 and first danced Sugar Plum in 2008. In most roles she has come to epitomize the trite facility that has become the worst characteristic of too many City Ballet women. Yet at the matinee on Dec. 19, her Sugar Plum had lightness, liquidity and clarity; Tchaikovsky and Balanchine were waking Ms. Pereira’s potential.

New York City Ballet’s “ Nutcracker” season continues through Sunday at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center; (212) 496-0600,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.