The farewell performance is a memento mori, a reminder that life is short and a dancer’s time onstage shorter. At Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici’s goodbye, after 21 years at New York City Ballet for him and 16 for her, the dance echoed this sentiment.
The show began with Liam Scarlett’s recent Acheron and ended with Balanchine’s La Valse, both about the erotic allure of death. La Valse concluded with innocence and death converging as Taylor, in a bridal-white gown overlaid with black crêpe, was carried overhead as on a bier. For these two theatrical, poetic and enticingly elusive dancers, drawn to the mysterious dark, it made for the perfect finale.
There was also personal significance to what they chose to dance. La Valse marked this devoted couple’s first pas de deux together and Taylor’s first principal role. Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun was one of the first dances with which the ballerina returned to the stage after a protracted illness.
Faun begins with youth enjoying the feel of their stretching bodies: the sheer animal pleasure. Then they notice themselves in the studio mirror and become self-aware. They discover their own strangeness. Taylor, who in a company where “ballet is woman” inevitably compels more fascination than her husband, is always making that discovery. She reveals how the steps are the image of herself. She dons them as you might a role.
She began dancing, with her mother, at toddling age, and an extravagant, childlike feel for make-believe shapes her dancing to the smallest detail. The prospect of being deprived of this inventiveness is crushing. Taylor is young, only 33 as she heads off to the West Coast with Marcovici, who will serve as ballet master for the troupe that Benjamin Millepied founded before he left for the Paris Opera Ballet. Maybe she could dance for this LA Dance Project.
In any case, the New York audience understood what they were losing. They roared from deep in the house and looked stunned after the streamers had fallen, the friends had filed onstage to honour the pair, and Taylor and Marcovici had stepped many times over the bank of orange, yellow and pink roses to acknowledge our love.